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edition of a work first published in 1992; this edition is enlarged with new interviews and a series of previously unpublished unique photographs from the personal archives of the author and the interviewees.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

Table of Contents

Vol I:

Photographs in the inset
List of abbreviations

ANATOLY NAIMAN. A Coagulation of Linguistic Energy
YAKOV GORDIN. A Tragic Perception of the World
EVGENY REIN. The Introduction of the Prosaic into Poetry
NATALYA GORBANEVSKAYA . Subordination to the Language
BELLA AKHMADULINA . Perfection of Harmony
ELENA USHAKOVA . A Poet of Intense Thought
ALEKSANDR KUSHNER . The World’s Last Romantic Poet
LEV LOSEFF. A New Conception of Poetry
VLADIMIR UFLIAND. One of the Freest Men
DAVID SHRAYER-PETROV. He was a Universal Poet
MIKHAIL MEILAKH . Liberation from Emotionality
VIKTOR KRIVULIN. A Mask that’s Grown to Fit the Face
YURY KUBLANOVSKY. A Yankee in Russian Poetry
ELENA SHVARTS . Coldness and Rationality
OLGA SEDAKOVA . A Rare Independence
ALEKSEY PARSHCHIKOV. Absolute Tranquility in the Face of Absolute Tragedy
TOMAS VENCLOVA . Development of Semantic Poetics
ROY FISHER . A Noble Quixotic Sight
DEREK WALCOTT. A Merciless Judge
CZESLAW MILOSZ . A Huge Building of Strange Architecture
PETER VIERECK . Rhyme and Punishment

Valentina Polukhina Books
Name Index


Stephen Spender, John Ashbery and Joseph Brodsky, June 1972, London Poetry International
Joseph Brodsky, Leningrad 1957, photo by Alexandr Brodsky
David Rief, Joseph Brodsky and Natalia Gorbanevskaya in Stockholm, December 1987
Tatiana Shcherbina, Joseph Brodsky and Evgeny Rein, Rotterdam Poetry International, 1989
Joseph Brodsky and Czeslaw Milosz, Krakow 1991
Joseph Brodsky and Aleksandr Kushner at London Mandelshtam Conference, 1991
Aleksey Parshchikov, 1993, photo by Valentina Polukhina
Joseph Brodsky, March 1980. Ann Arbor
Joseph Brodsky, Autumn 1973 in Provincetown, Mass
Czeslaw Milosz and Valentina Polukhina, 6 October 1990, London
Derek Walcott, James Morton, Dean of Cathedral of St John the Divine, Czeslaw Milosz, Daniel Hoffman,
poet and critic Lyn Chase, Joseph Brodsky, Rita Dove, Eliot Weinberger, Octavio Paz and Bill Wardsworth
Peter Viereck, Berlin 1969
Peter Viereck, title ‘The Tree Poet’, taken by Joseph Brodsky
in 1982, which Peter Viereck liked
David Shraer-Petrov, 2002, photo by Maxim Shrayer
Czeslaw Milosz, Joseph Brodsky, Rita Dove, Derek Walcott
and Octavio Paz, poetry reading at the Cathedral of St John
the Divine, November 1994
Joseph Brodsky and Valentina Polukhina, Keele University, UK, 1985

Vol II:

List of Photographs

JOHN LE CARRÉ . A Great Talent that was a bit of an Orphan
MIKHAIL HEIFETS . The Empire he was Loyal to was the Russian Language
LEV LOSEFF. He Lived at Extraordinary Pace
IGOR EFIMOV. Navigators in the Ocean of Spirit
GENRIKH STEINBERG . Joseph Wanted to Know Everything
EDWARD BLOOMSTEIN. Penetrating to the Depth of Things
MIKHAIL ARDOV. Leaving this Place is Impossible but Living here is also – Inconceivable
OLEG TSELKOV. With his Own Point of View on Everything
TOMAS VENCLOVA . He Tended to Ascribe his own Traits to Other Poets
VIKTOR GOLYSHEV. He was too Democratic to be an ‘Aesthete’
ALEKSANDR SUMERKIN. Continuation of Poetry by Other Means
PETR VAIL . Brodsky’s Poetic Globe is Equal to the Geographical one
BENGT JANGFELDT. The Terrible Fate of a Russian Poet
LUDMILA SHTERN. He Needed to have this kind of Dulcinea
NATALYA GORBANEVSKAYA . He was Lonely Everywhere
ZOFIA KAPUSCINSKA . In Search of New Meaning
ANNIE EPELBOIN. Generations of Suffering People Speaking through him Over the Ages
ELENA C HERNYSHEVA . Russia was his Heartache
NATASHA SPENDER . Ranging over Poetry of all Ages
SUSAN SONTAG . He Landed among us like a Missile
ANNELISA ALLEVA . There was a Lot of him, a Whole Mosaic
TATIANA RETIVOV. His Voice Remains Unique
TATIANA SHCHERBINA . A Demiurge, a Prophet, a Philosopher
DASHA BASMANOVA . A Unique Sense of Internal Freedom and Self-esteem
PASHA BASMANOVA . His World is Language
A NASTASIYA KUZNETSOVA . One can be Worthy of him only in a Loving Way
SEAMUS HEANEY. The Young Poet in him Never Aged .
MARK STRAND. Joseph was a Great Choice for Poet Laureate
DEREK WALCOTT. Almost Medieval Devotion to his Craft
JONATHAN A ARON. He Pushed English to its Limits
WILLIAM WADSWORTH . A Turbulent Affair with the English Language
LES MURRAY. English for him was Associated with Civilization
MATTHEW SPENDER . A Necessary Smile
SA M BRUSSELL . He Restored to Poetry its Metaphysical Dimension
ALAN MYERS . The Handmaid of Genius
DANIEL WEISSBORT. Nothing is Impossible
PETER FRANCE . A Dictionary-haunted Poetry
MICHAEL SCAMMELL . He Responded to Christianity Aesthetically
PAUL KEEGAN. He Wanted to Infect English with the Virus of History
ROGER STRAUS . A Great Poet was Living among us

Name Index