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Book Review

It Goes With the Territory: memoirs of a poet by Elaine Feinstein (Alma, £20)

it goes with the territoryElaine Feinstein is the author of sixteen collections of poetry, three collections of poetry in translation, fifteen novels, two short story collections and seven biographies but has chosen “memoirs of a poet” as the sub-title of this book rather than a “writer”, giving away immediately her main interest and leading us to the world in which she made an unlikely entry so many decades ago. Against her was that she was Jewish, provincial, female, unconnected and married with three children before she could really call herself a poet. In her favour, however, was that as a teenager “while other girls dreamt of princes and Hollywood stars, I dreamt of dead poets.”

Elaine went to Cambridge where she wrote for Granta and set up Prospect, publishing Harold Pinter, Denise Levertov and Donald Davie, amongst others, and made friends with Allen Ginsberg. Her influences as a poet were from the west, the Black Mountain poets and Charles Reznikoff and, later, from the east, when she made another reputation as a translator ,particularly of Marina Tsvetieva. Along the way Elaine brought up her children, met internationally famous poets such as Yevgeny Yevtushenko, who kept her up all night drinking, and Joseph Brodsky, who she fell out with over translation.

Her novel Russian Jerusalem manages to bring together all her favourite Russian interests, from Isaac Babel on, and her memoir reveals not a few scrapes as she tries to work with refuseniks in broken down flats in Moscow suburbs. Some of her work reveals profound melancholy, and one reason, outlined in her memoir, was often her difficult but fifty-years long marriage to Arnold Feinstein, a scientist, who was unfaithful and, at times, threatened by her successes. Yet she loved Arnold despite everything, which led to her most recent book of poems Talking to the Dead, a group of elegies for him. The book more or less ends with Arnold’s death in 2012.

It Goes With the Territory will be of particular value to those concerned with the history of twentieth century poetry, but of a wider value to those concerned about how women moved into the world of men in the 1960s and 1970s.

Ross Bradshaw

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