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This review is taken from PN Review 177, Volume 34 Number 1, September - October 2007.

COMMEMORATIVE AND EARTHY INNA LISNIANSKAYA, Far from Sodom, translated by Daniel Weissbort (Arc) £8.95
SASKIA HAMILTON, Canal (Arc) £8.95

On the surface these two poets offer us deeply dissimilar formal approaches. Lisnianskaya's originals are often in tight and strictly rhymed forms which she appears to have been using over her long writing career. The highly inflected nature of Russian does tend to make a strict rhyme scheme easier to create than, say, in English. In addition, Russian encourages the play of stress among its rolling polysyllables.

In his preface the translator Daniel Weissbort comments that Lisnianskaya's music 'is evident in the abruptness that often underlies and sometimes seems to contradict the classical serenity of the form'. The translator's doubts then surface in his comment that such music cannot 'be reinvented in English without compromising the translation'. But what Weissbort calls 'abruptness' comes across here as a beguiling pithiness, as in this elegy, 'To Tsvetaeva', that I quote in full:

Your posthumous couch is weightless,
Death yields no extra time to us.
But to muse, there's still insufficient:
A genius is born to raise the insignificant,
to confound the genius.


Elaine Feinstein suggests in her introduction that Lisnianskaya's music is 'a lyricism of meaning and feeling so intense that it renders language seemingly transcendent'. The lyricism has a kind of centripetal quality to it; the poems pull in feeling and that might account for both the pithy quality of the writing and the fact that it is so beguiling.

Lisnianskaya often plays on the tension between memory ...


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