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Drawing by Dennis Creffield


REVIEWS OF ALIEN MATTER
 

The Last Island

by William Doreski

This article originally appeared in Pembroke Magazine, #39, 2007

Regina Derieva, Alien Matter: New and Selected Poems. Translated by various hands. 
New York: Spuyten Duyvil, 2006. ISBN 1-933132-22-1. $10, paper.

Regina Derieva in her work and in her person embodies the new internationalism of poetry that has erupted since the fall of the Soviet Union and the opening of Eastern Europe. Living in Sweden, writing in her native Russian, translated into various languages and herself a translator of American, Australian, and British poetry, she represents a poetry freed of national and cultural boundaries and addressed to an audience linked by a larger vision of human possibilities. Although she has published twenty books of poetry and essays, this is the most substantial collection of her work to appear in English.
That should not imply simple optimism or a poetry of utopias to come. Derieva’s world is a harsh and difficult one, marked by problems of identity, cruel weathers of the planet and the soul, and ruined or outdated cultural monuments. “The Cast-off Remnant of a Centaur” rejects the broken-down European past of violence and sexism, but it also represents the freeing of the spirit as the old emblems lose their grip on the imagination and the human creature sheds the last of its paganisms and reconsiders the problem of faith:

The cast-off remnant of a centaur, on
its pedestal the head sits, turning green,
like Fet’s May grass under its little sun,
with fleeting space around and inbetween.
God doesn’t wonder, was the creature there,
the way the creature wonders about God.
Where you are now, brazen artificer,
creation needs no legs, and goes unshod.
Where you are now, there is no brass in feet,
no steel in voice, or gesture, or endeavor;
only the purest fluff, to every beat
and every breeze ecstatically aquiver. 

Only the head remains to contemplate the well-being of the creation, the bestial part of the monster completely lost. In this bodiless state of pure intellect, authority, ritual, and force no longer function, but the “purest fluff,” the loosened spirit, thrives. “We will all turn into salt, as God wished,” as another poem puts it, not a punishment so much as a purification, the flesh reverting to honest mineral and the limits of the earth transcended. 
But this is hardly the poetry of conventional Christian spirituality. Derieva retains an apocalyptic sense of closure—“To meet the Word world is worn out enough already/ to open its borders and begin this all” (“The Venous Snow, Swollen Snowdrifts”)—but grounds this vision in the ravaged political and social landscape of Russia’s turgid history:

Fire in Moscow, war and again
war. Prayers and banners.
A wild mixture of the public and
the Ivanov-Petrov alliance,
mix of the Republics. Dostoevsky.
An ax with the animal on the orbit.      (“Russian Album”)

Living in Europe after the Cold War is so much like surviving the apocalypse that history and religious vision merge in the individual effort to understand the way the past shades into the present: “I lived on the flat surface / and I lost the keys of the city in my haste,” Derieva admits. To live on the flat surface implies a lack of vision to overcome the limits of bodily existence, and forego entry into the larger community of the spirit. How does one escape this single dimension? Poetry does not provide a ready answer, but for Derieva her art is both an obsessive impulse and a matter of witness and conscience: “Again I have taken a vow of silence,” she observes in “Another side of the matter,” “/ and immediately broken it, / because the world inside me falls.” 
The importance of Derieva’s poetry lies in this sense of how worlds permeate each other, how the world inside and the world outside harmonize or struggle against each other with little distinction between the state of politics and culture and the state of the soul. Russian poets since Brodsky have given us a great deal of news about the state of politics, about the gap between the individual and the state. For Derieva, however, there is no escaping the culture by withdrawing into the self. In fact, that seems to be precisely where the culture occurs in its most uncompromised condition, and the out there is also the in here:

the angel with the flaming sword
has already expelled me from myself.
Now I cannot come nearer to myself,
and draw the conclusion
that estrangement is equivalent to death.

Being expelled from the garden and being expelled from one’s self are one tragedy, not simply because Eden is a state of mind but because states of mind coexist with existence itself. The nation is what it is because we are what we are, and it is impossible to escape ourselves even through death, since that merely confirms a self-estrangement. Perhaps this is too grim a vision for some readers to accept, but the honesty of it can be exhilarating, and opens into fresh possibilities. “You can discover something in something where you expected / to find nothing,” Derieva notes in “The Last Island,” her most ambitious poem. That last island—a place of “vowels without consonants”—is out there and in here for anyone to discover, a place where “God smiles once without remorse,” and although isolated and difficult to reach, it is there, and that’s salvation enough.
 
