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2. From the Margins to the Mainstream: Iosif Brodskii and the Twentieth-Century Poetic Canon in the Post-Soviet Period

Aaron Hodgson

© 2017 Aaron Hodgson, CC BY 4.0

The biography of Iosif Brodskii is at once completely unique and yet simultaneously representative of the Soviet experience for many writers. Born in Leningrad in 1940, by the time he was twenty-four he had already been attacked in the press, arrested and tried for social parasitism, and then sent into internal exile in the Arkhangelsk region of Russia. Although his sentence was commuted in 1965 following protests by various Russian and Western cultural figures, harassment by the KGB continued and he was eventually exiled from the country in 1972, sent to the West less than a month after his thirty-second birthday. During the next fifteen years in exile Brodskii rose to the summit of the US intelligentsia, receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1987 and later being appointed as American Poet Laureate in 1991. Yet for all his awards and honours in the West, Brodskii was not published in his native country until late 1987 during the twilight of the Soviet Union, save for some of his children’s poems in the 1960s. His death followed shortly after in 1996, aged only fifty-five, ‘after a life that seemed in many ways tailor-made for the prophetic model, as Akhmatova had foreseen’.1 Famously, he never returned to Russia following his expulsion from his native country.

As David Bethea notes, ‘it is a virtual topos in such preliminaries to claim that one’s subject has been “neglected” or unfairly passed over by literary history. Not so in Brodsky’s case’.2 By my reckoning, up to early 2013 there have been at least twenty-seven books published in the West that are specifically about Brodskii, and this information is supplemented by a search on ProQuest Dissertation Abstracts and Theses, which revealed that his name is mentioned in 1389 dissertation abstracts, with 20 theses written specifically about him. These books and dissertations have been produced across a sustained period of time, mainly after the poet’s death, and continue to appear up to this day, which demonstrates a continued scholarly interest in Brodskii in the West.

But what about Brodskii’s status in Russia during the post-Soviet period? John Glad notes in the acknowledgements to his book Conversations in Exile: Russian Writers Abroad that Glad’s file of Russian writers in exile at the end of the Soviet period numbered some 2500, and this was not an exhaustive list.3 The late Soviet period, from 1987 when Gorbachev introduced his perestroika and glasnost′ policies to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991, can best be characterised, from a literary point of view, as thirsty; there was a thirst for the works of all those who were deemed unpublishable by the state, from throughout the Soviet period until the present day. Consequently, the following period, which saw a revision of the literary canon that brought together poets and their works from the Soviet mainstream, underground and émigré literature, can be understood best as an attempt to quench this thirst. This leads to the questions: how has Brodskii’s position in the canon changed in the post-Soviet period, and can we consider him to be a canonical figure in the newly reshaped literary canon? This chapter will contextualise the rise of Brodskii in Russia during the post-Soviet period and investigate the literary and extra-literary mechanisms behind his canonisation there, both immediately following the dissolution of the Soviet Union and after Brodskii’s death in 1996.

The title of this chapter, ‘From the Margins to the Mainstream’ (‘ot okrainy k tsentru’), is an allusion to one of Brodskii’s early poems, written in 1962, which seems to prophesy his rise from near obscurity in his native country to fame in the post-Soviet period.4 This stands in stark contrast to his status in the US, where he was already famous upon his arrival in 1972, thanks to a secret transcript of his 1964 trial that had been smuggled out of the Soviet Union and printed in the West eight years before his exile. This gave him a reputation in America as a dissident and symbol of artistic resistance in a totalitarian society.

This chapter will assess Brodskii’s canonisation across a range of criteria, utilising a quantitative and qualitative methodology, in order to demonstrate objectively, in this instance, that Brodskii is indeed now a part of the Russian canon. It is composed of two sections, mirroring Brodskii’s canonisation in Russia in the post-Soviet period. The first focuses on the poet’s initial reception in the late- and immediate post-Soviet period (1987–1995), when the process of revision of the literary canon was beginning. It traces his initial reception and notes the importance of Brodskii’s biography and awards in the context of the move away from the Soviet cultural inheritance that was evident during this time. A useful comparison to the poet Andrei Voznesenskii and his Soviet and post-Soviet reception will help to highlight the different factors at play in the reconfiguration of the canon at this time.

The second section of the concentrates on Brodskii’s posthumous reception and canonisation in Russia between 1996 to 2012, and explores the ways in which he has been incorporated into the post-Soviet poetic canon since his death in 1996. This section is further divided into two broad parts. The first deals with scholarly and critical interest in the poet, and traces his posthumous critical reception in Russia by providing quantitative analysis of primary and secondary sources written by, or about, him, which reveal a sustained academic interest in Brodskii. The second part will investigate the cultural manifestations of that interest: the posthumous phenomenon sometimes described as ‘Brodskiimania’. This chapter proposes to define the cult of Brodskii in a broader context by looking at the ways in which a growing interest in the biography and works of the poet has manifested itself in Russia over the last two decades, and considering why this has happened. Cultural narratives about Brodskii are inevitably composed of literary and non-literary elements; this chapter will analyse how the poet has been adopted by various aspects of popular culture, noting films and documentaries about him, as well as songs that use his poetry in their lyrics, and other cultural manifestations of ‘Brodskiimania’.

