Remembering Joseph Brodsky’s Представление (Presentation)

Brodsky Photo0001 Ta-Nehisi Coates posts a poem by Joseph Brodsky and says, “I missed out on Brodsky, and what it means to memorize a poem, and walk around with those lines in my head.” I did have the good fortune of taking a few classes from Brodsky and knowing him socially. He was pretty insistent on every one of us memorizing the poem for the day, at least in the lyric poetry class if not the Russian poetry class. I can still recite most of the poems in class by heart. One of the commenters on Coates’ post notes how much the poem “May 24, 1980” reads like a narrative. Funnily, I was reminded yesterday and today, well before I read Coates’ post, of Brodsky’s poem Представление (Presentation) by the discussion on Tony Judt’s NYRB blog piece on 1960s radicals in Europe and the Communist East. I don’t know of a translation of the poem and would butcher it if I tried one myself, but those who read Russian may find it quite remarkable and an insightful commentary on the experiment, nightmare, farce that happened in Eastern Europe in the last century.