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by Joseph Brodsky

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-374-12545-7
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

This volume gathers the three major books published in English by Brodsky—Soviet exile, Nobel Prize–winner, and US Poet Laureate—along with a handful of previously uncollected poems. Brodsky displays a dazzling knowledge of history and confronts what he calls “the nothingness of Time” without sentimentality or self-pity. Nor do his poems flinch from profound mental, physical, and spiritual hardships—his own and those of others—often revealing a startling beauty through such images as a wind that “breaks / a chain of crows into shrieking links.” His later work is at times sweetly playful, most notably in the love poems. Brodsky’s prodigious gift for description made him adept at conveying a sense of place, especially when writing about his native Russia. However, while he may be an immortal poet in his first language, the book’s editor notes that Brodsky “believed strongly that a poem’s verse structure should be rendered in translation.” Unfortunately, when this belief is put into practice, it can harm the poems, many of which the author translated himself. In one tercet the reader is confronted by the end-rhymes “waters,” “foetus,” and “photos”—an extreme example, but by no means an unusual one. His attempts at American colloquialisms are frequently awkward or, at best, outdated. (In “The Fly,” he addresses his subject as “my buzzy buddy.”) Elsewhere lurk such bizarre clunkers as “Hail the vagina / that peopled China!”

Surely the appearance of this collection will gratify Brodsky’s admirers, but despite his hallowed resumé, it is not likely to convert skeptics.