Holy Winter by Maria Stepanova, translated by Sasha Dugdale

Holy Winter by Maria Stepanova, translated by Sasha Dugdale


Literature in Translation Series
Publication Date: May 14, 2024
80 pages
Trade Paperback
ISBN 9781771669276

Trade Paperback

A deeply moving poem about winter and exile, war and the pandemic from “Russia’s greatest living poet” (Poetry) and the acclaimed author of In Memory of Memory.

The outbreak of Covid-19 cut short Maria Stepanova’s 2020 stay in Cambridge. Back in Russia, she spent the ensuing months in a state of torpor—the world had withdrawn from her, time had “gone numb.” When she awoke from this state, she began to read Ovid, and the shock of the pandemic dissolved into the voices and metaphors of a transformative, epochal experience. Her book-length poem Holy Winter, written in a frenzy of poetic inspiration, speaks of winter and war, of banishment and exile, of social isolation and existential abandonment. Stepanova finds sublime imagery for the process of falling silent, interweaving love letters and travelogues, Chinese verse and Danish fairy tales into a polyphonic evocation of frozen time and its slow thawing.

As a poet and essayist, Stepanova was a highly influential figure for many years in Moscow’s cosmopolitan literary scene until it was strangled by Putin, along with civil liberties and dissent. Like Joseph Brodsky before her, she has mastered modern poetry’s rich repertoire of forms and moves effortlessly between the languages and traditions of Russian, European, and transatlantic literature, potently yet subtly creating a voice like no other.

Her poetry, which here echoes verses by Pushkin and Lermontov, Mandelstam and Tsvetaeva, is not hermetic. She takes in and incorporates the confusing signals from social networks and the media, opening herself up to the voices of kindred poets like Sylvia Plath, Inger Christensen, and Anne Carson.

Praise for Holy Winter

“Like a heavy, Russian snowfall, Maria Stepanova’s Holy Winter seems to cover everything: survival, dreams, and the anger of the gods. Heavy, but also bright: the brilliance of fresh fallen snow under clear and boundlessly bright skies. But Stepanova’s dazzling long poem—adroitly ranging across historic borders and lyric traditions—is more than a paean to winter, it is also the promise of a coming spring, the buried but inevitable renewal of what must be. Rendered skilfully for English readers in Sasha Dugdale’s fluent translation, Holy Winter is an essential book for our time, burning with wonder and smoldering with dissent.” —Paul Vermeersch, author of Shared Universe: New and Selected Poems 1995-2020


“Wildly experimental, and yet movingly traditional. Ironic, and yet obsessed with spell-making. Full of allusions to various canonical voices, and yet heart-wrenchingly direct. What, friends, is this? It’s that glorious thing: the poetry of Maria Stepanova.” —Ilya Kaminsky


About the Author

MARIA STEPANOVA, born in Moscow in 1972, is one of the most powerful and distinctive voices of Russia’s first post-Soviet literary generation. She is an award-winning poet, novelist, essayist, and journalist. Stepanova’s works have been translated into many languages and published widely. She has received several literary awards, including the prestigious Andrey Bely Prize and Joseph Brodsky Fellowship. Her novel, In Memory of Memory, was a finalist for the 2021 International Booker Prize and has been translated into many languages. Stepanova founded and was editor-in-chief of the online independent crowd-sourced journal Colta.ru, which engaged with contemporary Russia’s cultural, social, and political reality until the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine when all dissenting media in Russia were forced to shut down. As a prominent critic of Putin’s regime, Stepanova had to leave Russia and is now living in exile in Berlin.

SASHA DUGDALE is a poet and translator. She has published five collections of poetry with Carcanet (UK), the most recent, Deformations, was shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot Prize. She is a translator of Russian drama and poetry, including work by Elena Shvarts, Maria Stepanova and Marina Tsvetaeva, and former editor of the international magazine Modern Poetry in Translation.