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Conversations With Joseph Brodsky: A Poet's Journey Through the Twentieth Century

by Solomon Volkov, Marian Schwartz, Marianna Volkov

Buy the book: Solomon Volkov. Conversations With Joseph Brodsky: A Poet's Journey Through the Twentieth Century

Release Date: January, 1998

Edition: Hardcover


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Buy the book: Solomon Volkov. Conversations With Joseph Brodsky: A Poet's Journey Through the Twentieth Century

Unique look into the poet's mind

Solomon Volkov had a very good idea in putting together this book. Over a period of many years, he sat down with Brodsky and interviewed him about poetry, metaphysics and world events (with a little gossip thrown in for good measure). The result is a thorough and fascinating look at Brodsky's opinions at many different points in time. And the conversations are not just
one-sided: Volkov keeps up with Brodsky just fine, so it's like listening in on a tete-a-tete between two brilliant minds. If you like Brodsky you will love this book.


Lone Wolf Poet:Review of"Conversations with Joseph Brodsky

If you wade into the book,"Conversations with Joseph Brodsky," by Solomon Volkov (Free Press, 1998,) more or less by accident, as I did, prepare for immersion in deep waters. I was only peripherally aware of Brodsky's work, his background as a major Russian Jewish writer, emigree, and later Nobel Prize winner and American Poet Laureate based on reading his short poetic volume,"Watermark," (Farrar, Strauss, & Giroux, 1992.) Based on this work alone I should have been prepared for the depths of thinking, the force of personality, and the scholarly mind that earned him his esteemed position and global reputation as the,"Lone Wolf of Poetry." Brodsky is, if nothing else,like one of those rare gems we find originally mined from and cut to shape on Russian soil, but later ending up here in the United States, much to our cultural enrichment. Once here, in this setting of freedom, they seem to shine even more brilliantly than they ever could in their homeland. Clearly, poetry is Brodsky's realm, and yet in Volkov's meticulous rendering,(the book represents a compiliation of more than fifteen years of purposeful dialogues with Brodsky,) it is evident that Volkov uncovers the man, his life experiences, and his force of personality in a manner that perhaps Brodksy, with his grand sense of irony would appreciate, perhaps even take perverse pleasure from reading. Hearing Brodsky literally thinking out loud, as this book allows us to do, adds a deeper dimension to an understanding of his life's work, and passion. Tragically, Brodsky suffered an untimely death by heart attack Jan. 28,1996 at the age of fifty-five. The reason I say perverse appreciation, is that Brodsky, in his conversations, claims that a poet's work alone should speak for him, that one needs no further digging into the poet's personal life in order to grasp the significance of his writing. Among the many topics Brodsky thinks out loud about are some perhaps unexpected ones. For example, his love for the poetry of Robert Frost, W.H.Auden, and Robert Lowell, as well as his love for the great Russian Poets, Anna Akhmatova, Pushkin, and Marina Tsvetaeva. I found myself scrambling for my long buried volume,"The Poetry of Robert Frost, (Holt Rinehart and Winston,1969) to find the poems Brodsky discusses," Servant to Servants," and " The Wood-Pile." Even as I am reading his commentary, I have to remind myself that Brodsky is quoting these American poems from memory, improvising freely like a brilliant jazz soloist, a John Coltrane taking off in counterpoint to the questions Volkov poses to him. It's a brilliant duet in dialogue form. As such, if you love literature, and poetry, and know of Brodsky's work, or even if you have never heard of Brodksy, but would like to know more about Russian writers, this book is a treasure chest filled with literary gems. Also, it needs to be emphasized that in great measure, it is Solomon Volkov's remarkable ability to stimulate and challenge Brodsky on issues that makes the dialectic so vital. Clearly, Volkov's depth of knowledge, common Russian upbringing, and his own aesthetic sensibilities serve to bring out the best in Brodsky. Towards the end of the book they get into an intense dialogue about their homeland, in particualr, St.Petersburg, a city that looms very large in the background, much like the Chorus in Greek drama. Here the discourse becomes deeply personal, going far beyond the academic realm of literary works, and anecdotes about other writer's lives. St. Petersburg is an area that Volkov knows something about, as evidenced by his recent book,"St. Petersburg: A Cultural History." In the heat of their discussion Brodsky suddenly takes off on an inspired solo: " as much as Petersburg is a city by the sea, so the notion of freedom-perhaps phantasmagorical, but very powerful-inevitably arises in the consciousness of anyone living there. In this city, the individual is always going to strive to reach beyond because the space in front of him is not limited or delimited by land. Hence, the dream of unlimited freedom. This is why I think that in this city it is more natural to reject the whole existing world order..." It strikes me as particularly painful that this volume is the last, unless Volkov compiles a 2nd companion volume based on his records. No more chances to raise the hand to ask the master to explain what he meant when he said such and such. As was his wish, we now have to read his poems to figure it out for ourselves.

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