Poet Series #9 – Vilnius Diary

With the concentrated precision of poetry, VILNIUS DIARY has also the richness of a novel and the intimacy of a memoir. Memory, loss, and immigration are captured in poignant images. Each poem inhabits a dual time and space. Never simply a lament, Halberstadt weaves together the sacred and the wildly profane, lighting the great darkness with wit and laughter.

what they are saying…

“Anna Halberstadt’s VILNIUS DIARY kept me reading late into the night. With the concentrated precision of poetry, it has also the richness of a novel and the intimacy of memoir. One poem leads to the next with addictive power, moving from her childhood in Lithuania to her later life in New York by way of Moscow, Vienna, and Rome. Memory, loss, and immigration are captured in poignant images: the print of cat’s paws in the dust of an attic in Vilnius, a knitted cap clutched in white-knuckled hands at the Moscow airport, buildings in Rome ‘peeling and bruised like old hand-made shoes,’ a grandfather’s grave buried in beer cans in the vandalized Jewish cemetery of Kaunas, pigeons huddling on a New York street ‘like small-time drug pushers.’ There’s an occasional lyrical burst of feeling for the natural world, as in ‘the enormous palace of the evening sky.’ Throughout, the poet returns again and again to Vilnius: ‘provincial, sleepy, magical,’ ‘Atlantis of disappeared life,’ its cobblestones stained with the blood of pogroms. The reader, like the writer, will fall under its spell, haunted by the terrible magic of the city. ‘VILNIUS DIARY’ is impossible to forget.”—Elizabeth Dalton

“The need to forget gradually / turned into a need to remember,’ Anna Halberstadt writes in this moving autobiographical collection of poems, which keeps returning to her Jewish childhood in Lithuania, her interim time in Russia, her first hardscrabble years in New York. VILNIUS DIARY is a fine book of days—scrupulously remembered, refreshingly truthful, deeply astonished.”—Edward Hirsch

“History’s a glowing lamp held slightly aloft in Anna Halberstadt’s hand. She guides us wisely, richly, and satirically across continents, tough choices and the gorgeous pithy details of otherwise overwhelming tragedies and truths. I love this book—across all of it and poem by poem because it’s like a kind of careful shopping, she weighs and feels each thing and remembers to read her own heart too and the hearts of all the lost and known friends, the cousins and lovers and parents and strangers—waiting in rooms and getting on trains, acting, vanishing, all of it, all of them. This beautiful book lives most perfectly in the throbbing heart of our time.”—Eileen Myles

“This is a brilliant collection that immerses the reader from the first lines, sweeping us away… Anna Halberstadt’s VILNIUS DIARY begins its poetic journey from behind the Iron Curtain only five years after the Holocaust. The poet’s elegiac tone mourns and celebrates the Vilnius of her youth and like Sebald’s Austerlitz images seem to flow effortlessly in an unending succession to evoke the drowned world of the past… In image after incantatory image the poet tells us of her immigration from Russia; in Rome ‘persimmons like orange lanterns / hanging on naked branches;’ the wrenching up of roots and replanting them in the unfamiliar soil of America, a nine-year-old-son and two aging parents in tow… Each poem inhabits a dual time and place… The genius of VILNIUS DIARY lies in its refusal to be circumscribed. Never simply a lament, Halberstadt weaves together the sacred and the wildly profane, lighting the great darkness with wit and laughter. This is the poet who calls God a bastard but recognizes divinity in a beehive, the poet who mourns a family tree cut off during the Shoah, yet wickedly observes changing women’s fashions. Literate in three languages, she gives us VILNIUS DIARY in English. . . . The collection not unlike the immigrant’s initiation into a Viennese supermarket—’beautiful fruit in precious wrappers / Warhol cans of tomato soup / phallic bananas without a scratch or blemish.'”—Stephanie Dickinson

“Anna Halberstadt is a posthumous daughter of Jewish Vilne, also called Vilnius (in Lithuanian) and Wilno (in Polish). ‘I forget words not in one, but three languages,’ she says wryly: her poems are permeated by hues of Lithuanian, Polish, and Russian. Sometimes they are sprinkled by entire sentences in Lithuanian. For Anna Halberstadt, as for many of its former inhabitants, Vilnius became a city of ‘disappeared people, disappeared voices.’ Always in transition, she catches the ever-changing context of her life in a series of exact and fascinating images bringing to mind the poetry of Akhmatova and Mandelstam, as well as the fiction of Isaac Babel. Partly reminiscences, partly diary entries, partly meditations, Anna Halberstadt’s poems remain pure and tragic works of art.”—Tomas Venclova

“Anna Halberstadt’s VILNIUS DIARY is a book of journeys in actuality and memory… Here are some lines that indicate the bitterness the poet, who is a therapist, has overcome: ‘Fall in love again / for a new love / always remembers and reflects the previous one / in a crooked mirror. / Eventually differences will blur, / eventually you will feel / you love all of them / past and present / or don’t care for any / what the hell…'”—Michael Graves

author bio

Anna Halberstadt

Photo by Laura Hetzel

Anna Halberstadt was born and raised in Vilnius, Lithuania. At the age of eighteen she moved to Moscow to study psychology at Moscow State University. She immigrated to New York twelve years later and earned a degree in social work. Since 1980, she has worked as a clinician, teacher, and administrator of mental health clinics. Anna has published many works in the field of psychology but has found poetry to be a more adequate and condensed way to expand on the same themes—growing up as a child of Holocaust survivors in a country still struggling with past trauma, living in three countries (Lithuania, Russia, U.S.), and immigration. Anna Halberstadt studied with Saskia Hamilton, Ariana Raynes, and Eileen Myles. Her creative work has been published by Cimarron Review, Permafrost, Mudfish, Alembic, St. Petersburg Review, Tiferet, Forge, The Good Men Project, Amarillo Bay, Crack the Spine, Bluestem, Rio Grande Review, Clouwalk, Literary Imagination, and has appeared in translation in the Lithuanian journals Literatura ir Menas and Shiaures Athenai. She was a finalist for the Mudfish Poetry Prize in 2013. She lives in New York with her husband, the artist Vitaly Komar.

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