Collected Poems in English

Joseph Brodsky, Author
Joseph Brodsky, Author Farrar Straus Giroux $30 (540p) ISBN 978-0-374-12545-5
Reviewed on: 09/04/2000
Release date: 09/01/2000
Paperback - 560 pages - 978-0-374-52838-6
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A writer of global scope and acclaim, a Nobel Prize winner and a former U.S. poet laureate, Brodsky (1940-96) first came to U.S. readers' attention as a young Russian poet. Exiled to Siberia in the mid-'60s, and then kicked out of the Soviet Union, Brodsky arrived in the United States and began a second career in English, assisting his translators and eventually composing poems in English. This big book gathers all the poetry in English Brodsky originally saw through to press in books (or had earmarked for eventual publication), including Russian poems he translated or co-translated. Originally Russian verse from the '60s and '70s gives way to the later, sometimes lighter, work of his last two decades, when he found a second home in the speech of his adoptive country. In the earliest parts of the volume, Brodsky's attempt to render in English the formal pyrotechnics of his much-admired Russian results in awkward shifts between the demotic and the hieratic ""To exist in the Era of Deeds and to stay elevated, alert/ ain't so easy, alas."" But by 1978 Brodsky's English verse could be as dramatically confident--not to mention quotable--as these lines, from ""Strophes,"" about middle age: ""Ah, for the bounty of sibyls,/ the blackmail of future years,/ as for the lash of our middle/ names, memory, no one cares."" His later work can be intimately jocular, or grandly authoritative: often he acknowledges Latin precedents or else tips his hat to the late poems of Auden. Most of Brodsky's verse in English appeared in three books, A Part of Speech (1980), To Urania (1988) and So Forth (1996). Even readers who already know and own those might want this one for its concluding forty-odd pages of previously uncollected work, and for its scrupulous bibliographical notes. Brodsky knew he had lived, and suffered, through more than most poets; he enjoyed speaking with the Voice of Experience, as his poems attest: ""One's dreams,/ unlike the city, become less populous/ the older one gets."" (Aug.)
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