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This review is taken from PN Review 101, Volume 21 Number 3, January - February 1995.

LOWER CASE AND CAPITAL ANNA AKHMATOVA, My Half Century: selected prose edited by Ronald Meyer, (Ardis) $39.95
THOMAS TRANSTRÖMER, For the Living and the Dead translated by John F. Deane in collaboration with the author (the Dedalus Press) £4.95
ANNA KAMIENSKA, Two Darknesses translated by Tomasz P. Krzeszowski and Desmond Graham (Flambard Press) £5.95
HANS FAVEREY, Against the Forgetting: selected poems translated by Francis R. Jones (Anvil) £8.95
HEINZ PIONTEK, Selected Poems translated by Ewald Osers (Forest) £6.95
HANS MAGNUS ENZENSBERGER, Selected Poems translated by the author and by Michael Hamburger (Bloodaxe) £8.95
JEAN-JACQUES CELLY, The Sleepwalker with Eyes of Clay translated by Katherine Gallagher, dual text (Forest) £6.95

Unlike Mayakovsky -'spoilt from childhood by the future, which he mastered rather early', as Pasternak saw him at the end of Safe Conduct - Anna Akhmatova was in a sense rescued from childhood by the future, which held sway over her in such a way that she could never rest comfortable with her own mastery. Whereas Mayakovsky's suicide symbolized the end of an epoch, Akhmatova's survival came to seem an emblem of continuity, triumphs over losses that would have shattered a less indomitable spirit. In her 'Prose About the "Poem [Without A Hero"]', in a passage dated December 1959, Akhmatova thinks of Mayakovsky as 'the Poet with a Capital "p"', as if she herself were only fit to be mentioned in lower case. Ironically, of all the great figures of her generation it was Akhmatova herself who had come, by the 1960s, to epitomize Poetry and the Poem, and the heroism of which they were the sword and shield.

In the West the discovery of Akhmatova has taken giant strides since her death in 1965, a process culminating in the Complete Poems (minus the items intended to move Stalin to compassion for her son) translated by Judith Hemschemeyer. Yet it was still easier to feel closer to Mandelstam, to Pasternak and to Tsvetaeva, even though all three had - like Akhmatova - striven to keep 'biography as spectacle' to a minimum. A continuous stream of memoirs, combined with translations of the prose alongside (if not actually about) ...


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