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Memories of Brodsky

Anatoly Naiman: Akhmatova, Brodsky and Me, 13 May 1999

... When Joseph Brodsky died in January 1996, there was in Russia a strong tendency to oversimplify his life, to reduce it to an outline, and at the same time to mythologise it as Pushkin’s life has been mythologised. It wasn’t so much that a second Pushkin had died, but that people wanted Brodsky to conform to their idea of a poet, and their idea of a poet is Pushkin ...

So Early in the Year

Stephen Knight, 1 April 1999

... of a living organism’s subordination to the laws of nature. No life is meant to be preserved. Joseph Brodsky, In a Room and a Half ‘I really ought to stop climbing trees,’ you said, nipping the filter off another low-tar cigarette then settling your arm lightly on my shoulder, giving me a squeeze as if you didn’t know that you were ...

Long Goodbye

Derek Mahon, 20 November 1980

Why Brownlee left 
by Paul Muldoon.
Faber, 48 pp., £3, September 1980, 0 571 11592 6
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Poems 1956-1973 
by Thomas Kinsella.
Dolmen, 192 pp., £7.50, September 1980, 0 85105 365 3
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Constantly Singing 
by James Simmons.
Blackstaff, 90 pp., £3.95, June 1980, 0 85640 217 6
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A Part of Speech 
by Joseph Brodsky.
Oxford, 151 pp., £4.95, September 1980, 0 19 211939 7
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Collected poems 1931-1974 
by Lawrence Durrell.
Faber, 350 pp., £9, September 1980, 0 571 18009 4
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... occasionally with a perfectly-modulated few lines, forceful without stridency, totally assured. Joseph Brodsky is the latest Russian poet to be taken up in the United States and given the multiple-translation treatment first accorded to Voznesensky fifteen years ago. Among his translators are such supremely craftsmanlike American poets as Hecht and ...

Three Poems

Michael Hofmann, 22 June 1995

... last saucerful of coffee.) One afternoon, when we no longer went there like Hem to the War, I saw Joseph Brodsky sitting in the window with paper and a cigarette, the recording angel, miles away. Reported Speech It’s just abstract, you say: when I’m not here, I don’t exist and my perspectives are warped. Nostalgia, the bloom of recollection – a ...

Great American Disaster

Christopher Reid, 8 December 1988

To Urania: Selected Poems 1965-1985 
by Joseph Brodsky.
Penguin, 174 pp., £4.99, September 1988, 9780140585803
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... Joseph Brodsky’s new selection, To Urania, gets off to a troubled start with a 20-line poem that contains at least one grammatical slip and a sentence of baffling absurdity. The slip occurs in line four, where we meet the construction ‘dined with the-devil-knows-whom’ – an accusative that seems to me justified by neither the rule-book nor colloquial usage ...

Main Man

Michael Hofmann, 7 July 1994

Walking Possession: Essays and Reviews 1968-1993 
by Ian Hamilton.
Bloomsbury, 302 pp., £20, May 1994, 0 7475 1712 6
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Gazza Italia 
by Ian Hamilton.
Granta, 188 pp., £5.99, May 1994, 0 14 014073 5
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... I had my eye on – probably all appalled to be mentioned in each other’s company, and by me: Joseph Brodsky, Tom Paulin and, most intimately though I knew him least, Ian Hamilton. When I sent him a copy of my first book, I realised I’d even purloined his initials for my title. I wasn’t of an age to have been reading, never mind submitting ...

On Ilya Kaminsky

Colin Burrow: Ilya Kaminsky, 24 October 2019

... Russian-American poets. ‘I tried to imitate you for two years,’ he writes in his ‘Elegy for Joseph Brodsky’. ‘It feels like burning/and singing about burning …/You would be ashamed of these wooden lines.’There’s nothing wooden about Kaminsky’s poetry now. It bursts with energy and can sometimes display internal stresses that make its ...

Proud to Suffer

G.S. Smith: The Intellectuals Who Left the USSR, 19 October 2006

The Philosophy Steamer: Lenin and the Exile of the Intelligentsia 
by Lesley Chamberlain.
Atlantic, 414 pp., £25, March 2006, 1 84354 040 1
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... whose genius has gone?’ Lev Loseff asks in his poem ‘June 1972’; Loseff’s close friend Joseph Brodsky had left Leningrad that month. The question brings to mind the title of Chernyshevsky’s 1863 novel, which soon came to codify a central preoccupation of the Russian intelligentsia. But in this instance it also raises the notion that the ...