Thus, the chapter aims to contextualise the rise of Brodskii in post-Soviet Russia, arguing that his posthumous canonisation grew from his earlier reception in Russia and the West. It is important to note the complexity of his essentially unique transnational canonisation. The present discussion aims to contextualise both the literary and the sociopolitical aspects of Brodskii’s reception in Russia by examining his canonisation chronologically in order to determine the specific combination of factors at play in his post-Soviet canonisation.

Brodskii’s Initial Reception, 1987–1995

Brodskii’s initial reception in Russia can be traced through the pages of the scholarly journal Voprosy literatury (Questions of Literature). Of all the journals examined, Voprosy literatury offers the most representative picture of the various factors involved in Brodskii’s transnational narrative. Founded in 1957, Voprosy literatury is an authoritative literary critical journal that publishes articles and transcripts of roundtable discussions that explore Russian and world literature, and the history and theory of literature. The journal first appeared soon after the Twentieth Party Congress that marked the beginning of the Thaw in the cultural life of the Soviet Union. It soon evolved into a major discussion platform for literary critics and scholars.

G. S. Smith noted the appearance

of a selection of Brodsky’s poetry in the last issue of 1987 of the venerable Soviet literary journal New World (Novyi mir). This was the first time Brodsky’s poetry had been published in his native country following his exile in 1972, and indeed the first ever substantial publication of it there. Of greater general significance was the fact that this was also the first publication in the seventy-year history of the USSR by a major living Russian writer who was a citizen of a foreign country. Brodsky thus lived long enough to see his work overcome all the prohibitions the Soviet system had piled up against it.5

Consequently, one would not expect to see Brodskii’s name appear in print in any Soviet literary journal before 1987, and certainly not while he might still be considered as an exile in the West. The data collected from Voprosy literatury upholds this theory. Brodskii is first mentioned in its pages in 1989, and appears there 123 times up until the end of 2011. Most of these mentions (anything between a full-blown article and a single-word reference) are concentrated in the periods 1989–1990 and 1994–1995, immediately prior to his death. These figures help to demonstrate an initial awareness of Brodskii, but, as Andrew Kahn notes, ‘a proper assessment of the stature of a poet naturally depends on the content of their reception as much as its frequency’.6

These nineteen mentions of Brodskii in the journal fall into two distinct categories. The first category, which comprises the majority, discusses Brodskii in the context of the revision of the literary canon, and focuses on his exile, biography, or awards. An example of this can be found in a 1989 issue in which Efim Etkind discusses the metaphorical return of writers to Russia:

From France and America a crowd of shadows burst into Russia. Among them were authors of varying stature and merits, but each one of them was significant in his own way: from Bunin and Kuprin to Averchenko and Don Aminado, from Marina Tsvetaeva to Irina Odoevtseva, from Balmont, Georgii Ivanov and Khodasevich to Viacheslav Ivanov and Adamovich, from Zamiatin and Remizov to Nabokov, from Igor Severianin to Kuzmina-Karavaeva. Merezhkovskii, Aldanov, Zinaida Gippius, Boris Poplavskii, Ilia Zdanevich and many others still await their time. Exiles, still living, were already starting to return in the form of their works: the first one to be published was Joseph Brodskii.7

Here, within a broader discussion of the reshaping of the canon, Etkind notes that by 1989 the first works by Brodskii had already been published in Russia. This is indicative of the wider trend of mentions of Brodskii in Voprosy literatury between 1989 and 1995. The second category, in which there are fewer examples, is composed of texts that tend to use Brodskii in a discussion of contemporary poetics. The best example of this category can be found in a 1994 issue of the journal:

And here even Joseph Brodskii is praised to the skies, sometimes called ‘the best, most talented poet of our epoch’ (in more intellectual formulations, of course, such as ‘a major figure among Russian poets living today’), but he has still not been studied at all in connection with his poetic contemporaries.8

This passage discusses the role and place of Brodskii in contemporary poetry; Vladimir Novikov argues that Brodskii is the most postmodern Russian poet. These examples illustrate the two distinct categories that form Brodskii’s initial reception in Russia in the late Soviet and early post-Soviet period.

At no point in the period up until the end of 1995 does the journal offer any textual analysis of Brodskii’s works. This, to a certain extent, is to be expected. The period of the reconfiguration of the canon, which coincided with Brodskii’s initial post-Soviet reception, can be best characterised, as has been suggested above, as thirsty. Generally speaking, the literary public were eager to read any works that were deemed unpublishable during the Soviet period. This was a time of generalisations, not specifics. There were too many writers trying to be heard, and it would take time for individuals in this crowded arena to rise to the top. Therefore, general collected works were published in abundance, rather than individual cycles of poems, to try to quench this thirst. Works previously unpublished during the Soviet period did not always receive the critical and scholarly attention that they would later be given.

The reception of the poet Andrei Voznesenskii in Voprosy literatury during this period provides a useful and illuminating comparison with that of Brodskii, which highlights the different factors at play in the canonisation process and in the evolution of the canon in the late Soviet and early post-Soviet period. The differences in their reception were initially noticeable in the West. While Brodskii was Akhmatova’s protégé, Voznesenskii was Pasternak’s. According to Reuters, when Voznesenskii sent Pasternak some early verse asking for his opinion, the response from the future Nobel Prize winner to the fourteen-year-old was: ‘Your entrance into literature was swift and turbulent. I am glad I’ve lived to see it’.9 Famously, Robert Lowell once referred to Voznesenskii as ‘one of the greatest [living] poets in any language’.10 Although Brodskii and Voznesenskii were contemporaries, the latter was published and favoured in the Soviet Union, whereas the former was arrested and exiled for his art. While Brodskii received awards and honours in the West, Voznesenskii was given the USSR State Prize in 1978, as well as the Order of the Red Banner of Labour in 1983, and other notable prizes.11 While Brodskii rose to the summit of the American intelligentsia, Voznesenskii matched his achievement in his native country.

