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His papers were confiscated, he was interrogated, twice put in a mental institution  and then arrested. He was charged with social parasitism  by the Soviet authorities in a trial in , finding that his series of odd jobs and role as a poet were not a sufficient contribution to society. Who has enrolled you in the ranks of poets? Plaque marking where Brodsky stayed in Vilnius For his "parasitism" Brodsky was sentenced to five years hard labor and served 18 months on a farm in the village of Norenskaya, in the Archangelsk region, miles from Leningrad.
He wrote on his typewriter, chopped wood, hauled manure, and at night read his anthologies of English and American poetry, including a lot of W. Auden and Robert Frost.
No one destroyed them. And I have served that portion. Only four of his poems were published in Leningrad anthologies in and , most of his work appearing outside the Soviet Union or circulated in secret samizdat until Persecuted for his poetry and his Jewish heritage, he was denied permission to travel.
In , while Brodsky was being considered for exile, the authorities consulted mental health expert Andrei Snezhnevsky , a key proponent of the notorious pseudo-medical diagnosis of "paranoid reformist delusion".
Without examining him personally, Snezhnevsky diagnosed Brodsky as having " sluggishly progressing schizophrenia ", concluding that he was "not a valuable person at all and may be let go". When called to the Ministry of the Interior in and asked why he had not accepted, he stated that he wished to stay in the country. Within ten days officials broke into his apartment, took his papers, and on 4 June , put him on a plane for Vienna , Austria.
Recalling his landing in Vienna, Brodsky commented, I knew I was leaving my country for good, but for where, I had no idea whatsoever. So I came to the States. MacArthur Foundation "genius" award. In an interview he was asked: "You are an American citizen who is receiving the Prize for Russian-language poetry. Who are you, an American or a Russian?
It also called his writing "rich and intensely vital", characterized by "great breadth in time and space". It was "a big step for me, a small step for mankind", he joked. 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 held an honorary degree from the University of Silesia in Poland and was an honorary member of the International Academy of Science.
In , Gleb Uspensky, a senior editor at the Russian publishing house, Vagrius, asked Brodsky to return to Russia for a tour, but he could not agree. He was a greatly honored professor, was on first name terms with the heads of many large publishing houses, and connected to the significant figures of American literary life.
His friend Ludmila Shtern wrote that many Russian intellectuals in both Russia and America assumed his influence was unlimited, that a nod from him could secure them a book contract, a teaching post or a grant, that it was in his gift to assure a glittering career.
A helping hand or a rejection of a petition for help could create a storm in Russian literary circles, which Shtern suggests became very personal at times. Marina Basmanova lived in fear of the Soviet authorities until the collapse of the Soviet Union in ; only after this was their son Andrei Basmanov allowed to join his father in New York.
Petersburg, with his portrait in relief and the words "In this house from to lived the great Russian poet, Iosif Aleksandrovich Brodsky". I was born and grew up in the Baltic marshland by zinc-gray breakers that always marched on in twos.
Other notable works include the play, Marbles , and Watermark , a prose meditation on Venice. Auden described Brodsky as a traditionalist lyric poet fascinated by "encounters with nature, In particular, Brodsky emphasized the power of literature to affect its audience positively and to develop the language and culture in which it is situated.
He suggested that the Western literary tradition was in part responsible for the world having overcome the catastrophes of the twentieth century, such as Nazism , Communism , and two World Wars. During his term as Poet Laureate , Brodsky promoted the idea of bringing the Anglo-American poetic heritage to a wider American audience by distributing free poetry anthologies to the public through a government-sponsored program.
Librarian of Congress James Billington wrote, Joseph had difficulty understanding why poetry did not draw the large audiences in the United States that it did in Russia. He was proud of becoming an American citizen in the Soviets having made him stateless upon his expulsion in and valued the freedoms that life in the United States provided. As Poet Laureate, he suggested that inexpensive anthologies of the best American poets be made available in hotels and airports, hospitals and supermarkets.
He thought that people who are restless or fearful or lonely or weary might pick up poetry and discover unexpectedly that others had experienced these emotions before and had used them to celebrate life rather than escape from it. Poet Laureate in October He said, "By failing to read or listen to poets, society dooms itself to inferior modes of articulation, those of the politician, the salesman or the charlatan.
In other words, it forfeits its own evolutionary potential. For what distinguishes us from the rest of the animal kingdom is precisely the gift of speech. Poetry is not a form of entertainment and in a certain sense not even a form of art, but it is our anthropological, genetic goal, our evolutionary, linguistic beacon.
If what distinguishes us from other species is speech, then poetry, which is the supreme linguistic operation, is our anthropological, indeed genetic, goal. Anyone who regards poetry as an entertainment, as "a read", commits an anthropological crime, in the first place, against himself. Joseph Brodsky was the embodiment of the hopes not only of Anna Akhmatova, the last of the great Petersburg poets from the beginning of the century, but also Nadezhda Mandelstam , the widow of another great martyred poet Osip Mandelstam.
Both of them saw Joseph as part of the guiding light that might some day lead Russia back to her own deep roots.
Watermark: An Essay on Venice by Joseph Brodsky – review
Swedish Excerpt from Watermark I always adhered to the idea that God is time, or at least that His spirit is. In any case, I always thought that if the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the water, the water was bound to reflect it. Hence my sentiment for water, for its folds, wrinkles, and ripples, and — as I am a Northerner — for its grayness. I am not looking for a naked maiden riding on a shell; I am looking for either a cloud or the crest of a wave hitting the shore at midnight. That, to me, is time coming out of water, and I stare at the lace-like pattern it puts on the shore, not with a gypsy-like knowing, but with tenderness and with gratitude. This is the way, and in my case the why, I set my eyes on this city.