Maria Stepanova is a poet, prose writer, and journalist. She was born in Moscow and graduated from the Gorky Institute of Literature.
Stepanova came of age in the tumultuous '90s, which brought with them the promise of more personal freedom, the rise of capitalism and organized crime, a series of futile wars, and the exodus of thousands of Russian intellectuals to the West. Readers were flooded with publications, which had previously been inaccessible due to censorship: dissident literature, detective stories, erotic fiction, mafia thrillers. There was hardly any space for new poetry. The ironic tone used by the conceptual underground seemed most appropriate for the process of dealing with the stifling silence accompanying Soviet pathos, and the storm that erupted afterwards.
Building on Brodsky's statement that poetry and politics have nothing in common but the letters P and O, Stepanova mentioned a third term which shares those same letters: postmemory. In Russia, postmemory is the space in which poetry and politics meet. In those years, Stepanova found her poetic voice. Her work is defined by fluent phrases expressing complex thoughts, the fusing of different styles, a carefree command of all possible metrical feet, and a great sense of empathy. A visa for a journey through the psyche of a diverse set of characters, from a soldier to a Chechen refugee. Politics shrinks personal space; poetry is capable of enlarging it. Poetry and oxygen are like the chicken and the egg:
And I look down from the Sparrow Hills
At the subject, thinking to myself –
In the linden-leaves, the factory pipes
Breath? No breath?
Stepanova toys with genres, such as the ballad and the national anthem. She is a most erudite poet who draws from different traditions, who cites, alliterates, refers and alludes to the return of the police state in a way that is deliberate and at the same time completely effortless. She writes verses in which the seasoned reader might hear the echo of an Irish poem or a song from Les Misérables, whereas most of her compatriots will recognize a wealth of Russian prison folklore:
The white rose is the jail,
The red rose is the cell,
The yellow rose the guard,
We are parted, farewell.
Such quatrains flow into less accessible lines which are difficult to take out of context, because Stepanova does not express herself in one-liners or even separate poems, but in complete books. According to Stepanova, good poetry casts new lines, which is why only after some time and through collective effort a support base emerges. This is why contemporaries do not immediately connect to contemporary poetry, unless it is timely. Which the work of Stepanova certainly is, as evidenced by the many prizes she has won, including the Andrei Bely Prize and Anthologia. Her work has been translated into, among others, English, French, Hebrew, and German.
Songs of North-Southerners, Argo-Risk, Tver, 2001
On Twins, Ogi, Moscow, 2001
GoingHere, Puchinsky fund, St. Petersburg, 2001
Happiness, Novoje literatoernoje obozrenije/New Literature Overview, Moscow, 2003
Fysiology and Little History, Pragmatika Koeltoery/Cultural pragmatics, 2005
The Prose of Ivan Sidorov, Novoje Izdatelstvo/New publisher, Moscow, 2008
Lyricism, Voice, Novoje Izdatelstvo/New publisher, Moscow, 2010
Poems and Prose, Novoje literatoernoje obozrenije/New Literature Overview, Moscow, 2010
Kirejevski, Puchinsky fund, St. Petersburg, 2012
Alone, Not Alone, Not Me, Novoje Izdatelstvo/New publisher, Moscow, 2014
Three Essays Concerning, Novoje Izdatelstvo, New Publisher, Moscow, 2015
Spolio, Novoje Izdatelstvo/New Publisher, Moscow, 2015
Against lyricism, AST, Moscow, 2017
In Remembrance of Remembrance: Romance, Novoje Izdatelstvo/New publisher, Moscow, 2017