A Poet's Personal Papers

Tzvetan Todorov, with whom I have bones to pick on other topics, has decided that the best way for non-Russians to get to know the poet Marina Tsvetaeva is through her personal papers because her poetry is too difficult to translate. I don't fully agree with this decision. The poetry is bitch, I will grant him that. I do have an "in" because I read Russian. I am also not particularly keen on biographies. But I just can't imagine getting to know Tsvetaeva, a poet for whom the poet persona is crucial, being reduced to diary entries, notes, and personal letters. Those in addition to the poetic oeuvre is fine. Those without the poetry are problematic because I never fully bought Roman Jakobson's argument about writers' personal papers being another outlet for poetic expression. Todorov's decision means that Tsvetaeva is no longer a poet. She's a person. Admittedly she's a person with a very interesting life but so what? By only being exposed to her personal papers, the non-Russian reader is, I think, not being pointed in the right direction.

ETA: Someone posted the review to SEELANGs and now there's some umbrage being taken because there are good translations of Tsvetaeva's poetry in English.


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