Iosif Aleksandrovich Brodsky – we know him as Joseph Brodsky – was born on this date in 1940, in Leningrad, and though he died at the absurdly young age of fifty-five, he outlived the U.S.S.R., a victory of sorts. A few months before his death on Jan. 28, 1996, Brodsky granted one of his final interviews to The Argoist, an arts journal in England. Here’s an exchange from that interview, as reprinted in Joseph Brodsky: Conversations (edited by Cynthia Haven, 2002):
“A.: You glibly put [Mikhail] Sholokov’s Nobel Prize (1965) down to `a huge shipbuilding order placed in Sweden’ (Less Than One). How credible do you find the `All Literature Is Politics’ argument.
“J.B.: It’s bullshit.”
Now that’s a poet. In a more discursive mode, Brodsky interviewed Czesław Miłosz in 1989. The result is collected in another book edited by Cynthia, Czesław Miłosz: Conversations (2006). Here’s an exchange between the two giants I find amusing:
“J.B.: This is the last question related to the literature of the absurd—literature and, by the same token, the experience of the absurd. What I would say about your operation, about your writing, is that you seem to me, not seem to me—well, I am using these interviewer’s terms—to have incorporated the absurd into your, so to speak, palette, and on occasion you use it, as just another device—that is, it hasn’t become for you the last word of style, of stylistic operation. Would you agree to this?
Cynthia’s latest book, just published by Ohio University Press/Swallow Press, is An Invisible Rope: Portraits of Czesław Miłosz. Included is “Spring in Berkeley,” a remembrance by the Lithuanian poet Tomas Venclova, who writes:
“Of course, the only Russian poet truly close to Miłosz was Joseph Brodsky, who had already lived in the States for five years (beginning in 1972). I remember how delighted Miłosz was about most of Brodsky’s poems, though not all of them; he highly praised, for example, `1972’ (`Birds don’t fly through my skylight nowadays’). Brodsky, in turn, once said, `Miłosz is the most accomplished man I know’ (the word accomplished was said in English).”
[Cynthia in visiting Poland and has just returned from Lithuania, and writes about Brodsky in Monday's post.]