A Poet's Journey Through the Twentieth Century


 The Russian Nobel laureate speaks his mind on poetry, other poets, and his life in conversations with another intellectual Russian ÇmigrÇ. In his preface, Volkov (St. Petersburg: A Cultural History, 1995, etc.) suggests that his reader regard these conversations with Brodsky ``as a guide, a kind of Baedeker, to the breathtaking, often beautiful, and at times forbidding territory of Brodsky's life and art.'' It is a bad start. This kind of blurb-speak immediately sets the teeth on edge, and the pages that follow do not bear out Volkov's exaggerated claim. Little bears directly on Brodsky's art. But we do hear Brodsky talking about his life (arrest, trial) under the Soviet regime and then his life in exile in the US. And he talks a good deal about the art of other writers, in particular Marina Tsvetaeva (his favorite candidate for great poet of the century), Anna Akhmatova (``she set our souls in motion''), W.H. Auden (an aphoristic thinker), and Robert Frost (the great poet of horror). As we might expect, Brodsky has various interesting things to say about poets and poetry. Unfortunately, Volkov's freewheeling conversations do not probe deeply. Volkov, as rough-and-ready a talker as the great poet, encourages him to roam extravagantly in his literary chitchat, which means that he fails in his task as an interviewer. He doesn't always press the poet into greater precision and fuller depth. Still, you cannot go terribly wrong with Brodsky as your partner in conversation. There is much of interest here. Though this is not so lean and pithy as the general reader may wish, students of poetry will find Volkov's book suggestive. And as for the autobiographical material it makes available, Brodsky offers a caveat: ``There is nothing duller than to look at an artist's work as the result of his life.'' (b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Feb. 2nd, 1998
ISBN: 0-684-83572-X
Page count: 308pp
Publisher: Free Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1997


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