 

White on white

by Tomas Venclova

This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 25, 2007

Regina Derieva, Alien Matter: Selected Poems, Spuyten Duyvil, 104 pages, $10

It would be an understatement to name Regina Derieva one of the outstanding writers of the contemporary Russian diaspora: she has won acclaim as the author of powerful and inimitable verse, who occupies a unique niche in world poetry today. Her books have already appeared in English, Swedish, Italian and French.  Her brilliant translations of Czeslaw Milosz, Thomas Merton, Les Murray and other world-class poets cannot but contribute to her high poetic reputation.  Last but not least, she is a profound essayist, well known beyond the bounds of her native language.

For all that, she has paid a high price. Regina Derieva’s fate might be compared to that of such Russian classics as Akhmatova, Tsvetaeva and Brodsky. The words of Eugenio Montale, “It’s not possible to exaggerate,” taken by Derieva as an epigraph for her poem “At the Intersection,” would be an appropriate motto for her biography as well. For twenty-six years, she lived in Karaganda, perhaps the most dismal corner of the former Soviet Union – once the center of a vast prison camp universe, later just a gloomy industrial city.  Having acquainted herself with Soviet mores better than anyone could wish to, she managed to emigrate.  Her experience in Israel and Sweden was, in many respects, no less taxing.  It intensified the sense of existential exile that has become her trademark. 

This new book of Derieva’s poetry in English translation presents only a sampling of her extensive work, which consists of at least twenty collections.  Still, it is a gift for every connoisseur of poetry. The line of Montale quoted above describes well the main tonality of her writing, which manages to combine extreme tension and minimalist technique. Derieva’s poems are, as a rule, short, succinct and concise, built on distant associations; she frequently – and successfully – employs a characteristic Russian device, namely, interplay of literary subtexts which serve as passwords for the initiated. 

Derieva is, first and foremost, a Christian poet, a worthy heir to the long line of metaphysical poets, be they English, French or Russian.  Without inflated rhetoric or didacticism, her poems reach the very core of the Christian experience, which means a serious and fearless attitude towards life, suffering and death.  The imagery and syntax of the Gospels and the Prophets is, for her, a natural element – just as apocalyptic presentiments and mystical hope form the axis of her world outlook. She perceives atheism as a foreign language. Still, the religious vocabulary in Derieva’s writing is often juxtaposed with everyday slang and the intonations of prisoners' songs.  This is particularly true of her early poems which might be described as a metaphysics of the totalitarian world, with their constant symbolism of walls, barbed wire, lead-poisoning, torture without anesthetics.  They describe a region where “war is forever going on.” The poetic word (and the divine Word) in this inferno “annoys the powers that be because it lives.”  One discerns here an echo of Akhmatova’s Requiem and of Brodsky’s poetry, which does not reduce Derieva’s originality in the slightest. Looking for her kin, a reader may also think of Eliot – or of Giotto. 
Among Derieva’s poems written “in freedom’s air,” that is, in exile, I was particularly struck by “Winter Lectures for Terrorists,” which mercilessly destroy our habitual mythologies (without losing the Biblical and Christian perspective for a moment), and by “The Last Island,” a polyphonic work which incorporates the author’s Swedish experience. As before, poesis docta coexists there with an enviable sincerity and spontaneity. But Derieva's later poetry strives for the inexpressible (“writing white on white”) even more strongly.  The dialectic of despair and hope, of nothingness and everything, finds its embodiment in paradoxical statements which give poetic dimension to ancient theological dilemmas. For the new place where she lives – to be precise, for her new poetics - Derieva has found an unforgettable formula: “It is a place where God is not a fact, but where the only fact is man standing before God.”

One should bear in mind that Regina Derieva is a master of two equally difficult poetic techniques – traditional rhymed Russian verse (though her rhymes are often inexact, and words are sometimes cut asunder at the end of the line), as well as vers libre.  Not all of her seven translators attempted to reproduce that duality.  Some of them were also at a loss before Derieva’s multi-faceted vocabulary. Still, the book successfully brings English speakers nearer to a powerful poet who always strives “upward, on lines of verse,” and who has justly said about herself: “If someone has forgotten what darkness is I’ll remind them, becoming a heavenly body.” A star that lights the square in Bethlehem and the Holy Family in winter.
 