Voznesenskii travelled to the West during the Thaw period, and, like Brodskii after his trial and internal exile, was the darling of the Western press and one of the most acclaimed poetic voices of his day. Yet ultimately it was Brodskii, not Voznesenskii, who became known in the West as the greatest Russian poet of his generation. One explanation for these differing fortunes may be found in Cold War attitudes towards the Soviet Union, which created a favourable atmosphere for Brodskii’s reception as an exiled poet. This was a time when writers officially out of favour with the Soviet authorities were often perceived in the West as having greater talent and creative integrity than those such as Voznesenskii who were published in the Soviet Union and therefore part of its official culture. Voznesenskii’s poems were, by and large, published widely in his native country during the Soviet period, but his works ultimately received less critical attention in the West than Brodskii’s. Yet the situation is more complex than this. Voznesenskii was not a Soviet lackey. However, perhaps the most interesting aspect of Brodskii’s reception in the West is his elevation from being ranked among the best Russian poets, along with Voznesenskii and Evtushenko, to being hailed as the best Russian poet alive following his exile.12 Was this change due to the prestige that attached to his status as exile, or perhaps to greater exposure of his work and his newly published poems? Certainly, Brodskii’s work was more widely published in the West after he left Russia. The importance of literary quality in building a writer’s reputation should never be underestimated, but in this case there are extra-literary factors to be considered. It is likely that the Cold War political agenda helped to shape Brodskii’s reception in the West, which saw the victimisation and expulsion of Brodskii as evidence of the USSR’s oppressive nature.

During the later Soviet period, one would expect to find the name of such a widely-published poet as Voznesenskii frequently mentioned in literary journals in Russia. This is exactly what we see in Voprosy literatury. Between 1960 and 1987, Voznesenskii’s name is mentioned thirty-nine times, appearing at least once in most years, while Brodskii is not mentioned once in this period.13 Between 1987 to 1995, Voznesenskii’s name is mentioned five times in Voprosy literatury, in comparison to Brodskii’s nineteen.14 Voznesenskii’s apparent marginalisation during the post-Soviet years may be explained by the widespread rejection of figures identified with official culture. Voznesenskii, a published Soviet writer, was sidelined to make room for the massive influx of work by the ‘crowd of shadows’ from abroad, to paraphrase Efim Etkind. By contrast, Brodskii’s biography aided his canonisation, which was further supported by the awards and honours that he had received abroad.15 Ultimately, the comparison of Brodskii to Voznesenskii shows the importance of extra-literary factors in the post-Soviet reconfiguration of the canon. In effect, Voznesenskii was doubly marginalised: in the West, following Brodskii’s exile, and in the early years of post-Soviet Russia, when the ‘returnee’ Brodskii received far more attention than he did.

Brodskii’s Posthumous Reception and Canonisation in Russia

Brodskii died in January 1996 in New York, famously never having returned to Russia, and was initially interred in a crypt there before being buried in Venice in 1997. His death brought his name to the fore in Russia, and there it has remained. In the period following his death to the end of 2011, Brodskii is mentioned 104 times on the pages of Voprosy literatury, compared to the nineteen mentions he received in the period between 1989 and 1995. On average during the period of Brodskii’s initial reception we see there were just over three mentions per year, whereas after his death there were nearly seven mentions a year, over a twofold increase. These figures reflect the sustained interest in Brodskii’s work between 1996 and 2011, but with an initial flurry of mentions in the years immediately following his death and in the period between 2005 and 2011.16 During this time, those articles that appear in Voprosy literatury can be divided into five broad categories which all help to demonstrate how Brodskii’s place in the canon was by that time an accepted fact. These categories are as follows: articles about contemporary literature that feature Brodskii; articles that use a quotation from his work to facilitate a discussion not otherwise directly related to the poet; articles that examine his place in the canon in general; articles about different aspects of Brodskii’s poetic career that discuss his biography and awards, or his works; and articles that engage in close textual analysis of Brodskii’s poetry.

The most important trend to note is that gradually the journal devoted increasing attention to the poet’s life and work, and particularly to the analysis of his poetry. For instance, in the period of his initial reception, of the nineteen mentions of Brodskii on the pages of Voprosy literatury, none of the articles were about him specifically. In general, he featured in broader discussions about the reshaping of the canon or about contemporary poetics. This changed in the years between 1996 and 2011, when eighteen articles specifically about Brodskii were published in Voprosy literatury, a significant increase in scholarly and critical interest that was not evident during the period of his initial reception.17 His name is mentioned predominantly (on 86 out of 104 occasions) in articles that can be classified under the first two of my categories, which is indicative of a paradigm shift in the poet’s reception.

