cover image Dark Elderberry Branch: 
Poems of Marina Tsvetaeva

Dark Elderberry Branch: Poems of Marina Tsvetaeva

Ilya Kaminsky and Jean Valentine. Alice James (Consortium, dist.), $15 trade paper (64p) ISBN 978-1-882295-94-4

Famously passionate, and terrifyingly responsive to the disasters of the early 20th century, Tsvetaeva (1892–1941) stands among the best of Russian poets, but her short lyric forms and her spiritual depths have made her work hard to render persuasively in English. “I am happy living simply/ like a clock, or a calendar,” says a poem of 1919, but her life could not stay simple. Tsvetaeva rose along with other Russian modernists in the 1910s, conducting a love affair with Osip Mandelstam, taking later inspiration from Rilke; near starvation after the Bolshevik triumph, living in exile from 1922 to 1939, she left behind work that reflects her difficult days. ”You can buy me only with the whole sky in yourself, “she announced in 1919, “[t]he whole sky in which, perhaps, there is no place for me.” Kaminsky (himself a Russian émigré) and Valentine insist that their short, moving volume contains not translations but “readings,” very free renderings, along with fragments from Tsvetaeva’s journals and other prose. Two attractive essays on Tsvetaeva, from Stephanie Sandler at the start and from Kaminsky at the end, fill out the book. For every reader frustrated by its focus on fragments and by its brevity, there may be another transported by the careful words and the emotional extremes that characterize Tsvetaeva in English as in her original tongue. (Nov.)