Monday, May 25, 2015

Joseph Brodsky, Russian poet and New Yorker

Joseph Brodsky was born in Leningrad on May 24, 1940, seventy five years ago.
In one of his interviews he said:  I started to write when I was eighteen or nineteen. However, until I was about twenty-three, I didn’t take it that seriously. Sometimes people say, “The best things you have written were when you were nineteen.” But I don’t think I’m a Rimbaud" .



In her book Hope Abandoned Nadezhda Mandelstam says of Brodsky “He is . . . a remarkable young man who will come to a bad end, I fear.
 In 1963, Brodsky's poetry was denounced by a Leningrad newspaper as "pornographic and anti-Soviet".


Brodsky was exiled from the Soviet Union in 1972 after serving 18 months of a five-year sentence in a labor camp in northern Russia. After a short stay in Vienna, Brodsky settled in Ann Arbor  and became poet in residence at the University of Michigan for a year.  Later he  become a Visiting Professor at Queens College , Columbia University, and Cambridge University. 

The place where  Brodsky lived longest  during his time in New York was  his Greenwich Village apartment  on 44 Morton street.  It was  large one bedroom duplex, located on the parlor floor of a townhouse built in 1844.   The house is   typical for the West Village - a narrow, three-story townhouse. It was owned by  a New York University professor Andrew Blaine. Blaine lived in a little annex of the back courtyard and rented out of the rest apartments .  From the street the apartment looks like it is a half- basement but there was a shades paved terrace behind it.  Brodsky put his typewrite on a table and worked in the fresh air.  This building is a coop now . I found the pictures of the building and apartment on one of the real estate sites.

In his  interview in 1979 Brodsky said:  I don’t think I’ve written anything about New York. You can’t do much about New York. Whereas Venice—I’ve done quite a lot. But places like New England or Mexico, or England, old England—basically when you find yourself in a strange place, and the stranger the place it is, to a certain extent, the better—it somehow sharpens your notion of your individuality, say a place like Brighton (laughs) or York in England. You see yourself better against a strange background

Brodsky was awarded the 1987 Nobel Prize in Literature "for an all-embracing authorship, imbued with clarity of thought and poetic intensity". In 1991, Brodsky became Poet Laureate of the United States.  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".
Brodsky had a long relationship with The New Yorker, publishing some forty poems in the magazine, as well as essays on Istanbul, Stephen Spender and Robert Frost. Five books of poems by Brodsky in English were published during his lifetime. 
 Brodsky was one of the first poets who took part on the  MTA's Poetry in Motion program  that has brought more than 200 poems or excerpts before the eyes of millions of subway riders.

 Sir, you are tough, and I am tough.
But who will write whose epitaph?


 The program started in 1992 and  after a hiatus of four years, from 2008 through 2011, the popular program returned in March 2012. The first poem to display was   an excerpt from Whitman's "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry". 

Joseph Brodsky was the fifth US Poet Laureate , serving from 1991-1992 at the Library of Congress .

Joseph Brodsky was   co-founder of the famous restaurant Samovar, that  was founded on May 24, 1986  by   Roman Kaplan.  The restaurant already had an interesting history: Frank Sinatra owned the place in the past. He had many personal concerts there and often spent time with his friends at this restaurant.
 After winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1987, Mr. Brodsky gave Mr. Kaplan, the owner of the restaurant, some money from the award to help the Samovar over a financial hump. Mr. Kaplan, who features poetry readings at the restaurant on Tuesday nights, also holds annual tributes to Mr. Brodsky. 
“In his honor, this whole thing began,” Mr. Kaplan continued. “And on every day of his birth and of his death, which is going to be on the 28th of January, we get together here and we read poetry.”

22 Pierrepont st, Brooklyn

In 1993 Brodsky  bought  charming three-bedroom co-op apartment  in   Brooklyn Heights townhouse   at 22 Pierrepont St.   Later  this apartment was bought by  documentary film director Errol Morris, known for such movies as The Fog of War and The Thin Blue Line.  I took the pictures of this townhouse form real estate site.


Brodsky died  at home of a heart attack aged 55  on January 28, 1996.  There was a   memorial service for Brodsky at Grace Church,  245 Hicks Street on the corner of Grace Court in the Brooklyn Heights.   There was a   subsequent tradition of printing “24-Dec-71,” one of Brodsky’s Nativity Poems, in the church’s Christmas Eve bulletin. It concludes:
Grace Church, Brooklyn

But the draft through the doorway will part
the thick mist of the hours of darkness
and a shape in a shawl stand revealed,
and the Christ-child and Spirit that’s Holy
will be sensed in the soul without shame;
a glance skyward will show it — the star.



 A month after his death  hundreds came to the largest Gothic church in the world, Cathedral of Saint John the Divine  in Manhattan,  to  pay homage to Brodsky, whose poetry made him a cultural giant in the two most powerful countries in the world.
The service began with music of Brodsky's adopted homeland, ``When Johnny Comes Marching Home,'' played by the United States Military Academy Band, accompanying the entering processional.

Cathedral of Saint John the Divine
No words spoken about him. Only words once spoken by him, but now spoken by others.  Robert Frost's "Away.'' ,W.H. Auden's "The More Loving One.'' Brodsky's own "The Funeral of Bobo,'' "Letters From the Ming Dynasty,'' and "Roman Elegy XII,'' all in English translations.
"He would have liked it,'' remarked Irish poet Seamus Heaney, his fellow Nobel Prize winner, after he'd done his part by reading a Brodsky poem."He believed in language, not in himself.''

Mikhail Baryshnikov,  Russian-American ballet dancer, who was  a friend of Brodsky  from 1974 when they met in New York,   will perform in a new solo work based on the poems of Joseph Brodsky.  Mr. Baryshnikov said that the show would not be biographical and would focus solely on Mr. Brodsky’s poetry. The piece will have its premiere in Riga on Oct. 15. A tour to the United States, as part of an international tour, is planned for 2016.   Mr. Baryshnikov is also a co- founder of the restaurant Samovar.