A PART OF SPEECH by Joseph Brodsky


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Ten years' poetry is collected here, some of it included in the 1973 Selected Poems; and probably it's too much. But Brodsky, one of the most lauded of the Leningrad writers since exiled from Russia, is basically a poet of copiousness; in that sense the length is meet. Unevenly translated (by Brodsky himself and a host of others), with versions ranging from the earnestly inapt to the overly elegant, the poems declare their character very early--a brilliant eye for the seen image: ""The dimness of old bulbs in these/ sorry quarters. . ./ gives a sense of abundance supported by puddles."" Brodsky labors at the metaphysical--there's much adolescent worrying over Time and Space--but only in the long poem ""Lullaby of Cape Cod"" does he achieve a baroque sense of wonder. Elsewhere he's often guilty, over-literary, not really steady and focused until the title sequence. There, recognizing that his poet's tools were shaped by his Baltic birthplace (""zinc-gray breakers that always marched on/ in two. . . A glance is accustomed to no glance back""), he ""gnaw[s] a piece/ of ripened memory which is twice/ as hole-ridden as real cheese."" ""Twice"" because, in his relocation from Russian to English (he lives now in Ann Arbor), Brodsky has discovered ""the part of speech""--exile--that is basic to the vocation of every poet, of one or many languages. The pathos and weight of this is undeniable. But some of Brodsky's mannerisms are deniable indeed, as are his not very profound intellectuality and his poor music (the last attributable, perhaps, to the translations). When he's short-lined and scoured, or when he describes places (the very fine ""The Thames at Chelsea""), Brodsky is an excellent poet; but he has not yet yoked together knowledge and pity, so he is not nearly the equal of the Russian poets--Mandelstam, Akhmatova--he is so glibly compared to by American critics.

Pub Date: June 16th, 1980
ISBN: 0374516332
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux