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Great Authors of Our Time - Joseph Brodsky
Joseph Brodsky was born in May of 1940 in Leningrad. Disenchanted with formal education, he left school at the age of fifteen to pursue his own studies. He worked at a series of menial jobs. At the age of eighteen, he began writing poetry, and taught himself English and Polish in order to translate the works of foreign poets he admired, such as John Donne and Czeslaw Milosz. Although he was unable to join an official writers' union, his works were widely circulated in samizdat (underground publications). By his early twenties, he had attracted the attention of many people, including Anna Akhmatova, who recognized in the young poet the most gifted lyric voice of his generation.

The Soviet authorities started to investigate Brodsky as a possible subversive. In February of 1964, he was arrested on charges of "social parasitism" under a controversial law meant to punish vagrants, speculators, and others who refused gainful employment. Although Brodsky argued that his activities as a poet and translator constituted legitimate work, the judge at the trial reacted scornfully to his defense: "Who has recognized you as a poet? Who has given you a place among the poets?" Brodsky retorted: "No one. And who included me among the ranks of the human race?"

His trial became an international cause célèbre, and many prominent persons in the Soviet Union, Europe, and North America protested the verdict that condemned Brodsky to five years in exile in the Arkhangelsk region of northern Russia. As a result of these pressures, his sentence was commuted eighteen months later. However, Brodsky was still regarded as an undesirable in Soviet society, and on 4 June 1972, he was forced to emigrate from his native country. In a letter to then leader Leonid Brezhnev, he stated: "I do not cease to be a Russian poet. I believe that I will return; poets always return, in flesh or on paper." After brief stays in Vienna and London, he settled in the United States, of which he became a citizen in 1977.

Brodsky has been Poet in Residence at the University of Michigan and Visiting Professor at several other universities in the States. In 1978, he was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters at Yale, and in 1987 became the second youngest person to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. In awarding him the prize, the Academy praised Brodsky for his "all-embracing authorship imbued with clarity of thought and poetic intensity". He was made U.S. Poet Laureate in 1991.

Brodsky's Selected Poems, with a foreword by W.H. Auden, was published in London in 1973. His equally acclaimed collection, A Part of Speech, appeared in 1980. In 1986, Less Than One, a volume of occasional essays originally composed in English, won the National Book Critics' Award for Criticism. It contains studies of poets whom Brodsky admired, such as Akhmatova, Auden, Ossip Mandelstam, and Derek Walcott, reminiscences of his life in the U.S.S.R., and commentaries on literature; repeatedly, these essays examine the conflicts between intellectuals and the Soviet state. In 1988, a new book of poems, To Urania, was published. His play, Marbles (1989), is a literary expression of Einstein's relativity theory. Taking place at the same time in ancient Rome and in a future supermechanized society, the play consists of a dialogue between two Romans incarcerated in a one-mile high steel tower. Of their situation, one of them comments, "Prison is a shortage of space compensated by a surplus of time". Finally, Watermark (1992) is a book-length essay/record of his annual visits to his beloved Venice in winter over a seventeen-year period, and offers brief evocations of the city that he calls "Penelope..., weaving her patterns by day and undoing them by night".


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