Maria Stepanova: "The property of good literature is the ability to cause shame.

Statements about war and civil lyrics

Photo: Jens Schlüter
Das Copyright der Leipziger Buchmesse

Maria Stepanova is a Russian poetess and writer, editor-in-chief of, a publication blocked in Russia, and winner of prestigious literary prizes. For example, the Leipzig Prize - for her contribution to European Understanding 2023. According to the jury, Stepanova "contributes to the fact that non-imperial Russia is gaining a literary voice - one worthy to be heard throughout Europe." She recently spoke at a book fair in Leipzig, where our colleague Irina Posrednikova, author of the telegram channel about German cinema and art KINski ( was present. Ira picked up some quotes from Maria Stepanova's speech as well as poems about Russia's past and present for Eyewitness February 24.

About the other, non-Putin Russia:

"It seems to me that even in extreme despair it is very important to have something to fall back on. At times like this I think about the fact that even according to official statistics the people who openly oppose Putin in the political sense (those who vote against him) make up between 20 and 25 percent of the population. That's more than 30 million people who, realizing the dangers of this situation in the short and long run, are not afraid to declare that they think and want to act differently. Thirty million. Is that a lot or a little? I do not know, but it is a sufficient figure to take these people into account. Now you can find them not only in Russia, but all over the world - not only in Europe, but also in Georgia, in Armenia, in Argentina... It is necessary not to stop hearing these voices, to give them the opportunity to be heard.

On the Dialogue Between Cultures in Time of War:

"We know that literature sometimes saves, if not physical life, the human self. A poem can be divided, it can take refuge in it like a tent or a hut in some unbearable moments. But, unfortunately, this is what happens between man and man. When it comes to groups, to communities, everything is more complicated, harder. Some kind of full-fledged conversation between Ukrainian culture and what will be called Russian culture will be possible and can begin only after Ukraine wins. Before that, it will be a conversation between a writer and a writer or a reader and a writer, between a person and a person, but not between cultures. Now is definitely not the time for such a conversation.

On confronting populism and propaganda:

"One of the amazing, most important qualities of good literature, and of art in general, is the ability to cause one to feel ashamed. Shame about yourself, the sudden realization that you are living wrong or perhaps the society in which you live, of which you are a part, is doing something wrong. This, of course, is a very indirect way of confronting propaganda. I don't know at all, I wish I knew how one could effectively counteract propaganda. No one seems to have found the answer to that question yet. But at least the shame for myself and the desire to live differently that comes back to a person sometimes when reading, it keeps me from turning away from literature.

Bless you wide forests,
Plains, mountains
And you two-edged shoreline,
And you sister narrow-mouthed fox
And you tongue that at half-hour intervals
Lick the pit of shame
It will not be eaten by the wave will not wet it
And the wave will not turn into the bottom
Who chet, who cocks,
What fucking madness mumbles
What other caryatids
Blame it until it's de-energized


Lying, shot, in ravines full of stars
and bird cherry
Lying in swamps, like stalks, like fish in cans
Lying under shores, under lakes, under autobahns,
Under pastures for free-range cows,
Under the feet of sheep, willingly wild,
Able to be without human involvement


Lying beneath tiered parking lots,
Beneath airport runways,
Where thin ice grips grass fingers
Where blue lights are spaced intelligently
Where powerful things fly without our hands
Where my body, says the middle ground,
Its middle class: dead, unborn.


Let's reassemble this body
(legs in Medvedkovo, ass in Chertanovo).
The eternal flame burns, devouring the fallen,
Unrecorded, undetected and missing.
Don't give him these cells, cells,
Nerve endings, capillary grids,
Ribbed palate, fluff of down and ashes of fluff,
Tender septa of mind and hearing:
How will you and I gather them for the terrible trial?
Your bones didn't know they would be saved.
Sacks of seed, all that body ate,
Iron, in a century become part of the body,


Parts of another body lying here
from the last century,
Together they make up a new,
Not yet existing person.


And when one becomes accustomed to the absence of color,
And to the pixelated flicker of substance,
And to the gunshots coming
from crossroads,
Where newspapers were sold before events,
And every fifth flower was given away for free,
Greasing commodity-money relations
The milk of human tenderness,
Not yet of color,
Looking closer, the man and his poetry see clearly:
The Who is present here.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *