Thanks to a wealth of publications since the ‘60s, there are lots of ways into Marina Tsvetaeva’s work via English. For my money though, few capture her force of mind and powerful wit as vividly as Angela Livingstone does in these essays, most written during Tsvetaeva’s prose-heavy émigré period in Paris in the ‘30s. Watching Tsvetaeva clarify for herself and her public where she’s been, what poetry means, and what value it has in the political roar through which she lived is fascinating, in part for the uncompromising way she responds to her contemporaries, partly for the rigorous measure of the art she leaves for us.
The circumstances that history forced upon Tsvetaeva and her cohort make our own hand-wringing about the efficacy of poetry look like a grade school play. I don’t mean that to put us down (well, maybe a little) so much as to elevate Tsvetaeva’s razor-sharp and intensely particular approach to poetics, which for her reaches beyond any syllabus or specialty to become a manual for how to stay human in a world with shrinking space for that.
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