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Talking to the Dead
Categories: 21st Century, Jewish, Women
Imprint: Carcanet Poetry
Publisher: Carcanet Press
Paperback (64 pages)
(Pub. Mar 2007)
You hated swank.
Even in flowers
you did not like flamboyance
preferring small blue
petals of rosemary
to flags and peonies.
I liked a bit of flash,
glittery clothes, immodest
dancing, some euphoria
always with Dorothy Parker's
knowledge of disaster...
from 'A Match'
Opening with a death in winter, this is a tender work of mourning which is wonderfully moving but never dispiriting. Elaine Feinstein uses the remembered words of a much-loved husband - sometimes affectionate, sometimes querulous - to invoke his solid presence; it is the man rather than her grief which is the centre of the book. Many lyrics recall the closeness of their last months together; others confess the ambivalence of a long marriage. Theirs was never an easy relationship, and she is not afraid to register the differences between them. With wry humour, she questions her own life before their meeting, and looks steadily at a future without him. As she imagines that future, she confronts the myths of an afterlife, a belief in God, her debts to other poets and her dependence on friends and children. Always in complete control of rhythm and tone, these beautiful lyrics explore the most intimate thoughts with a clarity and tenacity Ted Hughes once described as 'unique'. It is Elaine Feinstein's most passionate book of poetry.
Awards won by Elaine Feinstein Commended, 2017 The Poetry Book Society Special Commendation (The Clinic, Memory)
'Talking to the Dead is arguably Elaine Feinstein's best collection. Beautifully crafted, deeply felt, totally earned, these poems of love and bereavement, and more, will expand her readership well beyond the readers and writers of contemporary poetry who have long loved and treasured her exemplary contribution to the art.'
Carol Ann Duffy 'Beautiful, generous, wonderfully intense poems ... Anyone who has ever felt comforted in grief by words, or who has lived through that tension between tenderness, longing and guilt, will recognize their precision and their truth.'
Ruth Padel 'These are more than elegies, they are alchemy; the emotional force of the book is so strong that the dead come walking out of the pages.'
Jo Shapcott 'For more than 40 years, Feinstein has been writing intensely lyrical, finely crafted poems. Those in [Talking to the Dead] are honest and moving, and are among her very best.'
No. 1 in 'The Ten Best New poetry collections' - the Independent, 2007
Praise for Elaine Feinstein 'She was a unique poet-storyteller whose memories live on with visceral clarity in this collection.'
Bryan Cheyette, Times Higher Education
'There is a wry acceptance of illness, of ageing, change and loss, tethered to a valuing of the richness and rewards of the rocky road that have led to now...It is one of the strengths of Feinstein's work that she does not flinch from engaging with raw emotion and the contradictions entangled with intimacy.'
Jenni Calder, JQ
'Elaine Feinstein's truthfulness, her linguistic clarity and her musicality - above all, the last, for my pleasure - make her poetry a joy to read. The Clinic, Memory, her new and selected, is rich with poems that stay in one's mind.'
Leah Fritz, Acumen
'One gets a strong sense of the shape of Feinstein's life and her preoccupations throughout this excellent collection. One can't sum up the poetic achievements of a long career in a short review and I won't try; far better for you to just read the book.'
'Written with a disarming honesty and directness, an unflinchingly wide-awake clarity. Difficult things - from the death of a husband to insomnia - have seldom seemed quite so beguilingly common to us all.'
'All poets are Jews, said Marina Tsvetaeva. Elaine Feinstein, Britain's most distinguished Jewish poet, was her first translator into English and has a wonderful wiry lyricism of her own, influenced both by Russian poetry and by Charles Olson and the Black Mountain poets. She has written here a unique blend of poetry, history and personal memoir, a descent into the heartbreaking and ground breaking vistas of Russian Jewry, and Russian literary figures of the twentieth century. The poets of genius whom she did not know alive, she knows equally intimately in the best way in which one poet knows another - by learning, reading, studying, translating. The book opens with her memories of renting a flat in a rundown quarter of St Petersberg in 2005, and also with Marina Tsetaeva accepting, as Virgil accepted for Dante, the role of guide to the underworld of colourful and talented figures Feinstein has known in her rich literary life, both in Russia, London and Cambridge.'
'She is an extremely fine poet. She has a sinewy, tenacious way of penetrating and exploring the core of her subject that seems to me unique. Her simple, clean language follows the track of the nerves. There is nothing hit or miss, nothing for effect, nothing false. Reading her poems one feels cleansed and sharpened.'
'Here we have a life, a person in the world opened up with intelligence and tact.'
Martina Evans, The Irish Times
'In this fascinating, lyrical meditation on literature, politics, suffering and friendship, Elaine Feinstein - a biographer of poets and a poet of the first rank herself - takes us on a richly imagined journey through a lost literary archipelago, and reconstructs the lives and fates of Russian, often Jewish, writers during the long age of Soviet terror. Combining family history, travels through modern Russia and very personal encounters with famous ghosts, Feinstein evokes, throughpoetry and prose, both the inferno of cruelty and persecutions, and a golden Jerusalem of creativity, talent and intense literary bonds. This is a moving, original work, for which Feinstein has created a selection of poems worthy of the predecessors she admires.'
'Like numerous English readers, I owe my discovery of Tsvetaeva to the multi-talented poet and writer, Elaine Feinstein... Feinstein's translations prove that a poem can be re-born in its adoptive language.'
Carol Rumens 'The strangeness of visited cities, with their fearful histories, has been transmuted here by the responses of a truly gifted poet.'
Dannie Abse 'Cities presents itself as the work of old age, but readers expecting regret or renunciation will be surprised by the affirmative character of this book. While Elaine Feinstein revisits Europe in the aftermath of Nazism, she also praises the good fortune of having lived richly in the sphere of literature and travelled widely among remarkable people. The poems here are lit with striking clarity - things retain their outline and solidity to an unusual degree.'
Sean O'Brien 'Elaine Feinstein has made the juncture between poetry and memoir her own. As befits a poet who is also a master of fiction and biography, she writes with casual erudition and an acute storyteller's eye. Her forays into European culture and history are dazzling. Cities is a profoundly humane, intimate exploration of the places and stages by which a life acquires meaning.'
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