 

The Arm of Displacement

by Julia Istomina

This article originally appeared in Salt Magazine, #1, 2007

There might be more to the action of a Homeric epithet than it being a reliable way to fill the space of a two-week oral telling or a signifier of limited imagination. According to M.I. Finley, “Poets and audience alike rest frequently, so to speak, as the familiar rose-fingered Dawns and the messages repeated word for word roll forth. While they rest, the one prepares the next line or episode, the others prepare to attend to it.”* Perhaps it is no coincidence that when I hear someone whistling “I got Sunshine” on the train, I start singing it while doing the dishes. As human beings, we seem to be inherently programmed to code, recall, and perform various shared pieces of information, be it for purpose or for culture. Although I would argue that culture is purpose. The first strings of written word, poetry, literature, and historical accounts, first rang in the installments of the oral tradition, spoken by a bard and participated in by the audience. Therefore, repetition, anaphora, the Homeric epithet, serves as a binder that reflects both the consolidation and architecture of a closely-knit group of participants, or citizens. 

In her collection of translated Russian poems, “Alien Matter,” Regina Derieva employs the significant markers of anaphora to paradoxically call into question the state of a shared common tradition, when we are at the brink of overindulgent faux-internationalism and, also paradoxically, in less communication with the people around us than ever before. Here’s the loop: if the origination of written poetry and lyrics began with the oral tradition, and this then beget a sense of nationality that depends on one voice or perspective to bind people together, and with the fact that we live in a virtually isolated world, then the utilization of anaphora within a “private” written poem becomes an ironic trope that disillusions the citizenry of the traditional Homeric epithet, making it and the reader feel weak and isolated. 
For example, take the poem “I Don’t Feel at Home Where I Am”: 

I don’t feel at home where I am, 
or where I spend time, only where,
beyond counting, there’s freedom and calm,
that is, waves, that is, space where, when there,
you consist of pure freedom, which, seen, 
turns that Gorgon, the crowd, to stone,
to pebbles and sand…where life’s mean-
ing lies buried, that never let one
come within cannon shot yet.
From cloud-covered wells untold
pour color and light, a fete
of cupids and Ledas in gold.
That is, silk and honey and sheen.
that is, boon and quiver and call.
that is, all that lives to be free,
needing no words at all. 

In Russian, “that is” can be loosely translated to “this” as well, which still triggers the same effect. The narrator is seeking encouragement in her association of facts, figures, and shapes. She doesn’t “feel at home” with her singular position in her spatial and cultural world, and is trying to grasp at seemingly tossed about objects that surround her so as to achieve a stability of meaning and association. But all she ends up doing is repeating the conditional — “That is,” which becomes more of a question than a callback. 
In a more political poem, “Theory of Recruiting”: 

Sons of bitches
were born 
with hearts of stone,
cherishing this stone
all their life.
Children of 
sons of bitches
were born
with hearts of grenade,
in order to blow to pieces
everything,
and to leave as a message for their descendents — 
entrails
(still smoking entrails)
of sons of bitches. 

The refrain is cold and impervious. The subject matter is frightening. But this is a familiar place; Russia has experienced its fair share of terrorist bombings and brutality. Therefore, the inherent paradox that differentiates the anaphora in this poem is the fact that the narrator is speaking from a common, shared sphere of her known region, but it is of “sons of bitches … with hearts of grenade.” The twisted can be extended even further, I’m afraid. If Homeric epithets were meant to bring a type of people together and invoke a sense of commonality and sharing in a particular culture, then this poem succeeds on an altogether different and more disturbing level. We are all sharing in the “sons of bitches” and the “smoking entrails.” We have all been exposed to this scene. The narrator “blows” up the national commonality factor into a universal perspective, and it is a frightening phenomenon. 

Regina Derieva’s poetry is reminiscent of Anna Akhmatova and Lorine Niedecker. She is from the old country and is having problems finding a new-world home. “Alien Matter” is a chronological packaging of her work, dating back to 1978, and many of the poems here draw direct allusions to imprisonment, guards, lack of freedom, and the self-conception of the poet as a child of exile, seeking answers, clarity, and stability from a “parent” country, finding only her own voice. That’s where I believe the aspects of Akhmatova and Niedecker conflate. In the beginning poem, “At the Intersection,” we have almost a direct reference to Akhmatova’s long poem Requiem, which is dedicated to Stalin’s victims. For example, the first section ends with the stanza: “I should remember I am a human being / but the wild wind prevents me / and the happy children of the guards / look out from under marble eyelids.” The narrator is differentiating herself through tone and content from these “happy children,” and encourages the association that everyone but these protected children, and the guards, is in danger of being somehow “unhappy.” The suspicion and terror are close at hand. 

The Niedecker allusion involves Derieva’s more at-ease, private language. One particular poem reminds me of a Niedecker piece, “Wilderness,” that is actually written included in Barnes and Nobles subway series, and which starts with: “You are the man / You are my other country / and I find it hard going.” Derieva’s poem, “Monuments are Lies,” begins with, “Monuments are lies / embodied in stone. And a man — is a lie, / embodied in a body.” Another is “Winter, Euterpe,” where the second part ends with: “oozing pain. / As though I’d not / yet run clear to the very brim / of absence, of non-being, of that / winter that no one could dream.” The references to Niedecker and Akhmatova might seem miniscule until one considers how worlds apart they may have been in their respective lives. This unlikely pair might place the author of “Alien Matter” into the plane of an uncomfortable past and present, where tradition is tugging on the sleeve, and the isolation of reason and reality keeps throwing off the arm. 

There is a danger in writing about cultural identifications, in that one may end up bringing up trite references that are too “easy” and too “used before.” As a fellow Russian-American poet who has also written about her migratory experiences, I too have written about “dachas,” Joseph Brodsky, and rye bread. The danger of the expression of migratory experiences to term certain aspects the same way is a small trifle. In fact, it may somewhat align me with Derieva in the shared-ness of our fragmented heritage. But then to be fair, I enjoyed these moments less than her longer sequence poems, which waned from prose series to special experimentations, as well as her poems of abstraction. Maybe that explains it then – I like when Derieva is being most abstract because she uses unfamiliar sights and sounds that when pitted against each other, create masterful works of art. 

My two favorites are “Discovery of Shadowing,” and “The Cast-Off Remnant of a Centaur,” for their strangeness as well as their utilization of repetition. The “Discovery of Shadowing” makes a very serious statement even in the first of its three short stanzas: “A man comes crashing, / comes crashing…/ A man comes crashing / until he falls / to his knees. / What is left of the tower / that appeared / after him?” Apart from the curious Buddhist philosophy, this poem makes a statement of our inherent detachment from the pulp of human capacity to act as a unified substance. This coming from a Russian. Which makes the poem all the more strong: it is necessary to act as your own agent, but the estrangement of commonality is a hard thing to bear. That is why, in the second stanza of the poem, “The poetry has gone / from the poetry. / It spends the night under the tower / which is just about to fall. Somehow / there is a connection: / poetry and the tower, / the tower and the man, / from whom poetry has gone.” I’d like to give the “fall” more credit than simply alluding to a historical phenomenon, aka the fall of communism. 

I’ll leave off with my favorite line from “The Cast-Off Remnant of a Centaur,” which is enjoyable less so for any political or emotional strife; it’s a wordy poem that is fun in its provocations. The line is: “God doesn’t wonder, was the creature there, / the way the creature wonders about God.” For Regina Derieva’s “Alien Matter,” the folk ego is replaced by the one-body, one-mind factor. God is hiding or dead. Poetry involves something else altogether, and yet that familiar tug at the elbow is too hard to resist. There is brilliant and variant translation work in this book’s making. I would ask for fewer “tears,” but those are commonly the first reaction when, as in Derieva’s poem “Since I Have Not Had My Home”: “Lacking even paper / I write on my heart / turned inside out. / That is why it squeaks / at night like the earth’s axis / that turns me face to face / with the impossible.”

* Finley, M.I. The World of Odysseus. New York Review Books: NY. 1982.
 
 

TRAVELLING INCOGNITO 

(on poetry from Ireland, Norway, Poland and Russia)

by Debjani Chatterjee

This article originally appeared in Poetry Review, No 1, Spring 2006
 

Regina Derieva ed. Hildred Crill, Alien matter: New and Selected Poems,
translated by Alan Shaw et al. Spuyten Duyvil. $10.00, ISBN 1933132221

Regina Derieva's book contains recent poems from 2002 to 2003 and selections from three previous collections, covering the period 1978 to 2001. Her title, Alien Matter, as well as the titles of books from  which   she has selected – Absence, The Last War and Fugitive – is revelatory. Hers is a poetry of transition, of   exile and often of bitter loss. She has known many changes in her life: born into a Russian Jewish family, she converted to Roman Catholicism, migrated to Israel, had her appeal for Israeli citizenship rejected, and now lives in Sweden. Her translators for Alien Matter – Alan Shaw, Robert Reid, Richard McKane, Andrey Gritsman, Peter France, Kevin Carey and Ilya Bernstein – have backgrounds as diverse as the Soviet Union, Britain and the USA.

