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Literature

Joseph Brodsky - the poet-exile
 
Iosif Aleksandrovich Brodsky was born in 1940 in Leningrad, to a Jewish family of Aleksander, a photographer in the Soviet Navy, and Maria, an interpreter. The family lived in poverty, in a communal flat, marginalized because of their nationality. Still, they survived the Siege of Leningrad, nearly dying of starvation. In his later life Iosif suffered from various health problems caused by malnutrition at such a young age.
 
The future poet became disillusioned with the Soviet way of life in his early childhood, and dropped out of school at 15, trying - unsuccessfully - to become a submariner. He started working as a mill worker, then decided to become a physician and started working as a medical assistant, cutting up or sewing bodies in a morgue, then decided to go to sea and worked in a ship's boiler room, then resigned and went on a geological expedition.
 
Brodsky started writing poetry right after leaving school. While on an expedition to the North-West of the country, he embarked on an ambitious (and successful, as it would prove later) self-education program, learning Polish and English so that he could translate works by Czesław Miłosz and John Donne!
 
In 1960 he met the famous poetess Anna Akhmatova, who became his mentor and supporter for years to come. She also introduced him to Marina Basmanova, whom Brodsky fell in love with immediate. Brodsky's close friend and colleague Dmitri Bobyshev also took interest in the girl and was widely held responsible for attracting the attention of authorities to his rival. 
 
Very soon Brodsky was brought before trial for "social parasitism" and sentenced to 5 years of hard labor in the North. Basmanova wanted to join him in exile, but the Soviet authorities threatened her with prosecution if she tried to. The couple could not marry, but soon after Brodsky's release (his sentence was commuted after protests from well known Soviet and foreign poets) she gave him a son, registered under her surname to avoid the social stigma for the boy.
 
His defiant defense during the trial was recorded and then leaked abroad, making him a star in the West. When asked who accepted him into the ranks of poets, he answered: "No one. But who accepted me into the ranks of humankind?"
 
In 1972, after being deemed not too dangerous to be put into a mental institution like some other dissidents and after refusing to leave the country for Israel, whose representative offered him asylum, he was basically thrown out of the Soviet Union - forced on a plane to Vienna and sent away.
 
Soon he moved to the United States, settling in Michigan and becoming a poet in residence at the University of Michigan. Later he worked as a Visiting Professor at Queens College, Smith College, Columbia University, and Cambridge University. He was also awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters at Yale University, and inducted as a member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters! Much later, in 1991, Brodsky became Poet Laureate of the United States!
 
Brodsky's creative career culminated into his winning the 1987 Nobel prize in literature - he became the fifth Russian-speaking poet to win the coveted prize.
 
One of his best known works, collected and published as To Urania: Selected Poems 1965–1985, reflects his experiences in a foreign land and his deep nostalgia...
 
While teaching in France, he married a young student Maria Sozzani, who gave him a daughter.  Though he had a new family, he still wanted to see his son, left behind in the Soviet Union: it became possible only after the fall of Communism in 1991.
 
A string of heart surgeries, necessary because of his frail health (consequences of the poor conditions during the siege of Leningrad), tore Brodsky away from his work, and on January 28, 1996, he died of a heart attack in New York City apartment, aged only 55...
 
Sources:
Cole, Henri "Brodsky, Joseph". The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-Century Poetry in English. Ian Hamilton. Oxford University Press, 1996.
Gessen, Keith. "Joseph Brodsky and the fortunes of misfortune". The New Yorker. May 23, 2011
Shtern, Ludmila (2004) Brodsky: a personal memoir Baskerville Publishers
 
 
 
 

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