Elaine Feinstein

To American readers, English poet Elaine Feinstein is perhaps best known simply as the recipient of Charles Olson's "Letter To Elaine Feinstein" (1959), published in the Donald Allen anthology of New American Poetry, along with the republication of his Projective Verse essay.

To a British reading public, however, she is known as a poet, novelist, translator of the poetry of Marina Tsvetaeva, author of biographies of Pushkin and of Anna Akhmatova, and of Ted Hughes and, since the death of Scotsman A.C. Jacobs, the finest Anglo-Judaic poet in the UK, (although she says she is no longer of the Jewish faith) and perhaps the only one ever to be accepted, if not embraced, by the now less overtly anti-semitic English literary establishment.

Her new book, TALKING TO THE DEAD (Carcanet, 2007) , is her best and most moving work to date. "Nothing of value screams for attention" the late Harry Thomson (drama professor at the University of Hull and theatre guru) once said, and Ms. Feinstein's poetry is quiet and even serene while, at the same time, exploring deep emotions, holding nothing back.

Much of the book deals with the recent death of her husband. Here is her poem "Beds":

Last night I wondered where you had found to sleep.
You weren't in bed. There was no one in your chair.

Through every window the white, full moon glared.
I walked into the garden, shivering:

"Where are you, my darling? You will catch cold."
Waking, I let the daytime facts unfold.

She finds sustenance in her lifetime's commitment to poetry. These are the final two stanzas from her "Letter To Ezra Pound":

Mussolini took no interest in you. How pretend
those broadcasts were no more than opportunistic?
The sneers figured in letters to old friends,
and fellow poets: Reznikoff. Zukofsky.
A little more than that provincial prejudice

Ginsberg said you confessed to in Rapallo.
And yet, those Pisan Cantos... you were gifted
above any. And young writers found you generous.
Pull down thy vanity. Socrates warned us
not to trust poets centuries ago.

In her longish poem, "Scattering" she speaks of visiting the home of her friend Yehudah Amichai, but it is Dahlia Ravikovitch to whom she is closer in spirit, and in the seemingly simple flowing precision of her language and her sense of a felt rather than a merely recorded or abstract history, Denise Levertov. And In the final poem in the book, one is reminded of the fragility and gentleness of Dr. Williams' late love poems.

A full ginger moon hangs in the garden.
On this side of the house there are no stars.
When I go to bed, I like to soothe myself with
streetlights, lit windows and passing cars.

When my grandchild comes to sleep over
I find we share the same preference.
She doesn't want to draw the curtains either.
I like to look out on my town, my London...

Have you seen London from above? she asks me.
It's like a field of lights. And her grey eyes widen.
Her eight-year-old spirit is tender as blossom.
Be gentle to her now, ferocious London.