Michael Hofmann: Eley Williams, 7 September 2017

Attrib. and Other Stories 
by Eley Williams.
Influx, 169 pp., £9.99, March 2017, 978 1 910312 16 2
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by Eley Williams.
Sad, 35 pp., £6, April 2017
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... To mix a metaphor, the mind, to be the pièce de résistance, has to be off the beaten track. Joseph Brodsky claimed to think that 90 per cent of love poetry was postcoital; Williams’s stories, with only one or two exceptions, come in the wake of break-ups. The lover – the bird or bard – has flown. The reader may very well think this is no bad ...

Roaming the stations of the world

Patrick McGuinness: Seamus Heaney, 3 January 2002

Electric Light 
by Seamus Heaney.
Faber, 81 pp., £8.99, March 2001, 0 571 20762 6
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Seamus Heaney in Conversation with Karl Miller 
Between the Lines, 112 pp., £9.50, July 2001, 0 9532841 7 4Show More
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... feel. The poems for or about recently dead friends and poets (Ted Hughes, Zbigniew Herbert, Joseph Brodsky, Norman MacCaig and George Mackay Brown) tend to be wide-ranging meditations on literature and language.In his criticism as well as his poetry, Heaney has always excelled at finding metaphors of process for the act of ...

My Mummy’s Bones

Gaby Wood, 24 April 1997

The Foundation Pit 
by Andrei Platonov, translated by Robert Chandler and Geoffrey Smith.
Harvill, 168 pp., £14.99, May 1996, 1 86046 049 6
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... subversiveness, for embedding his satire in the language itself. In Less than One (1986), Joseph Brodsky likened a page of Platonov to a great department store with its apparel items turned inside out ... His every sentence drives the Russian language into a semantic dead-end or, more precisely, reveals a proclivity for dead-ends, a blind-alley ...

Empire of Signs

James Wood: Joseph Roth, 4 March 1999

The String of Pearls 
by Joseph Roth, translated by Michael Hofmann.
Granta, 224 pp., £12.99, May 1998, 1 86207 087 3
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... With Joseph Roth, you begin – and end – with the prose. The great delight of this Austrian novelist, who wrote in the Twenties and Thirties, lies in his strange, nimble, curling sentences, which are always skewing into the most unexpected metaphors. It is rare to find luminous powers of realism and narrative clarity so finely combined with a high poetic temperature ...
Selected Poems 
by Patricia Beer.
Hutchinson, 152 pp., £5.95, April 1980, 0 09 138450 8
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The Venetian Vespers 
by Anthony Hecht.
Oxford, 91 pp., £3.95, March 1980, 0 19 211933 8
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Nostalgia for the Present 
by Andrei Voznesensky.
Oxford, 150 pp., £3.50, April 1980, 0 19 211900 1
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Reflections on the Nile 
by Ronald Bottrall.
London Magazine Editions, 56 pp., £3.50, May 1980, 0 904388 33 6
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Summer Palaces 
by Peter Scupham.
Oxford, 55 pp., £3, March 1980, 9780192119322
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... that is both fluent and memorable. As a bonus, there is a section consisting of two poems by Joseph Brodsky – one on Cape Cod, the other on Venice. Translated by Hecht – better, it seems to me, than ever before – here are more of Brodsky’s short unrelated sentences following each other with uncompromising ...

Boeotian Masters

Donald Davie, 5 November 1992

The Paperbark Tree: Selected Prose 
by Les Murray.
Carcanet, 360 pp., £18.95, September 1992, 0 85635 976 9
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... poets writing in English, one of a superleague that includes Seamus Heaney, Derek Walcott and Joseph Brodsky’. This is astonishingly vulgar, and I suppress the author’s name to spare his blushes. But if we reject the notion that poets can be ranked internationally like sprinters or discus-throwers, still we must take note that this is how Les ...

Hoo-Hooing in the Birch

Michael Hofmann: Tomas Tranströmer, 16 June 2016

Bright Scythe: Selected Poems 
by Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Patty Crane.
Sarabande, 207 pp., £13, November 2015, 978 1 941411 21 6
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... or abroad. Poets liked him. Seamus Heaney of course liked him, but so did others as dissimilar as Joseph Brodsky, Andrew Motion and (one of his first translators) Robert Bly. Poets were drawn to translate him too: fellow Northerners like Robin Fulton (for a long time now a resident of Norway, though 48 years ago for small reward he was teaching me ...

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