REVIEWS OF ALIEN MATTER
The Last Island
by William Doreski
This article originally appeared in Pembroke Magazine,
Regina Derieva, Alien Matter: New and Selected Poems.
Translated by various hands.
New York: Spuyten Duyvil, 2006. ISBN 1-933132-22-1. $10,
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or outdated cultural monuments.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.
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
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,
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 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
with hearts of stone,
cherishing this stone
all their life.
sons of bitches
with hearts of grenade,
in order to blow to pieces
and to leave as a message for their descendents —
(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
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
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.
(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
translated by Alan Shaw et al. Spuyten Duyvil. $10.00,
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,
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
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
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,
"From the country of institutes to the country of prostitutes,"
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
Scotland-Russia Forum Review
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
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