An example of the first category of articles, which mention Brodskii in the context of contemporary literature, is a piece by by Kathleen Parthé, in which Brodskii is mentioned at various points in a discussion of the so-called ‘Russification’ of the nation’s literature since the decline of the USSR and the struggle to preserve the cultural history of Russia.18 Articles of this kind which situated Brodskii within the broader context of contemporary poetry were rare in the earlier stages but became much more frequent after the poet’s death. Over time, Brodskii became an integral part of the canon as a poet who is not just accepted as a major writer, but whose work may be seen as exemplifying, and even leading, broader literary trends.

Articles in the second category, using Brodskii, or a quotation from his works, to facilitate a discussion about a separate topic, did not appear in Voprosy literatury during the earlier phase of the poet’s reception. Moris Bonfeld’s article about Tsvetaeva is an example of this trend, in which Bonfeld writes that ‘Joseph Brodsky, who considered Tsvetaeva to be a major twentieth-century poet, also includes Tsvetaeva’s syntax among the most important content-bearing attributes of her poetry’.19 Having noted Brodskii’s opinion on the matter, Bonfel’d then engages in a textual analysis of Tsvetaeva’s work. This is important because it indicates that Brodskii is deemed an authority on the subject, thus reinforcing his canonical status. Another example can be seen in the introduction to a set of three articles on English metaphysical poetry, where Brodskii is deemed an expert, and the person responsible for introducing this body of work to Russian readers:

Our knowledge of English Metaphysical poetry and our interest in it changed thanks to Joseph Brodskii. He spoke of the significance Donne had for him and translated a number of poems by the Metaphysical poets […].20

The introduction to an interview with Semen Lipkin is a further example. The interviewer, Olga Postnikova, uses a quote by Brodskii to facilitate a reflection on Russian twentieth-century poetry in general, as well as on the place of Lipkin’s poetry in the canon:

In an interview for the newspaper Russkaia mysl on 3 February 1983 Joseph Brodskii says: ‘I have always been struck by how it happened that in the poetry of Russia, which has been destined to undergo such a unique, and in many ways catastrophic experience, an experience which brought people face to face with the very foundations of existence: the years of collectivisation, war, not to mention terror […], this was barely reflected at all.21

The interviewer here uses Brodskii as a means of validating Lipkin’s contribution to twentieth-century Russian poetry, presenting Lipkin as one poet who fills the gap identified by Brodskii. Lipkin goes on to refer to Brodskii himself later in the interview:

I have to begin with the fact that I was aware, having left the Writers’ Union in January 1980, and was living, in my own country, forbidden to work in my proper profession, that a collection of my poems was due to be published by the American publisher ‘Ardis’. But I could not have imagined that the book would have been produced on such a scale, nor that it had been compiled by such a major poet as Joseph Brodskii, with whom I was not acquainted.22

This quote is not only interesting because it suggests that Lipkin was aware of the émigré Brodskii in 1980, though not personally acquainted with him, but also because it demonstrates that by 2004, the year of this interview, Brodskii’s canonisation can be considered to be well underway, since Lipkin retrospectively acknowledges Brodskii’s canonical status as an authoritative figure who helped raise awareness of his own poetry abroad.

There are a number of articles in Voprosy literatury between 1996 and 2011 that discuss Brodskii’s place in the canon after its post-Soviet revision. An example of this third group is an article by Svetlana Boiko, which examines the philological consciousness of poetry as a developed tradition in the second half of the twentieth century. Different poets of this tradition are discussed, including Brodskii:

In actual fact, Joseph Brodskii was a teacher and historian of world poetry; David Samoilov was a leading theoretician of Russian rhyme; Andrei Voznesenskii and Aleksandr Kushner were authors of essays on poetry and aesthetic. All of them, as well as Bella Akhmadulina and Bulat Okudzhava, were translators of Soviet and world poetry into Russian, and poetic translation is a laboratory where aesthetic views are refined, and a concern for the genuine spirit and style of a poem is manifested.23

In this example, as in other articles of this category, Brodskii is placed alongside other well-established authors in a discussion of the literary canon, which has the effect of reinforcing the canonisation of each of the writers mentioned. Articles of this kind dominated Brodskii’s initial reception in Voprosy literatury, but the tone changed after his death. Whereas initially Brodskii was discussed in the context of the changing canon, with particular attention given to his exile, his biography, or his awards, now the focus is on his place in the canon in general. He is no longer seen as an outsider and an exile; he is firmly accepted as a part of the canon.

The fourth category of articles appearing between 1996 and 2011 address Brodskii’s poetic career, including his biography and awards, and his poetic output. Arina Volgina’s article, entitled ‘Iosif Brodskii/Joseph Brodsky’, is an example of this; it discusses Brodskii’s English-language alter ego.24 Vladimir Kozlov’s article about the effect of exile on Brodskii’s works between 1972 and 1977 is another such piece.25 Such articles are indicative of a developed and sustained critical and scholarly interest and they demonstrate a change in how Brodskii is perceived in relation to the canon.

The fifth and final group of articles are those that focus on the textual analysis of his work, an approach absent from the initial reception of his poetry. Until 1996, no textual analysis of his work appeared in the pages of the journal, but after Brodskii’s death a shift in perceptions occurred, and in 1997 and 1998 alone five articles engage in textual analysis of Brodskii’s poetic output. One reason might be that the poet’s death stimulated this turn towards a closer readings of his works. This may also have been combined with the slow, gradual process of Brodskii’s assimilation into the canon as one of the many writers who were restored to the Russian literary mainstream. In other words, it took time for Brodskii’s poetry to rise to prominence, but perhaps the poet’s death was the trigger for this deeper critical engagement with his poetry.

