Launch reading by Maria Stepanova & Pia Tafdrup with Sasha Dugdale
International launch reading by Maria Stepanova and her translator Sasha Dugdale, along with Danish poet Pia Tafdrup celebrating the publication of their new poetry collections. This launch event was live streamed on 23 March 2021, and is now on YouTube. Maria joined from her home in Moscow, Pia from Copenhagen and Sasha from Sussex. Hosted by Bloodaxe editor Neil Astley from his home in Northumberland.
Pia read two poems in Danish in each of her sets, and read the rest of the poems in David McDuff's English translations. Maria and Sasha took turns to read extracts from the long poem 'War of the Beasts and the Animals’ in Russian and English. The readings were followed by a deeply thoughtful discussion, prompted by some very penetrating questions from the online audience.
'Time and space' from Pia Tafdrup's The Taste of Steel • The Smell of Snow is Oxford Brookes Poetry Centre's Poem of the Week of 24 March, marking publication. Read the feature here.
A review of this double collection is included in the April edition of RHINO. Read the review here.
'Tafdrup converses with the living and the dead while chiseling each passing season, moment, and sensation into words as sharp as steel.' - DM O'Connor, RHINO Poetry
A review of The Taste of Steel • The Smell of Snowis included in the April 2021 issue of Asymptote, an online journal for translated literature.
‘In The Taste of Steel and The Smell of Snow, the first two volumes in a new five-part series of collections relating to the five senses by Danish poet Pia Tafdrup, the starting point is this: the essentiality of taste and smell, and their ability to puncture through the isolation of the mind. In our predominantly visual society, Tafdrup goes back to the two senses which, many argue, we are un-learning. The result is that the poet does not only look at their place in everyday sensualities, but also—and perhaps firstly—prods their limits, pushes their boundaries to see how far into the spiritual they would allow her to stretch.’ - Marina Dora Martino, Asymptote
Maria Stepanova: War of the Beasts and the Animals
Translated from the Russian by Sasha Dugdale
Maria Stepanova is one of Russia’s most innovative poets and thinkers. Also a novelist, essayist and journalist, she has published ten poetry collections and three books of essays. War of the Beasts and the Animals, translated by Sasha Dugdale, is the first English translation of her poetry and a Poetry Book Society Translation Choice. Her documentary novel In Memory of Memory won Russia's Big Book Award in 2018 and is published in English in Sasha Dugdale's translation by Fitzcarraldo in the UK and New Directions in the US in 2021. Stepanova is the founder and editor-in-chief of the online independent crowd-sourced journal Colta.ru which covers the cultural, social and political reality of contemporary Russia, reaching audiences of nearly a million visitors a month in the past. She lives in Moscow.
War of the Beasts and the Animals includes her recent long poems of conflict ‘Spolia’ and ‘War of the Beasts and Animals’, written during the Donbas conflict, as well as a third long poem ‘The Body Returns’, commissioned by Hay International Festival in 2018 to commemorate the Centenary of the First World War. In all three long poems Stepanova’s assured and experimental use of form, her modernist appropriation of poetic texts from around the world and her constant consideration of the way that culture, memory and contemporary life are interwoven make her work both pleasurable and deeply necessary.
This collection also includes two sequences of poems from her 2015 collection Kireevsky: sequences of ‘weird’ ballads and songs, subtly changed folk and popular songs and poems which combine historical lyricism and a contemporary understanding of the effects of conflict and trauma. Stepanova uses the ready forms of ballads and songs, but alters them, so they almost appear to be refracted in moonlit water. The forms seem recognisable, but the words are oddly fragmented and suggestive, they weave together well-known refrains of songs, apparently familiar images, subtle half-nods to films and music.
Sasha Dugdale was editor of Modern Poetry in Translation from 2013 to 2017, and is co-editor of the anthology Centres of Cataclysm: Celebrating Fifty Years of Modern Poetry in Translation (Bloodaxe Books/MPT, 2016). She has translated many works of Russian poetry, prose and drama, including Tatiana Shcherbina's Life Without: Selected Poetry & Prose 1992-2003 (Bloodaxe Books, 2004), Elena Shvarts’s Birdsong on the Seabed (Bloodaxe Books, 2008), Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard (BBC Radio 3, 2008), and the short story collection Moscow Tales (Oxford University Press, 2013). Her translation of Elena Shvarts' Birdsong on the Seabed was shortlisted for both the Rossica Translation Prize and the Corneliu M. Popescu Award for European Poetry in Translation. From 1995 to 2000 she worked for the British Council in Russia. She has published five collections of her own poetry with Oxford/Carcanet, most recently Deformations (2020), which was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize.
Pia Tafdrup: The Taste of Steel • The Smell of Snow
Translated from the Danish by David McDuff
Pia Tafdrup is one of Denmark’s leading poets. She has published over 20 books in Danish since her first collection appeared in 1981, and her work has been translated into many languages. She received the 1999 Nordic Council Literature Prize – Scandinavia’s most prestigious literary award – for Queen’s Gate, which was published in David McDuff’s English translation by Bloodaxe in 2001. Also in 2001, she was appointed a Knight of the Order of Dannebrog, and in 2006 she received the Nordic Prize from the Swedish Academy. She lives in Copenhagen.
The Taste of Steel and The Smell of Snow are the first two collections in Pia Tafdrup’s new series of books focussing on the human senses. While taste and smell dominate, the poems are equally about the way of the world and the losses that people sustain during the course of their lives – the disappearance of friends and family members, but also the erosion of control of one’s own existence. The themes of ecology, war and conflict are never far away, and there is a constant recognition of the circular nature of life, the interplay of the generations.
Pia Tafdrup’s previous series of themed collections was The Salamander Quartet (2002–2012). Written over ten years, its ﬁrst two parts were The Whales in Paris and Tarkovsky’s Horses, translated by David McDuff and published by Bloodaxe in 2010 as Tarkovsky’s Horses and other poems. This was followed in 2015 by Salamander Sun and other poems, McDuff’s translation of The Migrant Bird’s Compass and Salamander Sun, the third and fourth parts of the quartet.
To order copies of the poets’ books direct from Bloodaxe, please click on these links (orders go live on the Bloodaxe website from early March):
Maria Stepanova: War of the Beasts and the Animals