     With its rhyming quatrain, Biblical references, and the focus on country,
'The Land of Ur' is typical of  Derieva's poems. The final stanza seems a declaration of her own stateless situation: “It s forbidden. There was a land. / There is no land. One destiny – / now another. And God demands/ a sacrificial country." Her poetry brims with the characters and incidents of the Bible, especially the Old Testament. The "wild beasts/ of Noah's ark, /                     which had just devoured / the last dove of peace'', the "wide-open eyes'' of  John the Baptist's severed head, and Lazarus in his coffin, are some of her references. Derieva delights in contradictions and is a master of the epigram. 'Maxims and Paradoxes on the Accidental Sheets' begins: "all my life / I sought / an angel. / And he appeared / in order to say: / 'I am no angel!'". Throughout it all she wears her heart on her sleeve –  and perhaps this makes her unfashionable among contemporary poets; but hers is a brave and eminently readable voice. 
 
 

“When Humanity Wins”

by J. P. McConalogue

This article originally appeared in Projected Letters, 2006

Whilst reading through Projected Letters, I noticed the selection of Derieva's poems, taken from her new book, Alien Matter. I imagine that the poems printed on the website should have been of interest to the contributors and readers casually browsing through the pages of PL. I particularly enjoyed reading through them — both in terms of their general style, and in terms of the interweaving of objects and events with an implicitly colourful understanding of history and time.

Although there are many issues relating to how conceptions of time influence Derieva's style, it could be clearly noted that there is an underlying fatalism throughout the selected poems: "'What do I have to do with it?" The grip of fate/grows tighter, steeper, closer to the pit." (Derieva, "Prior to Departure") I would immediately note that the representation of time appears to relate to several treatments of other concepts within the poetry.

The poems often address a progressive conception of time, from which one must pull oneself from and even leave behind in order to salvage the humanity of the person. The reference to the "wild wind" appears to be that of time, as progress, dragging the individual through time. It is posed against humanity since the wild wind clearly prevents one from becoming a human being: "I should remember I am a human being/ But the wild wind prevents me" (Derieva, At the Intersection). The inner tension of progress, symbolised as a wind, pulling the individual from the human situation, or "human condition," was often used by Walter Benjamin in his Theses on the Philosophy of History in order to discuss a Marxist-Judaic conception of the "angel of history." Bertolt Brecht also makes use of the image of the wind to capture the progressive (and even aggressive) nature of time, posed against the human condition: "Vain the ambition of kings/ Who seek by trophies and dead things/ To leave a living name behind/ And weave but nets to catch the wind." (Bertolt Brecht, Epilogue to The Duchess of Malfi). Unless one pulls oneself from progressive time, one will fail to save the inner-humanity of the person.

The image of the wind is used by Benjamin in the Theses on the Philosophy of History to explain the disunity of history as experienced by the subject living historically:

"A Klee painting named 'Angelus Novus' shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating … This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet … But a storm is blowing in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such a violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress." (Walter Benjamin, Thesis IX, Theses on the Philosophy of History).

I mention Walter Benjamin because the theory that he attempts to draw an analogy between the individual's historical mindset of their place in a progressive civilisation and a painting (by Klee) in which an angel has his eyes staring, mouth open and wings spread. This struggle with time, understood as progress, is commonplace in Derieva's poety. In particular, Derieva seems to frequently return to the issue of the individual within the fatalistic situation, entrenched within a modern chaotic world. We are the "pawns" left on the earth, an earth which appears to be a persistent and "imperceptible threat." (Derieva, Part 3, At the Intersection). In Benjamin's Theses, the angel is not a heavenly or theological actress but the rather vulnerable, well-intentioned individual of a modern progressive society. In the representation, with the individual's eyes glancing at the past, her mouth wide open with astonishment, the past is distancing itself from her very existence, with her wings wide open. The wings represent the innocent yet essential component of the angel, through which she cannot be separated from the storm of progress. The wings, then lend this "melancholy character" a historical picture, which it battles to overcome but always struggles with. Like a bird attempting to fly in gale-force wind, the angels ability to completely separate herself from the storm of progress would be to sever her wings. As the angel is stuck with the wings which are unable to challenge the storm, the individual sits within a base condition which finds it difficult to challenge progress. Benjamin already explains that paradise would force the angel to fall blindly into the future whilst simultaneously being ripped from the contemplation of a past (hence, the astonishment). Indeed, as with Benjamin's works, although the individual is understood as unplanned, blind to the future and melancholic, and unable to pull her from the storm, hope is retained. In Derieva's "What Kind of Thing is Time," it is written: "I must climb out of here not backward/and not forward, but upward. Upward, on lines of verse" as if to say, in order to be human, one must break with the traditional conception of time. This is a condition of both hope and despair.

