Saturday, March 12, 2011

Venice, Poetry & Joseph Brodsky

Joseph Brodsky on Venice:

"It is as though space, cognizant here more than anyplace else of its inferiority to time, answers it with the only property time doesn’t possess: with beauty. And that’s why water takes this answer, twists it, wallops and shreds it, but ultimately carries it by and large intact off into the Adriatic." 'Watermark'

Most people have probably never heard of 'Watermark', and perhaps not even of Joseph Brodsky. But he’s one of Russia’s most famous authors. Born in 1940 in Leningrad, he began writing poetry at the age of eighteen.

In 1963 (when he was just 23), Brodsky was arrested and a year later charged with social parasitism by the Soviet authorities. What follows is one of the most famous trial testimonies in the Soviet era (recorded in shorthand by journalist Friega Vigdorova):

Judge: And what is your profession in general?

Brodsky: Poet translator.

Judge: Who recognized you as a poet? Who enrolled you in the ranks of poets?

Brodsky: No one. And who enrolled me in the ranks of humanity?

Judge: Did you study this?

Brodsky: This?

Judge: To become a poet. You did not try to finish high school where they prepare, where they teach?

Brodsky: I didn’t think you could get this from school.

Judge: How then?

Brodsky: I think that it . . . comes from God.

For his “crimes,” Brodsky was sentenced to five years of internal exile with obligation for physical work; he served 18 months in the Archangelsk region before his sentence was commuted in 1965. Brodsky emigrated to the United States in 1972 as an involuntary exile from the Soviet Union.

In 1987, Joseph Brodsky was awarded The Nobel Prize in Literature “for an all-embracing authorship, imbued with clarity of thought and poetic intensity.”

Joseph Brodsky died in New York City on January 28, 1996.

For Brodsky, as 'Watermark' attests, Venice was where his heart was forged, and where Brodsky’s spirit endures: he was buried at Isola di San Michele cemetery in Venice.

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