On Reading Brodsky

Until further notice, it has been established at this juncture that I am not a reader of books, but of authors. For these days, I have scrounged and chowed down everything about Joseph Brodsky that I could find. The Russian poet and essayist has not only caught my fancy, but bewitched my mind so much so that I think we should award him another Nobel prize. Introduced to me by Brainpickings post on the greatest commencement speech, I have followed Brodsky to Russia, America, and I haven’t stopped at his poem A Song.

I wish you were here, dear, I wish you were here.
I wish you sat on the sofa
and I sat near.
the handkerchief could be yours,
the tear could be mine, chin-bound.
Though it could be, of course,
the other way around.

As much as I would have liked to buy his collections of essays and poems in paperback, they’re rather expensive. In fact, I’m surprised as to why they’re so steep. The prices go against what he believed in, when he said:

Poetry must be available to the public in far greater volume than it is. It should be as ubiquitous as the nature that surrounds us, and from which poetry derives many of its similes; or as ubiquitous as gas stations, if not as cars themselves. Bookstores should be located not only on campuses or main drags but at the assembly plant’s gates also. Paperbacks of those we deem classics should be cheap and sold at supermarkets. This is, after all, a country of mass production, and I don’t see why what’s done for cars can’t be done for books of poetry, which take you quite a bit further. Because you don’t want to go a bit further? Perhaps; but if this is so, it’s because you are deprived of the means of transportation, not because the distances and the destinations that I have in mind don’t exist.

And yet, his collections are extremely steep. However, Kindle books have come to the rescue. Before I jump to how his views about carefully adding to one’s language are essential to avoid violence, stating the obvious is merely cementing it, a society’s appreciation of poetry is the reflection of its evolution, and more, I have to say that it’s a pity we don’t have him around anymore. I may set too much store by him, but as a society, we could do much better if we had ourselves following his advice.

I am currently reading his books of essays, On Grief and Reason, and it’s the most challenging and enlightening piece of text I have consumed so far. He has provided suggestions on all kinds of poets one must read, sorted by language. For the first time in my life, I have wanted to learn more foreign languages just to read the poets he’s mentioned. What if I am missing out on some outstanding Polish or Spanish poetry that’s out there. This experience has made me feel both swell and small. It’s a dichotomy of sorts.

Brodksy doesn’t talk about gregarious things such as lofty ambitions, the conquering of colours in the sky, or even world peace, but true to his nature as a poet, he talks at length about emptiness, boredom, modesty, and the plain life in all its grandeur. His commencement address titled In Praise of Boredom at the Dartmouth College outlines how we’re finite against time which is infinite. Therefore, one must learn to let boredom go through to you. He says, that we’re to time, what specks of dust in sunbeams are to us. The speech is starts with a verse from W. H. Auden and has his personal favourite Frost’s line, “The best way out is always through.” After reading several of his essays and noticing this line in many of them, I have come to surmise that he believed in this line written by Frost.

Believe your pain. This awful bear hug is no mistake. Nothing that disturbs you is. Remember all along that there is no embrace in this world that won’t finally unclasp.

Of course, my reading is way slower now, but the satisfaction that it’s so revelatory keeps me going. As much as I would like to muse about this genius, I can just wonder aloud, as another Goodreads member remarked, why haven’t I read Brodksy before?

One must go through all the hyperlinks in this post as and when time permits. Meanwhile, I will be off to read some more of him and know that he was more than just dust in the speck of time. Even if he was, as the German poet Peter Huchel wrote:

“Remember me,”
whispers the dust.

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