Dark Elderberry Branch: Poems of Marina Tsvetaeva

Dark Elderberry Branch: Poems of Marina Tsvetaeva


Marina Tsvetaeva
Translated by Ilya Kaminsky & Jean Valentine

2014 Eric Hoffer Award for Poetry – First Runner-Up
2014 Montaigne Medal Finalist
2014 da Vinci Eye Finalist

Alice James Books Translation Series

Paperback with CD (readings in original Russian)

A reading by Ilya Kaminsky and Jean Valentine

“This ‘homage’ to Tsvetaeva captures moments, lines, and fragments the way a talented artist captures an individual with a few well-placed strokes of charcoal. As artists understand, a faithful rendering is not always the best way to capture an individual, a scene, or an idea. It is not completeness or precision that are most important, but instead, intuition, empathy, and artfulness. And in this sense Dark Elderberry Branch succeeds brilliantly.”

November 2012

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Available in print.


Marina Tsvetaeva (October 1891–August 1941) was born in Moscow. She lived and wrote during the Russian Revolution and the Moscow famine. At the age of 18, she published her first collection of poems, Evening Album. Throughout her lifetime she wrote poems, verse plays, and prose pieces. Tsvetaeva is considered one of the greatest poets in 20th-century Russian literature.

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— NC

Additional Praise:

“. . .a master class in poetics. . . [bringing] layer after layer of meaning, context, and skill to life. . . . Tsvetaeva would approve of this re-vision of her work.”
The California Journal of Poetics

“…with tenderness and emotional integrity [Valentine and Kaminsky] created a Tsvetaeva-centric world in gorgeous poems and fragments of prose.”
The Rumpus

“Non-Russian speakers will still never know exactly what it’s like to read Tsvetaeva, but Valentine and Kaminsky have tapped into something that may contain the inklings of Tsvetaeva’s soul.”
Construction Magazine

“The magnitude of love, exile, loss, desperation and faith is met with a fortitude most of us will never have to muster; a vulnerability most would never expose. We can thank the stoeln paper, quills, red ink; the bells of Moscow, piles of bills an bread from a stranger for a glimpse into the lines and life of Marina Tsvetaeva in a tender ‘reading’ by poets Ilya Kaminsky and Jean Valentine, a collaboration exquisitely suited to deliver these earthly traces.”
C.D. Wright

“For a non-Russian reader, Tsvetaeva’s poetry has always been a house with neither doors nor windows. This is the first time when the translators do not claim to inhabit this house, but choose to stand outside—most importantly outside of themselves, as when in ecstasy, in love with Tsvetaeva’s genius. With these brilliantly introduced and delivered poems, Kaminsky and Valentine offer no less than the first real welcome of Marina Tsvetaeva into English. To turn to Tsvetaeva’s own words (I can eat—with dirty hands, sleep—with dirty hands, write with dirty hands I cannot), these two American poets wrote this Russian book with sparkling clean hands.”
Valzhyna Mort

“Of the legendary four great Russian poets of her generation (others were Akhmatova, Mandelstam, Pasternak) at the beginning of the twentieth century, Marina Tsvetaeva has always seemed to me the most mysterious. Of course they were all mysterious–what great poet, indeed what individual person is not? — but I have turned from reading translations (I read no Russian) of her poems and writings, and from writings about her and her tormented story — and from reading them gratefully with a feeling that, vivid and searing though they may have been, she had been in them like a ghost in a cloud, and was gone again. This new selection from her poems and prose, a ‘homage’ to her by Ilya Kaminsky and Jean Valentine, brought me a closer and more intimate sense of her and her voice and presence than I had before…this Dark Elderberry Branch is magic.”
W.S. Merwin

“The poems Ilya Kaminsky and Jean Valentine have chosen to translate, by Marina Tsvetaeva, are blessings of experience, blessings even of suffering, though also of simpler causes of joy, someone’s body, a ray of light, a book. Kaminsky says he and Jean Valentine have very different temperaments from hers, but they show here what they show, differently, in their own poetry, that they are themselves, each of them, so very good at blessing experience, finding its indomitable life. This is radiant work. They chose the right poet to fall in love with, and her poems responded.”
David Ferry

“As Brodsky once wrote of Tsvetaeva, ‘[her] voice had the sound of something unfamiliar and frightening to the Russian ear: the unacceptability of the world.’ Ilya Kaminsky’s and Jean Valentine’s homage is a work of true translatus, carrying-across that voice, that sound, ‘by hand—across the river,’ into an English of commensurate intensity, ferocity, and beauty. Dark Elderberry Branch is magnificent: absolutely essential reading for anyone who loves Tsvetaeva.”
Suji Kwock Kim

“. . .[this] short, moving volume contains not translations but ‘readings,’ very free renderings. . . the careful words and the emotional extremes that characterize Tsvetaeva in English as in her original tongue.”
Publishers Weekly

Praise for Marina Tsvetaeva:
“A poet of genius.”
Vladimir Nabokov

“Tsvetaeva was… absolutely natural, and fantastically self-willed… Her willfulness was not just a matter of temperament but a way of life… She always needed to experience every emotion to the maximum, seeking ecstasy not only in love, but in abandonment, loneliness, and disaster as well.”
Nadezhda Mandelstam

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— NC

More by Marina Tsvetaeva:

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— NC