Joseph Brodsky, Nobel Prize in Literature 1987

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Joseph (Iosif Aleksandrovich) Brodsky, Nobel Prize in Literature 1987

Birthdate:
Birthplace: Leningrad, город Санкт-Петербург, Soviet Union
Death: Died in New York, NY, USA
Cause of death: Heart attack
Immediate Family:

Son of Aleksander Brodsky and Maria Brodsky
Husband of Maria Brodsky
Father of <private> Basmanov

Occupation: Russian poet and essayist.
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Joseph Brodsky, Nobel Prize in Literature 1987

Joseph Brodsky, Iosif Aleksandrovich Brodsky (Russian: Ио́сиф Алекса́ндрович Бро́дский, 24 May 1940 – 28 January 1996), was a Russian poet and essayist.

In 1964, 23-year-old Brodsky was arrested and charged with the crime of "social parasitism" He was expelled from the Soviet Union in 1972 and settled in America with the help of W. H. Auden and other supporters. He taught thereafter at universities including those at Yale, Cambridge and Michigan.

Brodsky was awarded the 1987 Nobel Prize in Literature "for an all-embracing authorship, imbued with clarity of thought and poetic intensity". He was appointed American Poet Laureate in 1991.

Early years

Brodsky was born into a Jewish family in Leningrad. His father, Aleksandr Brodsky, was a professional photographer in the Soviet Navy and his mother Maria Volpert Brodsky was a professional interpreter, whose work often helped to support the family. They lived in communal apartments, in poverty, marginalized by their Jewish status. In early childhood Brodsky survived the Siege of Leningrad where he and his parents nearly died of starvation, and later he suffered from various health problems caused by the siege. Brodsky commented that many of his teachers were anti-Semitic and that he felt like a dissident from an early age. He noted "I began to despise Lenin, even when I was in the first grade, not so much because of his political philosophy or practice [...] but because of his omnipresent images."

At fifteen, Brodsky left school and tried to enter the School of Submariners without success. He went on to work as a milling machine operator. Later, having decided to become a physician, he worked at the morgue at the Kresty prison, cutting and sewing bodies. He subsequently held a variety of jobs in hospitals, in a ship's boiler room, and on geological expeditions. At the same time, Brodsky engaged in a program of self-education. He learned Polish so he could translate the works of Polish poets like Czesław Miłosz, and English so he could translate John Donne, acquiring a deep interest in classical philosophy, religion, mythology, and English and American poetry.

Career and family

In 1955, Brodsky began writing his own poetry and producing literary translations, circulating them in secret, some published by the underground journal Sintaksis. His writings were apolitical. The young Brodsky met the great poet of the Silver age Anna Akhmatova in 1960. She encouraged his work, and would go on to become his mentor. By 1958 he was already well known in literary circles for his poems "The Jewish cemetery near Leningrad" and "Pilgrims". Asked when he first felt called to poetry, he recollected, "In 1959, in Yakutsk, when walking in that terrible city, I went into a bookstore. I snagged a copy of poems by Baratynsky. I had nothing to read. So I read that book and finally understood what I had to do in life. Or got very excited, at least. So in a way, Evgeny Abramovich Baratynsky is sort of responsible". His friend Ludmila Shtern recalled working with Brodsky on an irrigation project in his "Geological Period" (working as a geologist's assistant): "We bounced around the Leningrad Province examining kilometers of canals, checking their embankments, which looked terrible. They were falling down, coming apart, had all sorts of strange things growing in them. [...] It was during these trips, however, that I was privileged to hear the poems "The Hills" and "You Will Gallop in the Dark." Brodsky read them aloud to me between two train cars as we were going towards Tikhvin.

