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Translated by Elaine Feinstein
Who sleeps at night? No one is sleeping.
In the cradle a child is screaming.
An old man sits over his death, and anyone
young enough talks to his love, breathes
into her lips, looks into her eyes.
When, more than a quarter of a century ago, Elaine Feinstein first published her translations of the poems of Marina Tsvetaeva (1892-1941), they broke new ground. She had developed mimetic forms to suggest the pace and movement of Tsvetaeva's complex structures, and the great Russian poet's passion and immediacy burst into a new kind of English verse.
Tsvetaeva is among the great European poets of the Twentieth Century. With Anna Akhmatova, Boris Pasternak and Osip Mandelstam, she was, as Akhmatova wrote at the end of her life, one of 'the four of us': poets who kept their humanity and integrity through Russia's 'terrible years'. Even in her long and tragic exile, she never lost her roots in Russia or in the great tradition of Russian poetry. Her vibrant voice is fully alive in her time in part because it remains alive to her past, and to the cultures - especially French - in which she spent her exile.
Through Elaine Feinstein's versions, which, Charles Tomlinson said, 'reproduce that jagged, breathless self-wearing tone' of the poems, another generation of English-speaking writers and readers will discover her voice. Poets, particularly women, take courage from her obstinate determination to honour and obey the demands of what Pasternak called her 'golden, incomparable genius' against the dark current of her life. Elaine Feinstein adds to this selection new translations and an updated introduction.
Awards won by Elaine Feinstein Commended, 2017 The Poetry Book Society Special Commendation (The Clinic, Memory)
'Marina Tsvetaeva was the first of the modern Russian poets whose greatness really came clear to me, thanks to these translations. Feinstein has performed the first, indispensable task of a great translator: she has captured a voice.'
Alan Williamson, Threepenny Review 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 '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 '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.'
Fiona Sampson '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
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