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Review of Elaine Feinstein's Cities - Alan Brownjohn, The Sunday Times, 25th July 2010

25 July 2010

A poem called 'Long Life' concludes Elaine Feinstein's Cities and ends: 'My generation may not be/nimble but, forgive us,/we'd like to hold on, stubbornly/content - even while ageing.' This sums up the gentle but firm mood of a book about the various cities to which she has travelled, which she has lived in, or, in the case of Odessa, from which her grandparents were driven. The poems are mainly brief and simple, but they carry the authority of experience and sometimes convey a message about the way we share these urban spaces in the present, perhaps alongside immigrants with a 'resilience/hardwired as birds' skill in navigation'.
This is an autobiographical sequence. Feinstein in Cambridge, 1949 'teeters...on high heels over the cobbled street...the music of wartime dance bands still inside her'. In Budapest she visits 'the messy flat of Janos Pilinsky', in Prague meets another poet, Miroslav Holub, his face 'alight with inspired mockery'. Wartime Leicester, Jerusalem, Warsaw, Sydney - the list might suggest a chance eagerly grabbed to write conventional, nostalgic poems about these places. Not so. As a thinking traveller Feinstein has something sharp and touching to say about each, and Cities is much more than the sum of its parts.
Next review of 'Cities'... To the Elaine Feinstein page... To the 'Cities' page...
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