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This poem is taken from PN Review 252, Volume 46 Number 4, March - April 2020.

Spolia (translated by Sasha Dugdale) Maria Stepanova
To my Father

The translator writes: Spolia is the Latin word for ‘spoils’, as in ‘the spoils of war’. It was introduced to the field of art history at the turn of the sixteenth century to describe the ancient marble ornaments embedded in medieval settings. The term enfolds the principle and theme of Maria Stepanova’s long poem: that language and culture are translated and transported as fragments and re-used in new settings and to new ends. ‘Spolia’ was written in the summer of 2014, at a time when Russia had occupied the Crimea and hostilities between Russia and Ukraine were fierce. The poem draws the subjectivity of a woman, a poet, a country and a history into one rich and complex skein. The original poem uses quotes from non-Russian poets (such as Walt Whitman) and Russian poets (such as Mikhail Kuzmin). In the translation I have extended that principle and added in fragments of other English-language poets, because the vitality and wit and sadness of the poem seemed to demand this.


totted up
what was said
amounted to

she simply isn’t able to speak for herself
and so she always uses rhyme in her poems

ersatz and out of date poetic forms

her material
offers no resistance
its kiss is loveless, it lies motionless

she’s the sort you’d lift onto a chair
read us the poem about wandering lonely

she’s the sort who once made a good Soviet translator

careful unadventurous

where is her I place it in the dish
why on earth does she speak in voices
...


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