“The courage of the poet”: Regina Derieva’s poems celebrated – quietly, in Saint Petersburg


Kushner admired “the courage of the poet.” 

May 24 was the celebration of the late Joseph Brodsky‘s 75th birthday in Saint Petersburg, with a week of readings, lectures, and exhibitions throughout the city. The celebrations rather overshadowed a quieter fête elsewhere in town, for one of the Nobel poet’s epistolary friends, the poet Regina Derieva (we’ve written about her here and here and here).  Russia’s leading literary journal Zvezda hosted an event that launch two volumes (Volume 1: The Poems. 1975 – 2013; Volume 2: Prose. 1987 – 2013), the first edition of the poet’s work since her death in December 2013.

derieva-book1Because of the competing hullabaloo, the attendance on the Zvezda premises was small, but select, including the poet Alexander KushnerZvezda publisher Yakov Gordin, scholar and author Valentina Polukhina, and the poet Alexei Purin, among others.

I wrote about her for the Times Literary Supplement here. The wandering poet was born in Odessa in 1949, came of age in Karaganda in Kazakhstan, and then emigrated first to Israel, where she and her husband were mainstays of the Russian community in Jerusalem, and finally settled in Sweden, where she is buried. Throughout all her peregrinations, she remained a quintessentially Russian poet.

At the gathering, T.V. and radio journalist Mikhail Fateev discussed the religious aspect of Regina’s writings and shared a story about how he distributed Regina’s first book, which had been released in Israel by the Franciscans, to church communities throughout Saint Petersburg.

While reading Regina’s poems Yakov Gordin observed that ‘one of the main impulses running through all her poems of whatever periods is an inexhaustible anxiety.'”

Kushner discussed the dense, hermetical associations of her poems, and admired “the courage of the poet, who continued to compose poems in a language not used in the country where they were written.” He corresponded with Derieva in the 1970s, and even then appreciated her early poems.



Incidentally, Pushkin prizewinner Kushner is one of the most admired poets in modern Russia. He was a friend of Joseph Brodsky’s from Petersburg days, and the Nobel winner recommended (successfully) that Farrar, Straus, & Giroux publish a translation of his poems, the first of two Kushner books published by one of America’s premier publishing houses. Kushner was also a friend of the Derievs, and they had a final meeting in Stockholm in 2006.

Valentina Polukhina spoke about the poetics and stylistic features of Regina’s work and its extraordinary aphoristic quality. A few other poets read poems by Regina, as well as ones dedicated to her.

According to Fateev, “those who participated clearly appreciated this occasion for remembering Regina and reciting her poems.” The photos from the event were taken by him.


Gordin observed her “inexhaustible anxiety.”


Polukhina discussed Derieva’s poetics.


He distributed her books in Petersburg, fresh from Israel.

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