The first textual analysis of Brodskii’s poetry appeared in Voprosy literatury in 1997, in Sergo Lominadze’s examination of Brodskii’s ‘Pis′mo v oazis’ (‘Letter to an Oasis’).26 Another early example includes Sergei Kuznetsov’s article ‘O poetike Brodskogo’(‘On Brodskii’s Poetics’), which discusses the motifs and themes that can be found in Brodskii’s works, including the effect of time on man.27 A further example can be found in Caterina Graziadei’s article on the use of enjambments in Brodskii’s poetry and how they help to convey the meaning of the poem:

Death, Joseph Brodskii argued, was one of the possible ways in which time could be embodied. ‘All my poems, more or less, are about the same thing: time’. It was not by chance that his two-volume collected works, published in Minsk in 1992, had the thoroughly eloquent title A Form of Time. For all poets, to some extent, have to measure themselves against time, and a song is, in itself ‘Time reorganised’.28

Another instance can be seen in 2005, in M. Sverdlov and E. Staf’eva’s textual analysis in which they attempt to uncover what they term the ‘birth of the metaphysical Brodskii’.29 These varied readings of Brodskii’s work reflect the sustained and regular nature of this form of criticism, and suggest that Brodskii’s canonisation is complete.

Posthumous ‘Brodskiimania’: Brodskii in Popular Culture

Having considered the critical interest in Brodskii as a literary phenomenon, I will now turn to the growth of a broader interest in the poet over the last two decades and how this interest has manifested in various forms of cultural production. The term ‘Brodskiimania’ here describes the cult of Brodskii in this broader context beyond the specifically literary sphere: in films, documentaries, television programmes, music, and in memorials dedicated to the poet.

Altogether, between 1990 and 2011, there have been fourteen documentary films and television programmes either specifically about Brodskii, or that feature him heavily. Of these, only one was filmed in 1991, i.e. during the early period of his reception in Russia. The production of the remaining thirteen is spread fairly evenly between 2000 and 2012, but with more of a flurry towards the end of the period, in particular in 2010 when Brodskii would have reached the age of seventy.30 These films can broadly be assigned to one of two main categories: they are either about the poet and his views on certain topics, or about his works. In addition to these two groups, a number of programmes mention Brodskii as an authority on a certain topic, and can therefore be seen as constituting a third, supporting category.

The first group (films about Brodskii and his opinions) features the only documentary film from the period of Brodskii’s early reception in Russia. This was entitled Prodolzhenie vody (The Extension of Water, 1991), and was directed by Natan Fedorovskii and Harald Luders.31 The film was shot over the Christmas holiday period in Venice, as a joint production with German television. In the documentary Brodskii talks about his knowledge of Venice and its history, reads verses about Venice and Petersburg, and talks about himself. There is also a recording of Brodskii’s conversation with Thomas Krentsem, director of the Guggenheim Collection in Venice, about the dialogue between Russian and Western culture and the ways in which they interact. Many of the films that feature Brodskii (six out of fourteen) belong in this category, and they are produced throughout the entire period under analysis. A later example can be found in Iosif Brodskii: razgovor s nebozhitelem (Joseph Brodsky: A Conversation with a Sky Dweller, 2010), edited by Roman Liberov. This is a documentary film based on a recorded conversation that took place in New York in 1993 between the critic Solomon Volkov and Brodskii. The frankness of this dialogue make this film a key resource to understand Brodskii’s personality and his perception of himself, his fate, his own poetry, and his place in the world.

The second category includes films and television programmes about Brodskii’s poetic output. This category is larger than the first (eight out of fourteen films), and includes works produced after the poet’s death, mirroring the textual analysis that was published during this period on the pages of Voprosy literatury. Works in this category include recordings of poetry readings of Brodskii’s works, such as Potomu chto iskusstvo poezii trebuet slov: vecher-posviashchenie Iosifu Brodskomu (Because the Art of Poetry Requires Words: An Evening Dedicated to Joseph Brodsky) broadcast on 24 October 2010. This was a recorded literary-theatrical performance in which Brodskii’s verses were read on stage by various actors from the theatre, and it took place in the Moscow Arts Theatre on the day that would have been Brodskii’s seventieth birthday. The other main type of work to be found in this category are feature films that engage with Brodsky’s works. Included here are two films by Andrei Khrzhanovskii. The first is Poltora kota (A Cat and a Half, 2003), an animated film that focuses on Brodskii’s life before his exile in 1972. The film is based on Brodskii’s works and drawings, and on the materials of a unique photographic archive. The second film by Khrzhanovskii is his Poltory komnaty, ili sentimental’noe puteshestvie na Rodinu (A Room and a Half, or a Sentimental Journey to the Homeland, 2009). A film that portrays the imagined journey of Brodskii back to St Petersburg, it is a fantasy based on his verses and essays, as well as the poet’s biography.

