from Girls, Singing

A train runs right across Russia
Along a mighty river’s bank
In third class they go barefoot
The stewards are drunk

In crusts of sweetly familiar grease
Chicken legs dance
Held upright in fists, like the trees
Shivering past

Through teeming carriages I go,
As a soul in paradise’s throng,
Wrapped in an army blanket
Singing my wild song

It’s a far riskier business
Than the conductor will allow
Because any right song
Always rises to a howl

In the purest voice, while women sigh,
To a whispered stream of obscenity,
I sing of poppies on the trackside
I sing of war’s pity

Piercing the carriage’s fug,
My voice, sharp like an awl
I made them miserable
They beat me in the vestibule

In the honest song there is such ferocity
That the heart is braced.
And all fortification
Stands like a tear on the face

by Maria Stepanova, translated by Sasha Dugdale

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This excerpt from ‘Girls, Singing’ is © Maria Stepanova, 2021, and the translation is © Sasha Dugdale, 2021. Originally published in Russian in Киреевский (Kireevsky) (2012), it is taken from War of the Beasts and the Animals by Maria Stepanova, trans. Sasha Dugdale (Bloodaxe Books, 2021).

You can find out more about the collection on the Bloodaxe site. You can also watch the launch of the book (a joint event with Danish poet Pia Tafdrup) on the Bloodaxe YouTube channel.

Notes from Bloodaxe Books:

War of the Beasts and the Animals is Russian poet Maria Stepanova’s first full English-language collection. It was a Poetry Book Society Translation Choice and shortlisted for the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation 2021. The book includes Stepanova’s recent long poems of conflict ‘Spolia’ and ‘War of the Beasts and Animals’, written during the Donbas conflict in Ukraine, 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. This collection also includes two sequences of poems from her 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.

Find out more about the book, read further sample poems, and buy a copy on the Bloodaxe website.

Maria Stepanova is a poet, novelist, essayist, journalist and the author of ten poetry collections and three books of essays. Stepanova has received several Russian and international literary awards (including the prestigious Andrey Bely Prize and Joseph Brodsky Fellowship).

Her documentary novel In Memory of Memory won Russia’s Big Book Award in 2018 and was published in English in Sasha Dugdale’s translation by Fitzcarraldo in the UK and New Directions in the US in 2021. In Memory of Memory was shortlisted for the 2021 International Booker Prize, the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation 2021, and the 2022 James Tait Black Prize for Biography, and was longlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction 2021.

Stepanova is the founder and editor-in-chief of the online independent crowd-sourced journal, which covers the cultural, social and political reality of contemporary Russia.

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 and has published five poetry collections with Oxford/Carcanet, including Joy (2017), and Deformations (2020), which was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize. Sasha has also worked as a consultant for the Royal Court Theatre and other companies in addition to writing her own plays, and from 1995 to 2000 worked for the British Council in Russia. She stepped down from her role as co-director of the Winchester Poetry Festival in October 2021.

Bloodaxe Books was founded in Newcastle by Neil Astley in 1978 and has revolutionised poetry publishing in Britain over four decades. Internationally renowned for quality in literature and excellence in book design, our authors and books have won virtually every major literary award given to poetry, from the T.S. Eliot Prize and Pulitzer to the Nobel Prize. And books like the Staying Alive series have broken new ground by opening up contemporary poetry to many thousands of new readers.

Find out more about Bloodaxe on the publisher’s website and follow the press on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Copyright information: please note that the copyrights of all the poems displayed on the website and sent out on the mailing list are held by the respective authors, translators or estates, and no work should be reproduced without first gaining permission from the individual publishers.