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This review is taken from PN Review 195, Volume 37 Number 1, September - October 2010.


Elaine Feinstein’s Cities is a personal and public history of the twentieth century, unpicked from the fabric of a gentle Anglo- Jewish poet’s life. It is a tale of murder, migration, loves, marriage, literary life and friendships, sickness and healing, told in sophisticated, subtle lyrics that suit the story, by someone who feels incompletely assimilated within the Western Christian world, always a marrano. Read with her poems in Talking to the Dead and her prose reverie The New Jerusalem, both published within the last three years, Cities is a memorable tableau of a Diaspora poet’s life.

It opens with migratory birds ‘on the flyways old as Homer’ and moves chronologically from her grandparents’ Odessa through Cambridge to London. The timeline of places lived or visited jinks occasionally, as memory recurs, before it ends in her garden in London’s Willesden Green, where she now lives and writes, aged eighty. The poems reflect Jewish emigration in flight from anti-Semitism in the Pale of Settlement from 1880 through 1914 and the not uncommon journeys thereafter of their children and grandchildren through the schools, universities, cities and landscapes of Britain, Europe, Russia and Israel.

These poems about time spent in Odessa, Leicester, Cambridge, New York, Basel, Jerusalem, Lublin, Warsaw, Krakow, Budapest, St Petersburg, Odessa, Tibilisi, Sydney, Lisbon and London are in roughly syllabic free verse arranged in regular stanzas, mostly quintains and tercets, as well as several sonnets and octets divided into quatrains. Their force derives from plain open ...

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