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Review: Guests of Eternity, by Larissa Miller

This book is one of a series entitled 'Visible Poets' from Arc Publications, in which the translator aims 'not to hide but to reveal the orginal, to make it visible'. At the beginning of this work, there is an inscription which reads, 'In memoriam Arseny Tarkovsky' - a good beginning as far as I am concerned. If I were pressed to give my 'Best-Poem-In-The-World-Ever' list, Tarkovsky's Not Enough would be right up there in the Top 10. If you ever get the chance to see the film Stalker (directed by his son Andrei), then you will hear a beautiful reading of this poem. Alternatively, just 'You Tube' it on the internet! But this review, after all, is about Larissa Miller - and not about either of the Tarkovskys.

Guests of Eternity is a collection of Miller's poems, spanning forty years. The works are presented in chronological order, beginning in the 1960s - to read her poetry is to witness the unfolding of events, to experience happenings. Occasionally, her words sound naive and unstructured, but I am betting that this is a woman whose pen rarely ever left her hand, whose thoughts never strayed too far from poetry, during these 40 years of writing. I am certain that those readers with a sound knowledge of modern Russian history will appreciate the way in which Miller reflects those events which were contemporaneous with her works.

At times, Miller's wirting seems reminiscent of Blake. She deals with heaven and hell, living and dying, in both abstract and concrete ways: Everything is sung to the clumps / to the green twig, / that is rocked by the little bird. Unexpected subjects are given animation and personificiation. The clouds fly across the sky / raving about the limitless distance. It is a challenge to affix a particular style to Miller's writing, so let's not. We have here the physical, the metaphysical, the monotheistic and the pantheistic.

The highlight of this collection, for me, has to be the profoundly moving poem On the death of Yasha K. We translated this work at the Perth Russian Conversation Group one morning and more than one of us had a lump in the throat as we did. Throughout this book, Richard McKane has done a wonderful job of translating Miller's words, but if the English translation is able to stir your emotions, then Miller's original Russian will rend them...