These two categories are supplemented by many programmes that mention Brodskii, often as an authority on a certain topic. An example of this category can be found in Aleksandr Zholkovskii’s recorded lecture ‘O poniatiiakh invariant i poeticheskii mir: 1-ia lektsiia’ (‘On Notions of the Invariant and the Poetic World: Lecture 1’). In his lecture, Zholkovskii analyses lyrics by Pushkin and Pasternak, Okudzhava and Brodskii, Aleksandr Kushner and Sergei Gandlevskii from the point of view of their thematic and structural invariants.32 Although this lecture is not solely about Brodskii’s work, programmes such as this contribute to the poet’s canonisation because of his proximity to other canonical figures such as Pushkin and Pasternak. Similarly, in Igor Volgin’s series Igra v biser (A Game of Beads), Volgin uses a quote by Brodskii to initiate a discussion on Sergei Dovlatov’s Zapovednik (Pushkin Hills).33 These three types of visual representation of the poet show the renewed significance of Brodskii’s poetry in the post-Soviet period, and demonstrates a wider interest in his works.

Brodskii’s place in popular culture is cemented not only by films, documentaries, and television programmes, but also through music. The earliest example is Andrei Makarevich’s song ‘Pamiati Iosifa Brodskogo’ (‘In memory of Brodskii’, 1997) from his album Dvadtsat’ let spustia (Twenty Years Later). Brodskii’s lyrics have also been set to music, for example in the song by the band Surganova and Orchestra ‘Neuzheli ne ia’ (‘Surely, it was me…’), which appeared on their 2003 album of the same name. The lyrics for this song are taken from the same poem from which this chapter takes its title: ‘Ot okraini k tsentru’ (‘From the margins to the centre’, 1962). The poem ‘Niotkuda s liuboviu’ (‘Out of nowhere with love…’) appears as a ballad sung by Gennadii Trofimov in the film Niotkuda s liubov’iu, ili Veselye pokhorony (Out of Nowhere with Love, or The Merry Funeral Party, 2007), an adaptation of Liudmila Ulitskaia’s novel Veselye pokhorony (The Funeral Party). Other musicians including Konstantin Meladze, Elena Frolova, Evgenii Kliachkin, Aleksandr Mirzaian, Aleksandr Vasilev, Diana Arbenina, Petr Mamonov, and Leonid Margolin have also turned the verses of Brodskii into songs. Others have been inspired by Brodskii and his works to create musical compositions which go beyond setting his poetry to music. In 2008 Viktoriia Poleva wrote Summer Music, a chamber cantata for violin solos, children’s choirs, and string instruments based on verses by Brodskii. She has also written Ars moriendi (1983–2012), which is composed of twenty-two monologues about death for sopranos and piano, with two monologues based on verses by Brodskii (‘Song’ and ‘Empty circle’). Another example is the 2011 contemporary classical album Troika, which includes Eskender Bekmambetov’s critically acclaimed song cycle ‘there…’, his setting of five of Brodskii’s Russian language poems and his own translations of the poems into English.34

The wider public interest in Brodskii is also demonstrated by memorials commemorating the poet, and by efforts to embody a collective memory of him. In 2002 a competition was launched to design the first monument to Brodskii in Russia, which was timed to coincide with what would have been his sixty-fifth birthday in 2003. The winning monument, by sculptor Vladimir Tsivin and architect Feliks Romanovskii, was due to be erected in St Petersburg, on the Pirogovskaia Embankment, in time for what would have been the poet’s seventieth birthday. However, there is still no sign of it. Instead, the first public monument to Brodskii in Russia was sculpted by Konstantin Simun and unveiled in November 2005 in the courtyard of the Faculty of Philology of the State University of St Petersburg. It depicts Brodskii’s head placed on a suitcase with the poet’s name on the tag, and is entitled Brodskii priekhal (Brodskii Arrived). The title underlines the fact that this was the first monument to Brodskii in Russia, and was meant to signify the poet’s metaphorical return to his home city. In 2011, the sculptor Georgii Frangulian and architect Sergei Skuratov unveiled their monument to Brodskii outside the US Embassy in Moscow. This design had lost out in the 2002 competition in St Petersburg. In an interview with Galina Masterova, Frangulian exaplined that his composition represented ‘how a poet is alone but with a circle of followers’.35 The choice of the location for this monument is significant, pointing to the cultural rapprochement between Russia and the United States in the post-Soviet period.

There are of course other minor monuments dedicated to Brodskii. In 1997 a memorial plaque was placed on the house in St Petersburg in which he lived until his exile in 1972. Another memorial plaque was unveiled in the courtyard of 19, ulitsa Stakhanovtsev, in St Petersburg on 1 December 2011. It takes the form of a huge boulder from Karelia that bears a line from the poem ‘Ot okrainy k tsentru’ (‘From the Margins to the Mainstream’): ‘Vot ia vnov probezhal Maloi Okhtoi skvoz tysiachu arok’ (‘Here I ran again across Little Okhta / through a thousand arches’).36 Other memorials to Brodskii have been created in smaller cities outside his native Petersburg and Moscow. One such example can be seen in Vilnius, where a memorial plaque has been fixed to a house in which Brodskii frequently stayed between 1966 and 1971. Another is to be found in Voronezh, where there is a street named after Brodskii, ‘pereulok Brodskogo’ (‘Brodskii Lane’). Perhaps the most ironic example involves Aeroflot, the very company which flew Brodskii to his Western exile, and which has named one of their planes after him (‘I. Brodskii’, an A330, side number VQ-BBE).37 Like the monument to Brodskii near the American Embassy in Moscow, the choice of an aeroplane to bear the poet’s name suggests that in the popular imagination Brodskii is seen as a figure who connects Russia and the West.