In 1962, in Saint Petersburg, Anna Akhmatova introduced Brodsky to the artist Marina Basmanova. From then until his exile in 1972 they were occasional partners and together they had a son, Andrey, registered under her surname. A severe disruption in their relations occurred on New Year's Eve at the end of 1963, when Basmanova, whom Brodsky (who had fled to Moscow to avoid arrest) had left in the care of his friend and fellow poet Dmitri Bobyshev, slept with Bobyshev; as soon as Brodsky heard of this, he hurried back to Leningrad and confronted them, breaking off relations with Bobyshev. Basmanova later joined Brodsky in his sentence in Archangelsk, disappearing from time to time to rejoin Bobyshev, but she refused to marry Brodsky or join him when he was exiled from the country.

Denunciation

In 1963, Brodsky's poetry was denounced by a Leningrad newspaper as "pornographic and anti-Soviet." His papers were confiscated, he was interrogated, twice put in a mental institution and then arrested. He was charged with social parasitism by the Soviet authorities in a trial in 1964, finding that his series of odd jobs and role as a poet were not a sufficient contribution to society. They called him "a pseudo-poet in velveteen trousers" who failed to fulfill his "constitutional duty to work honestly for the good of the motherland." The trial judged asked "Who has recognized you as a poet? Who has enrolled you in the ranks of poets?" — "No one," Brodsky replied, "Who enrolled me in the ranks of the human race?" For his "parasitism" Brodsky was sentenced to five years hard labor and served 18 months on a farm in the arctic Archangelsk region where he chopped wood, hauled manure and crushed rocks, and at night read his anthology of English and American poetry, including Auden and Robert Frost. Brodsky’s mentor, Anna Akhmatova, laughed at the K.G.B.’s shortsightedness. “What a biography they’re fashioning for our red-haired friend!” she said. “It’s as if he’d hired them to do it on purpose.”

His sentence was commuted in 1965 after protests by prominent Soviet and foreign cultural figures, including Evgeny Evtushenko, Dmitri Shostakovich, and Jean-Paul Sartre as well as Akhmatova Brodsky became a cause celebre in the West also when a secret transcription of trial minutes was smuggled out of the country, making him a symbol of artistic resistance in a totalitarian society, much like his mentor Akhmatova.

Brodsky returned to Leningrad and continued to write over the next seven years, many of his works being translated into German, French and English and published abroad. Verses and Poems was published by Inter-Language Literary Associates in Washington in 1965, Elegy to John Donne and Other Poems was published in London in 1967 by Longmans Green, and A Stop in the Desert was issued in 1970 by Chekhov Publishing in New York. Only four of his poems were published in Leningrad anthologies in 1966 and 1967, most of his work appearing outside the Soviet Union or circulated in secret (samizdat) until 1987. Persecuted for his poetry and his Jewish heritage, he was denied permission to travel. In 1972, while Brodsky was being considered for exile, the authorities consulted mental health expert Andrei Snezhnevsky, a key proponent of the notorious pseudo-medical diagnosis of "paranoid reformist delusion". This political tool allowed the state to lock up dissenters in psychiatric institutions indefinitely. Without examining him personally, Snezhnevsky diagnosed Brodsky as having schizophrenia, concluding that he was "not valuable person at all and may be let go." In 1971, Brodsky was twice invited to emigrate to Israel. When called to the Ministry of the Interior in 1972 and asked why he had not accepted, he stated that he wished to stay in the country. Within 10 days officials broke into his apartment, took his papers, and on 4 June 1972 put him on a plane for Vienna.

In Austria, he met Carl Proffer and Auden, who would both help in Brodsky's transit to America and prove influential to Brodsky's career. Proffer of the University of Michigan, one of the co-founders of Ardis Publishers, became Brodsky's Russian publisher from this point on. Recalling his landing in Vienna, Brodsky commented "I knew I was leaving my country for good, but for where, I had no idea whatsoever. One thing which was quite clear was that I didn't want to go to Israel... I never even believed that they'd allow me to go. I never believed they would put me on a plane, and when they did I didn't know whether the plane would go east or west... I didn't want to be hounded by what was left of the Soviet Security Service in England. So I came to the States." Although the poet was invited back after the fall of the Soviet Union, Brodsky never returned to his country.

