Maria Stepanova interviews, reviews and Books of the Year
'Wildly experimental, and yet movingly traditional. Ironic, and yet obsessed with spell-making. Full of allusions to various different canonical voices, and yet heart-wrenchingly direct. What, friends, is this? It’s that glorious thing: the poetry of Maria Stepanova.' - Ilya Kaminsky, Poetry Book Society Selector, on War of the Beasts and the Animals, his Translation Choice for Spring 2021
War of the Beasts and the Animals, a selection of Russian writer Maria Stepanova's recent poetry, was published by Bloodaxe on 25 March 2021. It was launched in the UK by Maria and her translator Sasha Dugdale at StAnza International Poetry Festival on 13 March and at a joint online event hosted by Bloodaxe Books on 23 March (see video below). War of the Beasts and the Animals was the Poetry Book Society Translation Choice for Spring 2021, and was shortlisted for the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation 2021, as was her memoir In Memory of Memory.
War of the Beasts and the Animals is distributed in North America by Consortium Books.
Maria Stepanova is one of Russia’s most innovative and exciting poets and thinkers, and founding editor of Colta.ru, an independent arts and culture website which has been compared to Huffington Post in its status and importance. Her meta-memoir In Memory of Memory (Fitzcarraldo Editions) was published on 17 February, followed by War of the Beasts and the Animals on 25 March. Both are translated by poet and Russian specialist Sasha Dugdale. In Memory of Memory was shortlisted for both the 2021 International Booker Prize and the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation 2021, and longlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction.
Sasha Dugdale has translated many works of Russian poetry, prose and drama, including Tatiana Shcherbina's Life Without: Selected Poetry & Prose 1992-2003 (Bloodaxe Books, 2004) and Elena Shvarts’s Birdsong on the Seabed (Bloodaxe Books, 2008). She was editor of Modern Poetry in Translation from 2013 to 2017, and is co-editor of Centres of Cataclysm: Celebrating 50 Years of Modern Poetry in Translation. An interview with Sasha Dugdale about translating from Russian, poetry, and publishing,can be read here.
An eight-page review of Maria Stepanova’s War of the Beasts and the Animals was included in the Spring 2022 issue of Modern Poetry in Translation.
‘Given the current escalation in hostilities between the two nations [Russia and Ukraine]… the collection couldn’t be more prescient in the urgency with which it speaks to this particular moment… a tour de force introduction to Maria Stepanova’s urgently political poetry.’ – Dzifa Benson, Modern Poetry in Translation, on War of the Beasts and the Animals
RADIO 4 INTERVIEW WITH TRANSLATOR SASHA DUGDALE
Open Book, BBC Radio 4, Sunday 10 April 2022, 4pm (repeated Thursday 14 April, 3.30pm)
Poet and translator Sasha Dugdale was a guest on Open Book on 10 and 14 April, speaking about the role of dissident writers in the current crisis. She spoke in detail about Maria Stepanova, whose poetry and prose she has translated. Sasha was asked to recommend one or two Russian writers who would help widen our knowledge of the current Russian scene:
‘The writer I translate, Maria Stepanova, who wrote the prose book In Memory of Memory, has a poetry collection which is in English translation called War of the Beasts and the Animals, and the title poem for this collection was written as the war in Donbas started. It’s really about the way that culture enables a people to turn into an aggressor… I think it’s a really important text for our time.’ – Sasha Dugdale, speaking on Radio 4’s Open Book
‘As the war in Ukraine continues, Sasha Dugdale, a distinguished translator of Russian literature, talks with Chris about the difficult role of dissident Russian writers under Putin's regime.’
Book List – Sunday 10 April and Thursday 14 April
In Memory of Memory by Maria Stepanova: Translated by Sasha Dugdale
War of the Beasts and the Animals by Maria Stepanova: Translated by Sasha Dugdale
Second Hand Time by Svetlana Alexievich
Listen via BBC Sounds here. From 20:00. Sasha recommends Maria Stepanova at 25:32.
POETRY BOOKS OF THE YEAR 2021
‘War of the Beasts and the Animals by the Russian poet and writer Maria Stepanova is skilfully translated by Sasha Dugdale, or rather ‘triangulated’ in Dugdale’s words… this selection of her poetry, a first in English, is entrancing in its syncopated rhythms, and inter-textual playfulness.’ – Paul Perry, Sunday Independent (Best poetry books of 2021)
In print only, 5 December 2021.
Mina Gorgi's in-depth review on the Poetry School blog is here.
An extract from the title sequence and a video of Maria and Sasha’s Bloodaxe launch reading in Russian and English ran on Poetry Daily on 15 April. Read the feature here.
Carol Rumens ran two extracts from the title sequence of War of the Beasts and the Animals in her online Poem of the Week column in The Guardian on 28 June 2921. She has included the Russian version of the extracts at the end of her piece.