It is clear that in the battle between romantic invincibility of eternal progressive time and the humdrum sickness of the chaotic human condition, the humdrum humanity often appears to win. Beyond the wild wind of progress, time also takes on a romantic and invincible quality. Such invincibility is apparent in lines such as: "I arouse instinct in the old lags,/that is the beasts whose times are without term." (Derieva, Part one, "The Intersection"). Again, it is humanity that reminds one that progressive time is not eternal and that the human condition reduces one to a finite and unique existence. Accordingly, the line that follows the invincibility lines are: "I should remember I am a human being." Through remembering their finiteness, the person remembers the humanity of their situation. The humdrum process of self-development and the realisations that 'youth is not what it always claimed to be' also reiterate the humanity of her poetry: "Farewell to our youth, our bottomless youth — let its monument be of salt." (Derieva, "Whether I Turn To The Shooting Star Or the Tear"). It is clear that humanity wins.

On rare occasions, the conception of time relates to time sequence and syntax
of poetry — I am glad of the small usage of this in Dereiva's poetry since it is a relatively over-baked issue in academic circles. The reduction of feelings of invincibility to the humdrum state of humanity awakens important issues; I would enjoy the opportunity to read more of Derieva's work in the future.
 
 

A dark, beautiful book 

by Alison Greenwood-Smith (Seattle WA) 
Amazon.com March 24, 2006 

This is a book of exile, a book of longing, a book of faith, written by someone
for whom the past is always elsewhere: 

Sea of hills, sea of blood and sea 
of the crooked roads, oceans of stones. 
If one escapes both live and dead 
one has to live without all roots. 

And live she does, ferociously, in this uncompromising, passionate book. 
"From the country of institutes to the country of prostitutes," she writes 
in one poem, "Fetters have become a way of living." 

"No dream can wake you up," she warns, "but wake you must / and soon": 

Winter. Euterpe. Sleep in a land 
one almost doesn't know. As though 
I came, outsider to the end, 
with barking everywhere I go. 

These are mysterious, sorrowing, gorgeous poems, and they speak best for themselves: 

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN: 

Consisting as I do of scraps of dreams, 
of lands I've never seen, of underpinnings, 
of air and salt, of elemental things 
unmeddled with by endings or beginnings, 

of clay and iron, and of ocean wave 
and shingle crowds of feet have trod upon, 
of faith and hope, stood at the wall, to brave 
the rifles, turning into heavenly stone, 

of quiet and simplicity, bestowed 
upon us by a woman among women, 
of emptiness that stretches like a road 
into a vastness where things lose their meaning, 

of whisperings, of looking long at that 
which goes among us by the name of God, 
at death, which never was, and now is not, 
at life, of which so little can be had. 

ALIEN MATTER is chockablock with pleasures and made me eager to find 
out where Derieva's journey will take her next.
 
 

Reviews of The Sum Total Of Violations

The Warwick Review

Stride magazine

The Scotland-Russia Forum Review
June 2009

The Times Literary Supplement
October 28, 2009

by CATRIONA KELLY

'Derieva is, however, primarily concerned with what she calls "the geography
of the brain". People and objects encountered are almost always tied to other
levels of experience. Thus, a fellow passenger with eyebrows "like two
cottages" is "the graven image of Charlie Chaplin". Collecting pebbles on 
the beach, Derieva recalls the great political philosopher Alexander Chaadaev
doing the same, "for which they made him be a madman in Russia".
Even the proverbial simplicity of an egg is unsettled by the blood-fleck of an
"unborn alchemist". 
Such an appreciation of the world would be quite incompatible with effusion,
and indeed, Derieva remembers that "as a child I didn't cry". Many of the
poems are charged with the stoic pride of a former dissident ("only one way 
to circumvent / the skewed world – don’t cave in!"). Consistency of tone goes
with fragmentation of logic and perception.' 


 




 


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