America

After a short stay in Vienna, Brodsky settled in Ann Arbor, with the help of poet Auden and Proffer and became poet in residence at the University of Michigan for a year. Brodsky went on to become a Visiting Professor at Queens College (1973–74), Smith College, Columbia University, and Cambridge University, later returning to the University of Michigan (1974–80). He was the Andrew Mellon Professor of Literature and Five College Professor of Literature at Mount Holyoke College, brought there by poet and historian Peter Viereck. In 1978, Brodsky was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters at Yale University, and on 23 May 1979, he was inducted as a member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. He moved to New York's Greenwich Village in 1980 and In 1981, Brodsky received the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation's "genius" award. He was also a recipient of The International Center in New York's Award of Excellence. In 1986, his collection of essays Less Than One won the National Book Critics Award for Criticism and he was given an honorary doctorate of literature from Oxford University.

In 1987, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature, the fifth Russian-born writer to do so. In an interview he was asked: "You are an American citizen who is receiving the Prize for Russian-language poetry. Who are you, an American or a Russian?" He responded: "I am Jewish – a Russian poet and an English essayist". The Academy stated that they had awarded the prize for his "all-embracing authorship, imbued with clarity of thought and poetic intensity." It also called his writing "rich and intensely vital," characterized by "great breadth in time and space." It was "a big step for me, a small step for mankind," he joked. The prize coincided with the first legal publication in Russia of Brodsky's poetry as an exile.

In 1991, Brodsky became Poet Laureate of the United States. The Librarian of Congress said that Brodsky had "the open-ended interest of American life that immigrants have. This is a reminder that so much of American creativity is from people not born in America". His inauguration address was printed in Poetry Review. Brodsky held an honorary degree from the University of Silesia in Poland and was an honorary member of the International Academy of Science. In 1995, Gleb Uspensky, a senior editor at the Russian publishing house Vagrius, asked Brodsky to return to Russia for a tour but he could not agree. For the last ten years of his life, Brodsky was under considerable pressure from those that regarded him as a "fortune maker". He was a greatly honored professor, was on first name terms with the heads of many large publishing houses, and connected to the significant figures of American literary life. His friend Ludmila Shtern wrote that many Russian intellectuals in both Russia and America assumed his influence was unlimited, that a nod from him could secure them a book contract, a teaching post or a grant, that it was in his gift to assure a glittering career. A helping hand or a rejection of a petition for help could create a storm in Russian literary circles, which Shtern suggests became very personal at times. His position as a lauded émigré and Nobel Prize winner won him enemies and stoked resentment, the politics of which, she writes, made him feel "deathly tired" of it all towards the end.

In the 1990s, Brodsky invited his son Andrey to visit him in New York for three months, and they maintained a father-son relationship until Brodsky's death. Andrey married in the 1990s and had three children, all of whom were recognized and supported by Brodsky as his grandchildren; Marina Basmanova, Andrey and Brodsky's grand-children live in Saint Petersburg. In 1990, while teaching literature in France, Brodsky married a young student, Maria Sozzani, who has a Russian-Italian background; they had one daughter, Anna.

Brodsky died of a heart attack aged 55, in his New York City apartment on January 28, 1996. He had had open-heart surgery in 1979 and later two bypass operations, remaining in frail health since that time. He was buried in the Episcopalian section at Isola di San Michele cemetery in Venice, Italy. In 1997, a plaque was placed on his house in St Petersburg (Leningrad) with his portrait in relief, and the words "In this house from 1940 to 1972 lived the great Russian poet Iosif Aleksandrovich Brodsky". Brodsky's close friend, the Nobel laureate Derek Walcott, memorialized him in his collection The Prodigal (2004).

Work

Brodsky is perhaps most known for his poetry collections A Part of Speech (1977) and To Urania (1988) and the essay collection Less Than One (1986), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award. Other notable works include the play Marbles (1989) and Watermark, a prose collection (1992). Throughout his career he wrote in Russian and English, self-translating and working with eminent poet-translators.