‘Maria Stepanova is a Russian-Jewish writer, whose first full-length poetry collection in English, War of the Beasts and the Animals, is translated by Sasha Dugdale. It includes fragmented, interrogative sequences on themes of war, memory and reconciliation… readers are jolted into a stark, fresh sense of the tragedy of war, thanks both to Stepanova’s vision and her willingness to trust Dugdale to produce English-language innovations of her own.’ – Carol Rumens, Poem of the Week, The Guardian
Read in full here.
TLS FEATURE ON MARIA STEPANOVA'S POETRY AND PROSE
Times Literary Supplement, Friday 28 May 2021
A major piece on Maria Stepanova’s three recent books in English translation - War of the Beasts and the Animals, In Memory of Memory (Fitzcarraldo Editions, UK & New Directions, US) and The Voice Over (Columbia University Press) - is included in the TLS of 28 May.
‘Like T. S. Eliot or Ezra Pound, Stepanova allows a multitude of voices to speak through her lines… Poetry and the study of literature have potential to open borders between the living and the dead, and between cultures; to speak “as if respect, compassion, goodness have not lost their their meaning”.’ - Rachel Polonsky, Times Literary Supplement
Read here. Online in full by subscription.
AMERICAN FEATURES ON MARIA STEPANOVA
Harper’s Magazine, June 2021, online 18 May 2021
A major piece on Maria Stepanova’s body of work is included in the June issue of Harper’s Magazine. This covers all three of Maria Stepanova's works recently translated into English (the first two by Sasha Dugdale): War of the Beasts and the Animals from Bloodaxe (distributed by Consortium Books in North America), Stepanova’s experimental memoir In Memory of Memory from Fitzcarraldo in the UK and New Directions in the US, and her book of essays, The Voice Over, from Columbia University Press. All three titles were reviewed as part of this feature by Russian specialist Sophie Pinkham.
‘With the publication of three of her books in English this year, Stepanova is finally receiving the attention she deserves in the Anglophone world. Subtle and erudite in its treatment of politics and history, her work is a much-needed antidote to the crude depictions of Russia that have filled the English-language media in recent years... Stepanova produced two long poems—‘War of the Beasts and the Animals’ and ‘Spolia’—that explore war and peace, public and private memory, and the violent fragmentation of language and attempts to salvage it. Figures, scenes, and places from Russian and Soviet history lurch in and out of long panning shots: the murdered Tsar Nicholas II, the legendary drowned city of Kitezh, the triumphant frescoes of the Moscow Metro. Together, the poems offer an unparalleled depiction of the flattening of time and violent instrumentalization of history and language in contemporary Russia.’ – Sophie Pinkham, Harper’s Magazine
Read the full feature here.
Poetry Foundation, online Monday 19 April 2021
Maria Stepanova was interviewed by Jennifer Wilson for a feature in Poetry magazine and on the Poetry Foundation website. This covers all three of Maria Stepanova's works recently translated into English: War of the Beasts and the Animals from Bloodaxe, her meta-memoir In Memory of Memory from Ftzcarraldo in the UK and New Directions in the US, and her book of essays, The Voice Over, from Columbia University Press.
‘The slipperiness of history and the improvisational quality of historical thinking are hallmarks of her work, which will likely resonate with new audiences in the United States, riven by racism and culture war skirmishes, and in a Britain still reeling from Brexit.’ – Jennifer Wilson, Poetry
'Maria Stepanova, one of Russia's greatest living poets, comes to America': read the feature here.
RHINO Poetry, online 11 June 2021
'... Dugdale has channelled a force of nature into English. War of the Beasts and the Animals is pure energy, dynamic and unstoppable, a call to protest by an emotional archivist. Entrenched in mythology and folksong, supported by research with a political message, with Tolstoy, Mayakovski, Whitman, and T.S. Eliot simmering below, what arises is a swirling collage of images that scroll past lightning fast with the reader left crawling around on the floor looking their lost dropped jaw... If you want to relive that moment when you first discovered Akhmatova, Ginsberg, Angelou, Silverstein, or Plath—that sense of inner revolution, that lift of possibility, that melody which keeps evil away—read Stepanova, because the next generations will.' - DM O'Connor, RHINO
Read the full review in this US-based online poetry magazine here.
INTERVIEW WITH MARIA STEPANOVA IN THE GUARDIAN
A profile of Maria Stepanova ran in The Guardian of 11 February 2021.
‘Stepanova’s poetry collection War of the Beasts and the Animals was written in 2014 and 2015, during Russia’s conflict with Ukraine... What emerges is another archive of sorts, a home for language’s changing and motley complexion.’ – Matthew Janney, The Guardian
Read the interview here.
