Brodsky Through the Eyes of His Contemporaries (Vols I & II)

Brodsky Through the Eyes of His Contemporaries (Vols I & II)

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Valentina Polukhina
Translated by Tatiana Retivov

Series: Studies in Russian and Slavic Literatures, Cultures, and History
ISBN: Vol. I:   9781934843154 (hardcover)
                       9781936235056 (paper)
           Vol. II:  9781934843161 (hardcover)
                       9781936235063 (paper)
Pages: 360 pp. (Vol. I) / 604 (Vol. II)
Publication Date: November 2008

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Brodsky Through the Eyes of His Contemporaries combines biographical details about Joseph Brodsky with a collection of interviews that illuminate an intriguing contemporary phenomenon, along with a new and authoritative interpretation of the poetics, style, and ideas of one of the most influential poets to emerge in post-Stalinist Russia. Subtle, incisive, and rigorous in its critical evaluation, each discussion significantly advances our understanding of Brodsky’s complex poetic world. All discussions are linked by core questions that are carefully and sometimes provocatively formulated.

This book is a superb guide to further study of Brodsky’s work both for specialist scholars and general readers who are intoxicated by poetry.

Presented in two volumes, this is the second edition of a work first published in 1992; this edition is enlarged with new interviews and a series of previously unpublished unique photographs from the personal archives of the author and the interviewees. 

Volume I offers a fascinating record of conversations with poets of various nationalities about Brodsky: Czeslaw Milosz, Roy Fisher, Lev Loseff, Bella Akhmadulina, Natalia Gorbanevskaya, Tomas Venclova, Viktor Krivulin, Alexander Kushner, and Elena Shvarts.

Volume II features eye-witness accounts of Joseph Brodsky’s friends and family members, publishers, editors, translators, students, and fellow poets including John Le Carre, Oleg Tselkov, Petr Vail, Bengt Jangfeldt, Susan Sontag, Seamus Heaney, Derek Walcott, and others.


Valentina Polukhina is professor emeritus of Russian literature at Keele University, United Kingdom. She is the author of several major studies of Brodsky: Joseph Brodsky: A Poet for Our Time (CUP, 1989); Brodsky Through the Eyes of His Contemporaries, Vol. I (St Martin’s Press, 1992); a Russian version, Brodskii glazami sovremennikov, Vol. I (1997, 2006); and A Dictionary of Brodsky’s Tropes (Tartu University Press, 1995). She is the editor of a collection of Brodsky’s interviews: Large Book of Interviews (Bol’shaya kniga intervyu) (2000, 2005, 2007); with Lev Loseff, of Brodsky’s Poetics and Aesthetics (1990) and Joseph Brodsky: The Art of a Poem (1999, 2002); with A. Stepanov and I. Fomenko, of Brodsky’s Poetics (Poetika Brodskogo, Tver, 2003); with A. Korchinsky, of Joseph Brodsky: A Strategy of Reading (Iosif Brodkii: Strategiya chteniya, Moscow, 2005). Among her articles are essays on Akhmatova, Pasternak, Tsvetaeva, Khlebnikov, Mandelshtam, Shcherbina, and Gorbanevskaya. She had edited bilingual collections of the works of Olga Sedakova (1994), Oleg Prokofiev (1995), Dmitry Prigov (1995), and Evgeny Rein (2001). Recently, a second volume of Brodsky Through the Eyes of His Contemporaries was republished in St. Petersburg (SPb, Zvezda, 2006).


Joseph Brodsky’s greatness as a poet has to d o with his expectation that life should measure up to the demands of art and not vice versa. These conversations show that his friendship has an equally heightening and challenging effect upon his gifted contemporaries. Brodsky emerges as a kind of one-man ozone layer, protecting and enhancing the possibility of poetic life in our times. The conversations are really full of life and attest greatly to Joseph’s high powers.
— Seamus Heaney
Brodsky really has been a go-getter, conquering America and the West in general; and he is something of a cultural explorer; take his poems about London, Washington, Mexico, his poems about Italy. The whole of twentieth-century civilization lives in the imagery of his poetry.
— Czesław Miłosz
The thoroughness of [Polukhina’s] research and the breadth of her knowledge (encompassing not only Brodsky but all modern Russian poetry) are formidable and everywhere evident.
— David Bethea, University of Wisconsin–Madison
Valentina Polukhina has been studying Joseph Brodsky’s poetry and prose for the last twenty years, and her knowledge knows no bounds. Brodsky is very fortunate to have so dedicated a scholar, thoughtful, profound, highly sensitive, tactful, indefatigable.
— Peter Vail
Apart from being serious research, each of Polukhina’s articles is of the greatest interest. They read like a detective story, revealing the secret of Brodsky’s writing, but unlike detectives, Valentina Polukhina knows that one can only approach the secret of a poet. Tirelessly she does approach it and takes us, her grateful readers, with her.
— Natal'ya Gorbanevskaya
A poet like Joseph Brodsky is lucky to find a critic who shares his staggering breadth and depth of reading and his capacity for relating to one another traditions that at first appear to be uttlerly incompatible: the past and present of Russian poetry, the west and the east of European culture, Hellenic, Christian, and existential modes of thought.
— Donald Rayfield, Queen Mary University of London