Stanford University Libraries acquires archives of poet Regina Derieva

derieva3Born on the Black Sea in Odessa, Regina Derieva was more than a loner. She was an outcast among outcasts: a Jew in the Soviet Union, a Ukrainian coming of age in Kazakhstan, and eventually an important poet in the Russian language living in Stockholm. The prominent Swedish author and translator Bengt Jangfeldt said, “Her best poems achieved that true metaphysical quality which, according to T.S. Eliot, is the alloy of thought and poetry at a very high temperature.”

The story of Derieva’s international peregrinations is now housed at Stanford University Libraries, which has recently acquired her papers.

“We are very pleased to have acquired Regina Derieva’s papers for the Stanford Libraries. Her archive beautifully complements those of other distinguished contemporary Russian-language poets,” said ZACHARY BAKER, assistant university librarian for collection development. He especially noted last year’s acquisition of a trove of Joseph Brodsky’s manuscripts, sketches, letters and photos.

Derieva’s biography encapsulates much of the 20th century’s upheavals: After hounding from the KGB, she and her husband, Alexander Deriev, emigrated from Kazakhstan to Israel, which rejected her claims to Jewish repatriation because she was a recent convert to Christianity. The dissolution of the Soviet Union rendered the Derievs stateless people. They finally emigrated to Sweden in 1999, where, after Regina’s death at age 64 last December, she is buried near Alfred Nobel, under a tombstone subsidized by the Swedish Academy to honor her.

Derieva’s papers include two surviving letters from Brodsky, who was an epistolary friend. A 1990 letter includes this passage in response to one of her poems: “For a long time, I have not seen anything on a par with your poetry either among our fellow countrymen or among the English-speaking poets. And I can guess more or less – I can hear – what it cost you to reach this point, the point over the life and over yourself. This is why the joy of reading your poetry is also heartbreaking. In this poem, you exist in the plane where no one else exists, where no one else can help: There are no kin and, a fortiori, there are no equal to you.”

CYNTHIA HAVEN is a visiting scholar in the Division of Literatures, Cultures & Languages. She wrote an article about the acquisition for the Times Literary Supplement.