The Guardian, Saturday 19 June 2021
Maria Stepanova was included in a feature on books about Russian landscapes in The Guardian of 19 June. The introduction to Maria Stepanova mentions her poetry book War of the Beasts and the Animals, and the online version of this piece links to Matthew Janney’s Guardian profile of Maria from 11 February covering her poetry and prose.
‘Stepanova has long been a major force in Russian literature and now, with Sasha Dugdale’s translations of her prose, the International Booker-shortlisted In Memory of Memory, and poetry, War of the Beasts and the Animals, Anglophone readers are finally catching up.’ – Tom Jeffreys, The Guardian
Read in full here.
The Observer, Poetry Book of the Month, Sunday 11 April 2021
Maria Stepanova’s War of the Beasts and the Animals, the first full English translation of her poetry and a Poetry Book Society Translation Choice, was featured as Poetry Book of the Month in The Observer – very unusually for a translation. The piece was accompanied by an extract from Stepanova’s 2018 long poem ‘The Body Returns’ from the final section of War of the Beasts and the Animals.
‘Stepanova’s poetry is porous. Were it a fabric, it would be complete with rents through which darkness – and truth – might leak…. Stepanova is a powerhouse. Her scornful wit is bracing and, throughout, the reader is on a switchback: you never know what waits around the next bend.’ – Kate Kellaway, The Observer (on War of the Beasts and the Animals, her Poetry Book of the Month)
War of the Beasts and the Animals was reviewed in The Observer alongside Maria Stepanova’s International Booker Prize-shortlisted meta-memoir In Memory of Memory, which is also translated by Sasha Dugdale.
Read the feature here.
The Guardian, Saturday 10 April 2021
Maria Stepanova’s War of the Beasts and the Animals was reviewed in brief at the beginning of a review of her meta-memoir In Memory of Memory in The Guardian of 10 April. This piece linked to The Guardian’s profile of Maria Stepanova from 11 February.
‘Bloodaxe has brought out a selection of poems, War of the Beasts and the Animals, translated by Sasha Dugdale. It will take a while for readers in the UK to learn how to take in these poems, crowded as they are with different voices and types, dense with allusions to Russian life and culture past and present, as well as to wider European literature and history. At first encounter they seem sensuous, haunted, significant, ambitious.’ – Tessa Hadley, The Guardian
Read the full review here.
DURA (Dundee University Review of the Arts), online 2 March 2021
A review of War of the Beasts and the Animals ran in DURA ahead of Maria Stepanova's launch reading with Sasha Dugdale at StAnza International Poetry Festival on 13 March 2021.
'The collection opens with two long poems; ‘Spolia’ and ‘War of the Beasts and the Animals’. Similar in form, they are both chaotic and deeply layered. In both poems, Stepanova sifts through language, culture and identity in an attempt to make sense of them all. She reaches no conclusions, but something fascinating is revealed in the attempt. In her poetry, Russia is a country torn apart and remade line by line, a patchwork of truth, myth and dogma stitched together with shreds of memory.' - Ellie Julings, DURA (Dundee University Review of the Arts)
Read the review here.
War of the Beasts and the Animals is reviewed in Issue 4 of The Alchemy Spoon, September 2021.
‘Writing a review of this collection brings into sharp focus the shortcomings of undertaking such an endeavour for a book that feels like it requires years of study to reveal its mysteries and to uncover its knowledge. I could spend a year and a day with just one poem from the collection ‘under the spindle of a low sky’ (‘Spolia’) and still find new treasures.’ – S K Grout, The Alchemy Spoon
The magazine is available in print, but the issue can be read on Calameo here (page 77).
A detailed review of War of the Beasts and the Animals was posted on the Poetry School blog on16 August 2021. Read Mina Gorgi's full review here.
‘powerful, playful, ferociously vital… The poems in this collection are threaded through with common concerns and motifs, sharing a playfulness in the face of the deformations of militaristic power and untruth. Together, they explore what it is to write in the wake of what Stepanova describes as the ‘internal fragmentation of the language’ (‘Translator’s Foreword’). Shifting between registers, rhythms, and broken forms, the book feels like one long epic poem of splinters, voices, sounds, and songs emerging from the wreckage.’ – Mina Gorgi, Poetry School
An in-depth essay review of Maria Stepanova’s War of the Beasts and the Animals was posted by Chris Edgoose on his blog on 13 August 2021. Read in full here.
‘… Maria Stepanova and Sasha Dugdale have created a rich and profoundly affecting work, which presents seemingly endless ideas – and it seems nothing short of miraculous that such a complex work in Russian is available to those of us who can only access it through English. More than any work I have attempted to write about here this is one which frustrates only because there is always more to say about it.’ – Chris Edgoose, Wood Bee Poet
Bloodaxe Books launch, Tuesday 23 March 2021, Maria Stepanova (with Sasha Dugdale) and Pia Tafdrup
[13 April 2021]