Joseph Brodsky: our redhead is making quite a biography for himself


After Brodsky’s arrest and trial on charges of “parasitism” in 1964, Akhmatova famously commented that “our redhead is making quite a biography for himself”. The remark was prescient. In a detailed treatment of the accusations, trial and sentence Losev argues persuasively that Brodsky, whose poetry had scarcely made it into official or even samizdat print, was a most unlikely target for persecution. In the backlash against Khrushchev’s short-lived thaw, as Losev explains, KGB lackeys were quick to exploit opportunities for advancement. Brodsky fell victim to the careerist ambitions of one lowly operative who orchestrated the charges that led to his conviction (after two harrowing incarcerations in psychiatric hospitals) and internal exile (after passage through two notorious prisons) to a tiny village in the Archangel region. Exile turned out to be the start of a formative creative period in which Brodsky countered isolation by steeping himself in English and American poets such as Hardy, Frost, Auden and Eliot: all masters of the first-person voice that Brodsky would soon make his own. Although Brodsky’s poetry always seemed to be evolving in new directions, Losev observes that the essays on Frost, Rilke, Tsvetaeva and Pasternak that Brodsky published from the 1980s on were based on work undertaken some thirty years earlier.

more from the TLS here.