Themes and forms

In his introduction to Brodsky's Selected Poems (New York and Harmondsworth, 1973), W. H. Auden described Brodsky as a traditionalist lyric poet fascinated by "encounters with nature, [...] reflections upon the human condition, death, and the meaning of existence". He drew on wide-ranging themes, from Mexican and Caribbean literature to Roman poetry, mixing "the physical and the metaphysical, place and ideas about place, now and the past and the future". Critic Dinah Birch suggests that Brodsky's " first volume of poetry in English, Joseph Brodsky: Selected Poems (1973), shows that although his strength was a distinctive kind of dry, meditative soliloquy, he was immensely versatile and technically accomplished in a number of forms."

To Urania: Selected Poems 1965–1985 collected translations of older work with new work written during his American exile and reflect on themes of memory, home and loss. His two essay collections consist of critical studies of such poets as Osip Mandelshtam, W. H. Auden, Thomas Hardy, Rainer Maria Rilke and Robert Frost, sketches of his own life, and those of contemporaries such as Akhmatova, Nadezhda Mandelshtam, and Stephen Spender.

A recurring theme in Brodsky's writing is the relationship between the poet and society. In particular, Brodsky emphasized the power of literature to positively impact its audience and to develop the language and culture in which it is situated. He suggested that the Western literary tradition was in part responsible for the world having overcome the catastrophes of the twentieth century, such as Nazism, Communism and the World Wars. During his term as the Poet Laureate, Brodsky promoted the idea of bringing the Anglo-American poetic heritage to a wider American audience by distributing free poetry anthologies to the public through a government-sponsored program. Billington wrote "Joseph had difficulty understanding why poetry did not draw the large audiences in the United States that it did in Russia. He was proud of becoming an American citizen in 1977 (the Soviets having made him stateless upon his expulsion in 1972) and valued the freedoms that life in the United States provided. But he regarded poetry as "language's highest degree of maturity," and wanted everyone to be susceptible to it. While poet laureate, he suggested that inexpensive anthologies of the best American poets be made available in hotels and airports, hospitals and supermarkets. He thought that people who are restless or fearful or lonely or weary might pick up poetry and discover unexpectedly that others had experienced these emotions before and had used them to celebrate life rather than escape from it. Joseph's idea was picked up, and thousands of such books have in fact been placed where people may come across them out of need or curiosity."

This passion for promoting the seriousness and importance of poetry comes through in Brodsky's opening remarks as poet laureate in October, 1991. He says "By failing to read or listen to poets, society dooms itself to inferior modes of articulation, those of the politician, the salesman or the charlatan. [...] In other words, it forfeits its own evolutionary potential. For what distinguishes us from the rest of the animal kingdom is precisely the gift of speech. [...] Poetry is not a form of entertainment and in a certain sense not even a form of art, but it is our anthropological, genetic goal, our evolutionary, linguistic beacon." This sentiment is echoed throughout his work. In interview with Sven Birkerts in 1979 Brodsky reflected" In the works of the better poets you get the sensation that they're not talking to people any more, or to some seraphical creature. What they're doing is simply talking back to the language itself, as beauty, sensuality, wisdom, irony, those aspects of language of which the poet is a clear mirror. Poetry is not an art or a branch of art, it's something more. If what distinguishes us from other species is speech, then poetry, which is the supreme linguistic operation, is our anthropological, indeed genetic, goal. Anyone who regards poetry as an entertainment, as "a read", commits an anthropological crime, in the first place, against himself. "

Influences

Librarian of Congress Dr James Billington, wrote "He was the favored protégé of the great lady of Petersburg, Anna Akhmatova, and to hear him read her poems in Russian in the Library of Congress was an experience to make one's hair stand on end even if one did not understand the Russian language. Joseph Brodsky was the embodiment of the hopes not only of Anna Akhmatova, the last of the great Petersburg poets from the beginning of the century, but also Nadezhda Mandelstam, the widow of another great martyred poet [Osip Mandelstam]. Both of them saw Joseph as part of the guiding light that might some day lead Russia back to her own deep roots." Brodsky was also deeply influenced by the English metaphysical poets from John Donne to Auden. Many works were dedicated to other writers such as Tomas Venclova, Octavio Paz, Robert Lowell, Derek Walcott, and Benedetta Craveri.

