Why does a healthy Russian poetess spend time with the mentally ill?

Maria Malinovskaya first discovered the inner world for the mentally ill when she was only 19.

Maria Malinovskaya first discovered the inner world for the mentally ill when she was only 19.

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Mentally ill people often write down their thoughts, but no one reads or publishes them. But 22-year-old Maria Malinovskaya has corrected this injustice, and is publishing their poetry.

A young poetess first met mentally ill people when she was only 19. Source: Getty ImagesA young poetess first met mentally ill people when she was only 19. Source: Getty Images

Maria Malinovskaya discovered the inner world of the mentally ill by accident. Her friend who suffers from schizophrenia shared his diary, and she was impressed both by his desire not to depart from this world unheard and the original beauty of his thoughts.

Malinovskaya immediately understood that she had to do something, and so she published a series of documentary poetry called Kaimaniya, based on his and other mentally ill people's thoughts. The first part was published by the conceptual online publisher, Text Only, and was nominated for several literary prizes. The second came out recently in the Cirk Olimp+TV modern art herald.

The protagonists of the series are mentally ill people who hear various and horrible voices. Kaimaniya has been translated into Italian, and a Norwegian translation is being prepared. Currently, the poetess is looking for an English translator.

RBTH: There are dozens of protagonists in Kaimaniya. How did you collect this material? 

Maria Malinovskaya: One of my best friends suffers from a serious mental illness, and it destroyed his rather successful career as a pianist. Mentally ill people can communicate better with those who have similar kinds of problems, and they often form closed and tight-knit communities. Through my friend I met another person, then another and gradually many more who became my protagonists.

The spirit said Kaimaniya. Kaimaniya is ancient knowledge. From the phrase, "we also know how to do this," "we can do the same."

Each of us has a spirit, the true I. The brain is a computer, a part of the earthly machine called man.

When the earthly body dies, the spiritual body is liberated.

In accordance with your karma, you are placed into a new machine called man and you are again in a cage.

This is actually very simple.

You've always had your life, ever since the spirits gave birth to you.


Did they easily open up to you? 

It depended. Sometimes it was easy, because they need support. Often, even their closest family and friends turn away from them, not wanting to understand or listen to their problems. Therefore, one of my goals was to help these people be heard.

Maria Malinovskaya. Source: facebook / personal archiveMaria Malinovskaya. Source: facebook / personal archive

It's difficult to speak with people - I'm forgetting the Russian language,

it is replaced by the language that they impose.

I've abandoned my studies. Am able only to remain lying.

My personality is being destroyed. Emptiness, just emptiness. 


The poems are rather serious and deep, and one gets a shiver down their spine listening to the mentally ill. Was it frightening going deeper into their world? How did this experience impact you? 

Sometimes it was frightening. With some people, I immediately formed a trusting, almost friendly relationship. Sometimes it seemed I was talking not with the person himself but with some kind of parallel essence that was speaking instead of him, leading into an unknown and painful world. This work was not only psychologically but also physically draining.

However, it's not that I invest my energy and get nothing out of it. My life has taken on new meaning since these people entered it, and I now look at things differently. Sometimes when things weren't going well I’d feel discouraged, but then I'd speak with these people who hear voices 24 hours a day and sometimes curse them, and I saw that they didn’t despair but found strength to work and cheer themselves up. And when I saw how these people fight for their lives, it gave me strength.

I also understood that the social stereotype "madman" has nothing in common with reality, except that it can become a label for absolutely different problems and destinies. Sometimes it causes these people as much suffering as their health problems. 

if the body was entangled in cognitive cables

and wire I begin

thoughtfully cutting the limbs body skull

to free myself


What exactly did you want to tell society, what's your project's goal? 

I wanted to tell these people's stories outside the medical, religious or esoteric context and even outside my own relation to them. All the poems are my interlocutors' direct speech. They don't contain my words.

Today, when some people hear that a person is psychologically ill, they almost instinctively distance themselves from him. I wanted to overcome this stereotype because these people are not different from us. They were just unlucky and shunning them is like shunning people who have other types of illnesses.

One of the heroines of Kaimaniya says that since she became ill she lost her job, her husband left her and her mother stopped talking to her completely out of the superstitious fear of attracting the same misfortune. "My only consolation is my cat," she said. "I bury my face in his fur and cry."

I see demons most frequently one

their guises are so different

that one life is not enough to count all the kinds

often they appear in the form of a familiar person

but then open up and become similar to each other

to hairy beings

clots of radiant energy

or a distorted space in one point

they fly out in this form from the side of the nape

when I create the Jesus prayer


"The world that surrounded me was full of different creatures." Source: Getty Images"The world that surrounded me was full of different creatures." Source: Getty Images

The people you met do not stay in special institutions. They live in society like others? 

Not everyone. I visited some in clinics. It's frightening what goes on there. In most cases, those who hear voices are equally diagnosed with schizophrenia and are treated with powerful drugs, and this can have irreversible consequences. Usually, the person turns into a vegetable.

There are also not enough volunteers in the treatment centers, and I wanted to volunteer but you have to be at least 25 years old. I'm only 22, and for now I just try to give these people what they need.

[the voices] tormented me wanted me to kill myself

they often laughed at me jibed shouted insults

they also said I'm not the only one like this

that they love to mock people

they look for victims


Did the protagonists of your poetic cycle read it? What did they say? 

Of course they read it, and when the first part of Kaimaniya came out several people sent me their personal comments on Facebook. These, however, were not really the protagonists themselves but potential protagonists - literary people and my good acquaintances - and they admitted that the same thing is going on in their lives. They also wanted to tell their stories, but only if I was the person they spoke to. And so, people began coming to me with the desire to tell me about their experiences.

The protagonists had various reactions and some are in such a state that they can neither read nor converse. They live in their own world. You ask them a question and they say something, and all you can do is just write down what they say.

For some, this has turned out to be really important. It's a method of communication, an appeal for help addressed to the world and to your dear ones in particular. It’s proof that you are not alone with your misfortune. Some told me that now, with the appearance of these texts, they don't feel useless and don't feel their lives are lost. My pianist friend said that through poetry his connection to art would be preserved.

the world that surrounded me was full of different creatures

they are difficult to imagine until you see them yourself

they were in everything that surrounded me

from cutlery and walls to people and animals


P.S.: Just before publication of this article, one of the protagonists, Andrei, passed away. The collection's title is taken from one of his utterances. "The spirit said Kaimaniya. Kaimaniya is ancient knowledge. Each of us has a spirit, the true I." It’s not known what his spirits were trying to say to Andrei.

Read more: 10 quotes to convince others you know Russian poetry

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