Mad Russia Hurt Me into Poetry: Cynthia Haven interviews Maria Stepanova

Cynthia Haven in the Los Angeles Review of Books:

PhpThumb_generated_thumbnailMaria Stepanova is among the most visible figures in post-Soviet culture — not only as a major poet, but also as a journalist, a publisher, and a powerful voice for press freedom. She is the founder of Colta, the only independent crowd-funded source of information in Russia. The high-traffic online publication has been called a RussianHuffington Post in format and style, and has also been compared to The New York Review of Books for the scope and depth of its long essays. The Muscovite is the author of a dozen poetry collections and two volumes of essays, and is a recipient of several Russian and international literary awards, including the prestigious Andrei Bely Prize and Joseph Brodsky Fellowship. She was recently a fellow with Vienna’s highly regarded Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen. Her current project is In Memory of Memory, a book-length study in the field of cultural history.

Stepanova has helped revive the ballad form in Russian poetry, and has also given new life to the skaz technique of telling a story through the scrambled speech of an unreliable narrator, using manic wordplay and what one critic called “a carnival of images.” Stepanova relishes this kind of speech “not just for how it represents a social language but for its sonic texture,” wrote scholar and translator Catherine Ciepiela in an introduction to her poems. “She is a masterful formal poet, who subverts meter and rhyme by working them to absurdity. For her the logic of form trumps all other logics, so much so that she will re-accent or truncate words to fit rigorously observed schemes.” According to another of her translators, Sasha Dugdale, myth and memory play an important part in poems: “She shares with her beloved W. G. Sebald a sense of the haunting of history, the marks it leaves on the fabric of landscape.”

Maria Stepanova was already an important and innovative poet by the time of Vladimir Putin’s accession, but the times called for a tougher, more public role. Unfortunately, her recognition in the West has lagged behind the high profile she has in Russia. In this interview, she talks about both roles, and the way politics and poetry come together in her work.

More here.