Yet the most compelling evidence that cultural interest in Brodskii has been increasing is the opening of a Brodskii flat-museum in May 2015 in St Petersburg.38 There was already a Brodskii room in the Akhmatova museum, a recreation of his study in New York, which contained numerous typewriters, his desk, and other possessions, but the flat-museum places Brodskii beside other canonical figures, including Pushkin, who are similarly remembered. This museum is arguably the culmination of ‘Brodskiimania’. The prolonged public interest in Brodskii since his death is indicative of, and has contributed to, the poet’s canonisation in post-Soviet Russia.

The arguments I have developed through this examination of Brodskii’s posthumous critical reception are supported by quantitative analysis of both primary sources by Brodskii and secondary sources about the poet that have been published in Russia between 1987 and 2012. During the early period of Brodskii’s reception in Russia there were 19 books published that bear his name. Of these, 18 were individual general collections of his poetry or works. This is indicative of the tendency during this period to publish large collections of a writer’s literary output rather than individual cycles of poetry. In comparison, during the years following Brodskii’s death there were 144 books published. Of this number only 20 were collected works and 124 were individual cycles of poetry. This indicates a deeper interest in the individual works of Brodskii and demonstrates an increased awareness of the poet among readers of Russian literature.

A similar trend is revealed by quantitative analysis of secondary sources about Brodskii. During Brodskii’s early reception there were only three books published about him in Russia. Of these, only one contained any textual analysis. In comparison, after his death eighty-eight books about Brodskii were published. Of these, forty-five included textual analysis of his poetry. A further thirty-five belong to a broader category that includes collections of interviews and addresses topics as capacious as Brodskii’s influence on metaphysical poetry and his effect on Romantic poetry. A further two books comprise collections of photographs, and five deal specifically with Brodskii’s place in the Russian canon.

On average, during his early reception 2.1 books of Brodskii’s poetry were published per year, whereas after his death that number rose to 8.47 books per year. This represents an increase in commercial demand for the works of Brodskii of over 300%. An even more sizeable increase can be seen in terms of secondary sources, with an average of 0.3 books published per year during the poet’s early reception, and, in comparison, an average of 5.17 books published per year after his death. This represents an increase of over 1454%. Yet, most importantly, there is also a shift towards more in-depth textual analysis, which demonstrates academic and scholarly interest in Brodskii’s works, rather than just his biography.

As this chapter has shown, Brodskii’s canonisation in Russia can be considered as a narrative. In this way we can see that Brodskii’s posthumous canonisation was only possible due to his early reception, which was shaped by the process of literary canon revision together with wider changes in the cultural narrative. Whether or not Brodskii stands the test of time as a canonical poet in Russia remains to be seen, but at present his canonical narrative is comprised of a balance between literary and extra-literary factors. Brodskii can be situated in several coexisting canons: popular culture, world literature, Russian twentieth-century poetry, Russian émigré literature and prison writing. Even as Brodskii has been embraced by many different cultural forms in Russia, however, there is no shortage of established authors who reaffirm his status as a classic literary figure, and thereby emphasise his centrality to a logocentric culture. In Olga Sedakova’s obituary of Brodskii she states that he should be considered a ‘poet of our time’, the Virgil and Dante of Russian twentieth-century poetry.39

1 Clare Cavanagh, Lyric Poetry and Modern Politics: Russia, Poland, and the West (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), p. 274.

2 David Bethea, Joseph Brodsky and the Creation of Exile (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), p. xiii.

3 Conversations in Exile: Russian Writers Abroad, edited by John Glad (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993).

4 Brodskii, Iosif, ‘Ot okrainy k tsentru’, Sochineniia (Ekaterinburg: U-Faktoriia, 2002), pp. 18–23.

5 G. S. Smith, ‘Joseph Brodsky: Summing Up’, Literary Imagination, 7: 3 (2005), 399–410 (p. 401).

6 See Andrew Kahn’s contribution to the present volume, ‘Canonical Mandelshtam’, p. 157.

7 Efim Etkind, contribution to roundtable discussion ‘Kopengagenskaia vstrecha deiatelei kultury’, Voprosy literatury, 5 (1989), 14–20 (p. 17).

8 Vladimir Novikov, contribution to roundtable discussion ‘Puti sovremennoi poezii’, Voprosy literatury, 1 (1994), 9–16 (p. 15).

9 Dmitry Solovyov, ‘Poet of post-Stalin thaw Voznesensky Dies at 77’, Reuters Online, 1 June 2010,

10 [N.a.], ‘Poets at Peace’,

11 For a list of awards he received see Michael Pushkin’s entry on Voznesenskii in Reference Guide to Russian Literature, edited by Neil Cornwell (London and Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 1998), p. 888.

