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Memories of Brodsky

Anatoly Naiman: Akhmatova, Brodsky​ and Me

13 May 1999
... When JosephBrodsky 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 ...
1 April 1999
... whole point is that there should be no continuum: of anything. That failures of memory are but a proof of a living organism’s subordination to the laws of nature. No life is meant to be preserved. JosephBrodsky, 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 ...

Three Poems

Michael Hofmann

22 June 1995
... to death with Parkinson’s practically before our eyes. (I remember the rattle and slop of one last saucerful of coffee.) One afternoon, when we no longer went there like Hem to the War, I saw JosephBrodsky 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 ...

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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... the well-tempered clavier. He makes a terrible din, but the zest is undeniable; and he can surprise you occasionally with a perfectly-modulated few lines, forceful without stridency, totally assured. JosephBrodsky 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 ...
8 December 1988
To Urania: Selected Poems 1965-1985 
by Joseph Brodsky.
Penguin, 174 pp., £4.99, September 1988, 9780140585803
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... JosephBrodsky’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 ...

On Ilya Kaminsky

Colin Burrow: Ilya Kaminsky

24 October 2019
... master spirit of Kaminsky’s early work, however, is not Tsvetaeva but the most successful of all Russian-American poets. ‘I tried to imitate you for two years,’ he writes in his ‘Elegy for JosephBrodsky’. ‘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 ...


Michael Hofmann: Eley Williams

6 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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... given the origin (‘dent de lion’) of ‘dandelion’ and its French equivalent (‘pissenlit’). To mix a metaphor, the mind, to be the pièce de résistance, has to be off the beaten track. JosephBrodsky 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 ...

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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... half a cycle (half a generation) away, falling as you rise, rising as you fall. There were three poets I had my eye on – probably all appalled to be mentioned in each other’s company, and by me: JosephBrodsky, 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 ...

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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... What is to be done in a country whose genius has gone?’ Lev Loseff asks in his poem ‘June 1972’; Loseff’s close friend JosephBrodsky 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 ...
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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... in such apparently simple language that every twist comes as a surprise. Platonov is known for his linguistic subversiveness, for embedding his satire in the language itself. In Less than One (1986), JosephBrodsky 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 ...

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 ...

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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... This collection is full of (often literary) anecdote and reminiscence, and has a pervasively elegiac feel. The poems for or about recently dead friends and poets (Ted Hughes, Zbigniew Herbert, JosephBrodsky, 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 ...
18 September 1980
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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... Humour and misery, feeling and erudition, symbol and incident complement each other to create poetry that is both fluent and memorable. As a bonus, there is a section consisting of two poems by JosephBrodsky – 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 ...

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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... Sydney. There is only one reason for worrying about this. Murray has been called ‘one of the finest poets writing in English, one of a superleague that includes Seamus Heaney, Derek Walcott and JosephBrodsky’. 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 ...

Hoo-Hooing in the Birch

Michael Hofmann: Tomas Tranströmer

15 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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... of ‘Me first, Kingsley, I’m cleverest.’ He never became resentable to readers, either at home or abroad. Poets liked him. Seamus Heaney of course liked him, but so did others as dissimilar as JosephBrodsky, 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 ...

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