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Joseph Brodsky (Joseph Alexandrovich Brodsky) Biography

(1940–96), (Joseph Alexandrovich Brodsky), samizdat, Stikhotvoreniia i poemy, Elegy for John Donne and Other Poems

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Russian poet, born in Leningrad; he left school at the age of 15. Some of his poetry appeared in samizdat magazines before his arrest in 1964 for ‘social parasitism’. Sentenced to five years' servitude in the Arkhangelsk region of northern Russia, he was released after eighteen months following appeals on his behalf by Dmitri Shostakovich, Anna Akhmatova, and others who affirmed the value of his verse. The Russian texts of his Stikhotvoreniia i poemy (‘longer and shorter poems’) were published in America in 1965. Under the dispensation permitting the emigration of Soviet Jews to Israel, he left the USSR in 1972 and was later refused permission to return. He settled in America, holding various posts as poet-in-residence before becoming Professor of Literature at Mount Holyoke College, Massachusetts, in 1981. The first significant appearance of his work in translation was Elegy for John Donne and Other Poems (1967); subsequent publications include Selected Poems (1973), A Part of Speech (1980), To Urania: Selected Poems 1965–1985 (1988), and So Forth (1995). The expansive lyrical and elegiac qualities of his verse survive impressively in translation; Anthony Hecht, Derek Walcott, and Richard Wilbur are among the translators with whom he worked. Much of his poetry is on an ambitious scale, pursuing his preoccupations with human suffering and redemptive possibilities; his informally factual mode takes on a power of mythical suggestion through his remarkably imaginative use of precisely observed local detail. In 1987 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Among his other works are the play Marbles (1989), an allegorical treatment of the limits of politically determined existence; Less than One (1986), a collection of his essays; and Watermark (1992), a travel book about Venice.

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