Yesterday we celebrated the birthday of Russian essayist & poet Joseph Brodsky (24 May 1940 – 28 January 1996). A Jew born in Leningrad, Brodsky is known for his powerful insights, as well as creating tension between seemingly random images and subtle rhyming.
1 ) While working as an aid to a coroner and a geologist, Brodsky studied English, Polish, wrote poetry and translated into Russian the work of John Donne and Czeslaw Milosz. Brodsky’s poetry impressed a leading Russian poet Anna Akhmatova who became his mentor.
2 ) In 1964 Brodsky was arrested. Charged with the crime of “social parasitism” Brodsky was sentenced him to five years of hard labor. Major Soviet paper called his work”pornographic and anti-Soviet”, and the authorities found that his odd jobs and profession as a “psuedo-poet” did not meet the “constitutional duty to work honestly for the good of the motherland.”
Luckily for him, prominent literary figures protested and the sentence was commuted.
3 ) In 1971, Brodsky was twice invited to emigrate to Israel, however he declined. When the Ministry of the Interior heard that he wanted to stay, they broke into his apartment, took his papers and put him on a plane to Vienna. While in Vienna Brodsky met poets Carl Proffer and Auden who would help him come to America.
4 ) In America Brodsky found his calling. Settling in Ann Arbor he became the poet in residence at the University of Michigan, as well as vVisiting Professor at Queens College, Smith College, Cambridge University, and Columbia University. Brodsky was honored as the Andrew Mellon Professor of Literature and Five College Professor of Literature at Mount Holyoke College.
5 ) In 1978, Brodsky was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters at Yale University, and inducted as a member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.
6 ) Brodsky received the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s “genius” award as well as The International Center in New York’s Award of Excellence.
7 ) Brodsky won the on the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1987; he was the fifth Russian writer to do so. When asked who he was, Brodsky answered: “I am Jewish – a Russian poet and an English essayist”.
8 ) Brodsky became Poet Laureate of the United States in 1987. 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“.
9 ) Marina Basmanova and Joseph Brodsky never married, even though they had a child together. Brodsky wrote her love poems in exile. She lived in fear until 1991 when their son, Andrei Basmanov, was finally allowed to visit his father in New York.
10) Brodsky suffered a heart attack at age 55. He was eulogized in his memorial service using his own words, poems by others and music.
Zohar – Man of la Book
- Joseph Brodsky: A Literary Life (3quarksdaily.com)
- Less Than One by Joseph Brodsky – review (guardian.co.uk)
- LitBirthdays May 20 – 26, 2012 (litbirthdays.wordpress.com)