Brodsky's work is seen to have been vitally enhanced by the work of renowned translators. A Part of Speech (New York and Oxford, 1980), his second major collection in English, includes translations by Anthony Hecht, Howard Moss, Derek Walcott and Richard Wilbur. Critic and poet Henri Cole notes that Brodsky's "own translations have been criticized for turgidness, lacking a native sense of musicality."

Awards and honors

   * 1978 honorary degree of Doctor of Letters, Yale University
   * 1979 Fellowship of American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters
   * 1981 John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation award.
   * 1986 Honorary doctorate of literature from Oxford University
   * The International Center in New York's Award of Excellence
   * 1986 National Book Critics Award for Criticism, for Less Than One (essay collection)
   * 1987 Nobel Prize
   * 1991 United States Poet Laureate
   * 1991 Struga Poetry Evenings Golden Wreath Award
   * 1993 Honorary degree from the University of Silesia in Poland
   * Honorary member of the International Academy of Science.

Works

Poetry collections

   * 1967: Elegy for John Donne and Other Poems, selected, translated, and introduced by Nicholas William Bethell, London: Longman.
   * 1968: Velka elegie, Paris: Edice Svedectvi
   * 1972: Poems, Ann Arbor, Michigan: Ardis
   * 1973: Selected Poems, translated from the Russian by George L. Kline. New York: Harper & Row
   * 1977: A Part of Speech
   * 1977: Poems and Translations, Keele: University of Keele
   * 1980: A Part of Speech, New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux
   * 1981: Verses on the Winter Campaign 1980, translation by Alan Myers.–London: Anvil Press
   * 1988: To Urania : Selected Poems, 1965-1985, New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux
   * 1995: On Grief and Reason: Essays, New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux
   * 1996: So Forth : Poems, New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux
   * 1999: Discovery, New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux
   * 2000: Collected Poems in English, 1972-1999, edited by Ann Kjellberg, New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux
   * 2001: Nativity Poems, translated by Melissa Green–New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Essay and interview collections

   * 1986: Less Than One: Selected Essays, New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux. (Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award)
   * 1992: Watermark, Noonday Press; New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux
   * 1996: On Grief and Reason: Essays. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
   * 2003: Joseph Brodsky: Conversations, edited by Cynthia L. Haven. Jackson, Miss.: University Press of Mississippi Literary Conversations Series.

Plays

   * 1989: Marbles : a Play in Three Acts, translated by Alan Myers with Joseph Brodsky.–New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux
   * 1991: Democracy! in Granta 30 New Europe, translated by Alan Myers and Joseph Brodsky.

In film

A film based on his life has been made, A Room And A Half, directed by Andrei Khrzhanovsky.

