Joseph Brodsky's Poetry of Exile

When Joseph Brodsky got off the plane in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1972, as an exile from the Soviet Union at the age of thirty-two, imported by his friend, the Russian professor and basement publisher of censored writers Carl Proffer, he already had a head full of poetry in English, as well as American movies and jazz, Italian painting and architecture, Greek and Roman mythology, and on and on. A steady diet of Soviet conformity and canned ideology had driven Brodsky from school in Leningrad while he was still a teenager, and an aversion to acquiescence had bumped him through a series of menial jobs and paycheck-pursuing junkets. This trajectory ultimately landed him in compulsory internal exile in a remote farming village in the subarctic district of Arkhangelsk. Throughout, he had harbored a slow-burning, private vocation as a reader. His father preserved the ziggurat of books and bookshelves and accumulated literary artifacts with which the young Brodsky walled himself off from the rest of his family’s komunalka (communal apartment) in order to read and write into the night, conveying the jumble intact to friends. With the lifting of Soviet censorship of Brodsky’s work in the Nineties, those custodians passed it into various archives where it lingers now.

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