Book Feature: Anna Shtorm ‘Friends Over Lovers’
“My poetry is digital sorrow wrapped in overdressed rhymes.”
From opening Friends Over Lovers, Anna Shtorm talks about how friends over lovers is a counter-dependant behaviour some endure and that it’s important to recognise one's patterns to break free, then questioning “is it just about friendship that feels safe and love that tastes like anger?”
The first poem ‘I Said No Again’ is an important read as she details a situation that is uncomfortable to read, yet so many experience the same uncertainty once we voice our wants. Documenting that it’s ‘in fashion’ to be codependent, it’s an interesting poem from start to finish as she closes out with the lines ‘you just like to be with an unavailable lover.’
Moving forward in the 69-page poetry collection accompanied by photography, the writer describes how falling in love is like ‘smoking weed’ wondering who will be first to wake up from the high. And it’s a good reference with similar experiences, yet Shtorm then writes ‘nowadays I feel much safer alone’. It’s a raw and empowering piece to read as there’s no thought that’s held back or sugar-coated.
Throughout the book, Shtorm shines a light on modern lifestyles with ballad stanzas and free verses that tell tales of heartbreak, solitude, longing, and searching for meaning in the playful poems that in-turn mirrors everyday struggles. The vibrant creativity is front and centre of this book in a pleasant way with some irony and sarcastic storytelling as she reflects inward combining joy and sinister creations of both her poetry and photography.
Shtorm discusses her relationships, insecurities, solitude, and dark emotions which she struggles with. The book was unapologetically crafted with a unique perspective of this world. By being cautious, living and learning from our experiences, to relationships going sideways, she hold nothing back wonderfully portraying feelings many are not able to voice.
When reading Friends Over Lovers, the reader doesn’t have to agree with the writer's opinions. It’s a book that once the readers start they will struggle to put down soaking in the fresh vibes enduring a new perspective on modern themes used in traditional rhythmic schemes. Although there’s no similar theme throughout the book itself, each poem pierces out to get a reaction from the reader with its thought-provoking, mixed-emotions, conversational type of read that will trigger observations around one's surroundings.
Anna Shtorm cites her grandmother as her encouragement to write poems and having an impact on her creative talents. In her teens, she was writing poems, song lyrics, short non-fiction, and fiction stories. Although she dreamed of becoming a pathologist, her mother persisted in pursuing a career in journalism and teaching. In 2014, she started her career in IT in addition to writing. She has gained a lot of writing experience working for different newspapers and magazines; most importantly her work has been published on Medium.
Words by Danielle Holian
Tell us a bit about your writing background.
I have a master degree in Journalism and Russian Philology. During my school and early university years, I knew that journalism is my vocation. Writing was an integral part of my life. As a teenager, I used to write the songs for our two girls’ band. And I believe it all started from my first poem that I wrote at the age of four according to my grandmother.
What, or who, inspired you to start writing?
I believe it was my grandmother. She was a teacher of Russian and literature and in addition to that, the director of school theatre. Now when I am older, I could see that she had an obsession with creating a wonder kid out of me. That’s why she helped me to write poems and then told people that I did it by myself at a very early age. She kept saying that I have talent and will be famous one day. But to be honest, I think it was rather her ambitions that she projected on me as she herself probably wanted to be exceptional. Anyhow, I am grateful for that life experience. My grandma taught me how to enjoy books and create my own imaginary worlds. That’s a gift.
And what influenced your debut poetry collection Friends Over Lovers?
It seems that in our world love and relationships are perceived as a great value that everyone must get in life. In my case, romantic feelings always have this suffocating aftertaste. Maybe because of my counter-dependent behavior. So practically this poetry collection is my way to explore why friendship feels safe and love tastes like danger. It is also about recognizing your pattern and breaking free. Also, just to mention this poetry collection got published thanks to the feeling of inevitable death and some free time during work hours.
How has your life in general influenced your work?
Do you know the difference between the blueberry yogurt and the yogurt with blueberry flavor? So with my poetry. It is not strictly about the event that happened to me that I describe in my poems, but these poems most certainly have the taste of my life. Some events trigger the desire to reflect on them, so like many other poets I use poetry as a coping skill.
And how do you find the balance between writing about your own personal experiences and exploring topics that may not necessarily be autobiographical, but still speak to so many people?
My secret is I don’t. My poems mostly describe emotions that I felt myself. I believe the range of human emotions are universal and it is just the matter of how you describe them. So if some poems feel relatable, it is only thanks to the precise words and the imagery that was used.
In your work, how do you differentiate between writing between Russian, English and Polish?
How many languages you know — that many times you are a person. That expression describes well the way I feel swinging between the languages. Every language evokes a different type of personality in me and each of these personalities has something to say.
What are you reading at the moment?
I am a poly reader. I can’t imagine focusing and reading only one book at a time. Currently in English I am reading Effective Python Penetration Testing by Rejah Rehim and The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the poet within by Stephen Fry, in Polish Pustostany by Dorota Kotas and in Russian some pop psychology book that I am a little embarrassed to list. Usually at some point of reading I get tired of the content of the book even if it is exciting. I have to leave it and come back after some time. I swing between universes of these books like freaking Doctor Who.
And finally, what advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Show up! Don’t wait until someone discovers you. Put your work out there. It is not perfect, but it is supposed to be like that. Detach your emotions from your writing. Pretend that you are the producer/friend/admirer of the aspiring author and promote your work as it was someone else's work that you liked and think that this work deserves attention. Because it does.