Joseph Brodsky

By: David Smay
May 24, 2009


I know it’s a bold claim, but JOSEPH BRODSKY (1940-96) just might be the greatest poet ever to be rejected by the Soviet School for Submariners. (Tragically, there were no survivors of the School for Human Torches.) He was tried and condemned as a parasite (for writing poetry on the job), sent to a labor camp, then exiled from his home country. You need to force your imagination back to the Cold War to grasp the impact of Brodsky’s poetry, which had the force of moral law — adjudicating from the underground against the dull, grinding edge of a cruel Soviet century. Brodsky saw himself first as a Jew, then as a Russian, and there is something in his sensibility which is almost rabbinical: reasonable, passionate, questioning, tough, rooted, ethical. But it was Anna Ahkmatova’s early patronage of Brodsky which created an unbroken lineage in Russian poetry stretching from the Stray Dog Cabaret to samizdat.


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Lillian Gilbreth, Bob Dylan.

READ MORE about members of the Anti-Anti-Utopian Generation (1934-43).


HiLo Heroes, Poetry