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ISSN 1409-6900 | UDK 82+7     Blesok no. 56 | volume X | September-October, 2007



                     Peer-reviewed journal
Blesok no. 56September-October, 2007

Memorial to a marriage

p. 1
Antonia Byatt

In this review published by the Guardian [,,2072652,00. html], Antonia Byatt is moved by “Talking to the Dead” (Carcanet), a collection from Elaine Feinstein that mixes grief with celebration

Elaine Feinstein has written an extraordinarily moving collection of poems dedicated to the memory of her husband, Arnold Feinstein. They evoke him and his absence with painful clarity, charting both the discords and harmonies of a marriage. Feinstein offers no easy retreat into the false comfort of shared sentiment in grief; instead her poems bravely probe human transience.
    “Winter”, the opening poem, is bleakly set on a wet London street, lit with harsh headlights. Feinstein, driving alone, introduces her husband's voice: “You never did learn to talk and find the way / at the same time”. These poems conjure up the intimate presence of her husband again and again: he appears in small, matter-of-fact memories but, as in “Winter”, the conversational ease and the intimacy of the moment often shifts:
    “Well, you're right, I've missed my turning,
       And smile a moment at the memory.
    Always knowing you lie peaceful and curled
       like an embryo under the squelchy ground,
    Without a birth to wait for, whirled
       Into that darkness where nothing is found.”
    The absence she confronts is immense. The sense that the universe is far greater than men's own lives is explored further in “Hubble”. In it, the “Lord God” watches the Hubble telescope (“a delicate toy”) attempting to measure “heavenly secrets”. Our lives, to Him, are touching but not significant. This God offers no heavenly paradise. Instead, in these poems, paradise is often found in London gardens, paintings and music, and the Earth's round of seasons. “If I believed in an old fashioned Paradise / then you, my love, would still be talking in it.”
    Feinstein brilliantly makes personal significance ring loud. There is a simplicity in some of the poems that is wrenching. In “Beds”, “Last night I wondered where you had found to sleep. / You weren't in bed. There was no one in your chair”. This starkness is here again in the poems that track Arnold's illness and death. Modern, hospitalised death is often intrusive and dehumanising. Arnold appears in hospital, hauled by the nurses: “you'd been inside so many hospitals, / ticking your menus, shrugging off jabs and scans”. Thom Gunn's elegy, “Lament”, describes the physical horror of the tubes inserted into his dying friend, recording how “your body sought

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