The Voice Over
Poems and Essays
by Maria Stepanova
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Pub Date 18 May 2021 | Archive Date 25 Aug 2021
Maria Stepanova is one of the most powerful and distinctive voices of Russia’s first post-Soviet literary generation. An award-winning poet and prose writer, she has also founded a major platform for independent journalism. Her verse blends formal mastery with a keen ear for the evolution of spoken language. As Russia’s political climate has turned increasingly repressive, Stepanova has responded with engaged writing that grapples with the persistence of violence in her country’s past and present. Some of her most remarkable recent work as a poet and essayist considers the conflict in Ukraine and the debasement of language that has always accompanied war.
The Voice Over brings together two decades of Stepanova’s work, showcasing her range, virtuosity, and creative evolution. Stepanova’s poetic voice constantly sets out in search of new bodies to inhabit, taking established forms and styles and rendering them into something unexpected and strange. Recognizable patterns of ballads, elegies, and war songs are transposed into a new key, infused with foreign strains, and juxtaposed with unlikely neighbors. As an essayist, Stepanova engages deeply with writers who bore witness to devastation and dramatic social change, as seen in searching pieces on W. G. Sebald, Marina Tsvetaeva, and Susan Sontag. Including contributions from ten translators, The Voice Over shows English-speaking readers why Stepanova is one of Russia’s most acclaimed contemporary writers.
"2021 is the year of Stepanova."
"Maria Stepanova is among the most visible figures in post-Soviet culture. "
—Los Angeles Review of Books
"[Stepanova's] 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. "
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Average rating from 13 members
The fullest of admiration for the creators of this book, working with the author herself on building a definitive English-language sampler of her work, in the light of her first novel imminently getting translated too. I have long known these publishers for providing quality works for the academic reader, and this is both way out of their remit and par for the course for them. I say it's par for the course for they always seem to have intelligent translators, considered essays and introductions, all provided by the right people for the job. I say beyond their remit for this author is very much alive-alive-o, being born in the same year as me, and generally (beyond some contemporary theatrical pieces I remember) they deal with bringing us the works of Russians who are quite firmly dead. Still, bringing Stepanova herself on board to vet translations and to help compile the piece marks this with all the prestige you would want.
… If that is, you like the idea of reading contemporary literary Russian poetry, and have that either as a peculiar hobby or as a job. In marking this book from the only point of view I can offer – a Mr Average, dipping his toe into the more high-falutin' to try and be erudite for once – this book fails. Yes, the author herself may well be a genius, or a rarity in Russia, but these works are not very readable. We learn here that one of her early career stages was to reject the old Soviet Author system, where any half-legible, State-pleasing work meant a fixed, stipendiary career as an author, which was an idea soon to disappear in the immediate return to capitalism at the fall of the Soviet Union. The introduction tells us she's a marvel at looking back as well as looking around herself and forward, which is why her works concern building and understanding family histories, and react to the Putin years (with its recapture of the Crimea and the criminal invasion of parts of Ukraine), and suchlike. This is all well and good but this is not fodder for the general reader – far from it.
Scholars, if they've got through my verbiage this far, will need to click 'purchase'. Nobody else should ever dare.
The Voice Over is reflective, engaging, and culturally insightful prose and poetry. There is much to appreciate in the literary voice of Maria Stepanova, and this collection is both a demonstration and tribute to this talented voice.
This is a great poetry and essay collections that deals with topic such as abuse, ptsd, the circle of abuse, loneliness, the complexities of daily life, among others. It includes such a sincere and personal, hurt, representation of ptsd; how trauma affects not only the individual, but those who surround them. The author has a great literary voice that bleeds through translation, she's great at creating an image in your head without explaining every detail, like photographs of a fading memory, small pieces that are able to convey so much. A powerful piece of work, that is also very sad.
I'd also like to highlight the work of the translators, and how useful all their notes are to contextualize the author's writing, they are a little bit long, but very accessible and clear.
What can I say? I didn't like this one. It was hard to read and confusing and not at all what I thought it would be! Part of that is on me, but part of that is on the writing.
So much potential wasted with this book.
Maria Stepanova's ouvre is reflective, exciting and dynamic. But this collection's formatting and structure distracts from, rather than enhances the beauty of her words. As it stands, this book is hard to read because of the confused formatting, and the curatorial elements do little to properly contextualize the poems for the English language reader.
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