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This item is taken from PN Review 215, Volume 40 Number 3, January - February 2014.

In 2006 Daniel Weissbort wrote in PN Review, 'I began by translating a sewing machine manual from French into English' -  shades of John Ashbery's poem 'The Instruction Manual' - 'and have by now translated poetry by many twentieth-century Russian poets and one or two nineteenth-century ones, including Pushkin.' When I first met him in 1969 his knowledge of world poetry was encyclopaedic. In his enormous, cluttered study in a large, chaotic house near Swiss Cottage, an attic room of which I used to occupy when I visited London, his desk was positioned so he could look from a high bay window down the length of Compayne Gardens. An early poem portrays him as a captain sailing his mansion through the night.

The mansion carried three handsome children and his first wife. Behind his captain's chair rose enormous banks of filing: all the poetries of the world bursting from folders and envelopes, the poetry of Russia and Eastern Europe especially prominent. 'One translates poets one looks up to. There is always something good to translate.' He was a wonderfully competent and courageous captain, an inventive and consistent editor of magazines (Modern Poetry in Translation, which he established with Ted Hughes, being his principal periodical legacy) and of anthologies and critical books. He was a too copious poet whose best poems continue speaking with his passionate, modest warmth, self-deprecating, never falsely modest. Without him there might have been no Penguin Modern Poets; the translation activity that flowered in the 1970s and has continued through leaner, later decades can be laid at his door. Certainly the Carcanet translation list which began with his Natalya Gorbanevskaya (whose death was reported to us just as we went to press) and with Paul Celan and Fernando Pessoa would have been unthinkable without him. In Poetry Nation Two we published five poems, one of which, 'Return', might stand as his epitaph. We buried him on 29 November at Brompton Cemetery.

I doodle: a sun
and clouds moving towards it -  
an explosion in reverse.

All right, so I must put everything back in place.
Re-pack the cases for the trip back.
And I must find room too for your body, your voice.

Lord, I am not a magician.
The cases I started off with
are too small.

Tony Rudolf, a friend of his of much longer standing, memorably spoke the Kaddish and the El Maleh Rahamim. Daniel was a secular Jew, an atheist wanderer who lived for many years in the United States and taught in the University of Iowa's writing programme (Sujata Bhatt remembers him as a wonderful teacher). Still, he was uniquely entitled to the Kaddish. Another of his poems, 'A Dream of Tall Buildings' from 2006, makes clear how deep his roots ran in time if not (despite the heavy furniture and escarpments of files) in space.

I had a recurrent dream.
An immigrant, approaching New York,
I'd see its towering skyline and suddenly feel
warm, happy, fulfilled.

Now New York's baroque cliffs have mostly turned to glass,
yet that dream, a solid city in the sky,
still inspires me.
My immigrant blood yearns
for the promise of the nineteenth century.

'I'd like to write a non-linear memoir,' he told an interviewer. 'Fragments come to me at night. I should switch on the light and make notes.'


Daniel Weissbort was part of a generous, collegiate generation that helped shape mine. Its character, tempered by the Second World War, is vividly evoked in It Goes with the Territory: Memoirs of a Poet by Elaine Feinstein (Alma Books, £20). Combining linear and non-linear narratives, she portrays herself as a young Jewish 'gatecrasher in the garden of privilege' at Cambridge, which she like Weissbort attended, and where she found herself not unwelcome. She was already on her way to becoming a novelist and poet (having written her first novel at the age of twelve).

As a young editor, she elicited from Charles Olson one of his most famous declarations on poetics, and she taught under the aegis of Donald Davie and others. She recounts a long and difficult marriage even-handedly, and she recalls the transforming poetic relationship of her life, with Marina Tsvetaeva, whose translated poetry is inseparable from her own. I was, as she recalls, 'transfixed' by her poem 'Mother Love' in In a Green Eye when she came to read for us at Oxford in 1969. Her memoir brings alive, from her wry, pained perspective, six decades of European poetic life, and the hard marriage between the word and the world. She remembers Daniel Weissbort as author of 'some of the funniest letters I have ever received'. She regretted that 'his bumpy life', as it seemed to be settling into autumnal contentment, was spoiled by Alzheimer's.

Elaine Feinstein is poet, translator and novelist, but also a substantial biographer - of Akhmatova, Tsvetaeva and Ted Hughes among others. In It Goes with the Territory she makes a subject of herself and, in order to see her subject and where she has been, she must evoke dozens of other lives which have directed or re-directed her journey. Hers is the generation of Davie, Sisson, Tomlinson and Hughes, but also of Steiner, of Brodsky, Yevtushenko, Dorn, Ginsberg and Olson. She belongs among them, without airs, a natural friend and teacher and a writer somehow managing to be rich still with 'the promise of the nineteenth century'.

This item is taken from PN Review 215, Volume 40 Number 3, January - February 2014.

Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this item to
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