Collections in Russian

   * 1965: Stikhotvoreniia i poemy, Washington, D.C. : Inter-Language Literary Associates
   * 1970: Ostanovka v pustyne, New York: Izdatel'stvo imeni Chekhova (Rev. ed. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis, 1989)
   * 1977: Chast' rechi: Stikhotvoreniia 1972-76, Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis
   * 1977: Konets prekrasnoi epokhi : stikhotvoreniia 1964-71, Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis
   * 1977: V Anglii, Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis
   * 1982: Rimskie elegii, New York: Russica
   * 1983: Novye stansy k Avguste : stikhi k M.B., 1962-1982, Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis
   * 1984: Mramor, Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis
   * 1984: Uraniia : novaia kniga stikhov, Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis
   * 1989: Ostanovka v pustyne, revised edition, Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis, 1989 (original edition: New York: Izdatel'stvo imeni Chekhova, 1970)
   * 1990: Nazidanie : stikhi 1962-1989, Leningrad : Smart
   * 1990: Chast' rechi : Izbrannye stikhi 1962-1989, Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia literatura
   * 1990: Osennii krik iastreba : Stikhotvoreniia 1962-1989, Leningrad: KTP LO IMA Press
   * 1990: Primechaniia paporotnika, Bromma, Sweden : Hylaea
   * 1991: Ballada o malen'kom buksire, Leningrad: Detskaia literatura
   * 1991: Kholmy : Bol'shie stikhotvoreniia i poemy, Saint Petersburg: LP VTPO "Kinotsentr"
   * 1991: Stikhotvoreniia, Tallinn: Eesti Raamat
   * 1992: Naberezhnaia neistselimykh: Trinadtsat' essei, Moscow: Slovo
   * 1992: Rozhdestvenskie stikhi, Moscow: Nezavisimaia gazeta (revised edition in 1996)
   * 1992-1995: Sochineniia, Saint Petersburg: Pushkinskii fond, 1992–1995, four volumes
   * 1992: Vspominaia Akhmatovu / Joseph Brodsky, Solomon Volkov, Moscow: Nezavisimaia gazeta
   * 1992: Forma vremeni : stikhotvoreniia, esse, p'esy, Minsk: Eridan, two volumes
   * 1993: Kappadokiia.–Saint Petersburg
   * 1994: Persian Arrow/Persidskaia strela, with etchings by Edik Steinberg.–Verona: * Edizione d'Arte Gibralfaro & ECM
   * 1995: Peresechennaia mestnost ': Puteshestviia s kommentariiami, Moscow: Nezavisimaia gazeta
   * 1995: V okrestnostiakh Atlantidy : Novye stikhotvoreniia, Saint Petersburg: Pushkinskii fond
   * 1996: Peizazh s navodneniem, compiled by Aleksandr Sumerkin.–Dana Point, Cal.: Ardis
   * 1996: Rozhdestvenskie stikhi, Moscow: Nezavisimaia gazeta, revised edition of a work originally published in 1992
   * 1997: Brodskii o Tsvetaevoi, Moscow: Nezavisimaia gazeta
   * 1998: Pis'mo Goratsiiu, Moscow: Nash dom
   * 1996 and after: Sochineniia, Saint Petersburg: Pushkinskii fond, eight volumes
   * 1999: Gorbunov i Gorchakov, Saint Petersburg: Pushkinskii fond
   * 1999: Predstavlenie : novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, Moscow
   * 2000: Ostanovka v pustyne, Saint Petersburg: Pushkinskii fond
   * 2000: Chast' rechi, Saint Petersburg: Pushkinskii fond
   * 2000: Konets prekrasnoi epokhi, Saint Petersburg: Pushkinskii fond
   * 2000: Novye stansy k Avguste, Saint Petersburg: Pushkinskii fond
   * 2000: Uraniia, Saint Petersburg: Pushkinskii fond
   * 2000: Peizazh s navodneniem, Saint Petersburg: Pushkinskii fond
   * 2000: Bol'shaia kniga interv'iu, Moscow: Zakharov
   * 2001: Novaia Odisseia : Pamiati Iosifa Brodskogo, Moscow: Staroe literaturnoe obozrenie
   * 2001: Peremena imperii : Stikhotvoreniia 1960-1996, Moscow: Nezavisimaia gazeta
   * 2001: Vtoroi vek posle nashei ery : dramaturgija Iosifa Brodskogo, Saint Petersburg: Zvezda
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Joseph Brodsky, Nobel Prize in Literature 1987's Timeline

1940
May 24, 1940
Leningrad, город Санкт-Петербург, Soviet Union
1990
1990
Age 49
Stockholm, Sweden
1996
January 28, 1996
Age 55
New York, NY, USA