12 For evidence of the former opinion, see Olga Carlisle, ‘Speaking of Books: Anna Akhmatova’, New York Times, 11 September 1966, section VII, 2, 28, 30; A. Alvarez, ‘From Russia With Passion’, The Observer, 9 July 1967, 21; Olga Carlisle, ‘Speaking of Books: Through Literary Russia’, New York Times, 26 May 1968, section VII, 2–7; Sidney Monas, ‘Poets on Street Corners: Portraits of Fifteen Russian Poets’, New York Times, 26 January 1969, section VII, 6, 40; and K. Van Het Reve, ‘Samizdat: The Sudden Flowering of Underground Literature in Russia’, The Observer, 29 March 1970, 21. For the latter, see Anthony Astrachan, ‘Powerful, Beautiful and Incomplete: Book World. The Living Mirror’, The Washington Post, 29 November 1972, B11; Anthony Astrachan, ‘Requiem Service for W. H. Auden’, The Washington Post, 5 October 1973, B13; Vadim Medish and Elisavietta Ritchie, ‘Writers in Exile: Planting New Roots — Planting Roots in Foreign Soil’, The Washington Post, 24 February 1974, C1, C5; ‘A Selected Vacation Reading List’, New York Times, 2 June 1974, F31–37; Robert Kaiser, ‘Panovs Have 5 Days to Leave’, The Washington Post, 9 June 1974, A13; and John Goshko, ‘The Exiles: No Escaping Literary Wars’, The Washington Post, 29 December 1974, B5.

13 The exceptions being 1961, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1979, 1984, 1985, and 1987. The main flurry of activity for Voznesenskii seems to occur in the early- to mid-1960s, and then between 1974 and 1983.

14 To give a further comparison, between 1957 and 2011 Voznesenskii’s name is mentioned 62 times on the pages of Voprosy literatury, whereas Brodskii (over a much shorter period, between 1989 and 2011) is mentioned 123 times.

15 Efim Etkind, contribution to roundtable discussion ‘Kopengagenskaia vstrecha deiatelei kultury’, Voprosy literatury, 5 (1989), 17.

16 The only year without a single mention of Brodskii’s name in the journal was 2002. The results can be broken down thus: five mentions in 1996, six in 1997, eight in 1998, seven in 1999, three in 2000, three in 2001, none in 2002, five in 2003, two in 2004, fifteen in 2005, twelve in 2006, eleven in 2007, five in 2008, five in 2009, seven in 2010, and ten in 2011.

17 There was an initial flurry of articles specifically about Brodskii immediately after his death, with five published alone in 1997 and 1998. This was followed by a slight drought where only two articles were published between 1999 and 2004, however between 2005 and 2011 there were ten articles published in Voprosy literatury that were specifically about Brodskii.

18 Kaitlin Parte [Kathleen Parthé], ‘Chto delaet pisatelia russkim? Puti sovremennoi poezii’, Voprosy literatury, 1 (1996), 83–120.

19 Moris Bonfeld, ‘Moshch i “nevesomost”’, Voprosy literatury, 5 (2003), 91–99 (p. 94).

20 [N.a.], ‘Angliiskaia metafizicheskaia poeziia’, Voprosy literatury, 4 (2004), 78–79 (p. 78).

21 Semen Lipkin, ‘Iskusstvo ne znaet starosti’, Voprosy literatury, 3 (1998), 253–77 (pp. 253–54).

22 Ibid., p. 254.

23 Svetlana Boiko, ‘“Divnyi vybor vsevyshnikh shchedrot…”: filologicheskoe samosoznanie sovremennoi poezii’, Voprosy literatury, 1 (2000), 44–73 (p. 44).

24 Arina Volgina, ‘Sravnitel′naia poetika. Iosif Brodskii/Joseph Brodsky’, Voprosy literatury, 3 (2005), 186–219.

25 Vladimir Kozlov, ‘Neperevodimye gody Brodskogo: dve strany i dva iazyka v poezii i proze I. Brodskogo 1972–1977 godov’, Voprosy literatury, 3 (2005), 155–85.

26 S. Lominadze, ‘Pustynia i oazis’, Voprosy literatury, 2 (1997), 337–44.

27 Sergei Kuznetsov, ‘Raspadaiushchaisia amalgama: o poetike Brodskogo’, Voprosy literatury, 3 (1997), 24–49.

28 Katerina Gratsiadei [Caterina Graziadei], ‘Enjambement kak figura: bitva v predstavlenii Altdorfera i Brodskogo’, Voprosy literatury, 3 (1998), 324–28 (p. 324).

29 M. Sverdlov and E. Stafeva, ‘Stikhotvorenie na smert poeta: Brodskii i Oden. Rozhdenie “metafizicheskogo” Brodskogo iz stikhotvoreniia na smert poeta’, Voprosy literatury, 3 (2005), 220–44.

30 For the sake of clarity, two were produced in 2000, one in 2002, one in 2003, one in 2006, one in 2009, four in 2010, two in 2011, and one in 2012.

31 The running time of the film is thirty minutes.

32 Aleksandr Zholkovskii’s recorded lecture ‘O poniatiiakh invariant i poeticheskii mir: 1-ia lektsiia’,

33 Volgin quotes Brodskii when he says: ‘Dovlatov’s prose was measured in verse’. See Igor Volgin, ‘“Igra v biser” c Igorem Volginym. Dovlatov. “Zapovednik”’,

34 See Vivien Schweitzer, ‘Poetry and Song to Plumb the Russian Soul’s Depths’, The New York Times, 14 February 2008,

35 Galina Masterova, ‘Sculpture of Exiled Poet Brodsky Graces U.S. Embassy’, 4 July 2011,

36 ‘Ot okrainy k tsentru’, Sochineniia (Ekaterinburg: U-Faktoriia, 2002), p. 18.

38 ‘News: Joseph Brodsky’s flat opens as museum in St Petersburg’, Russian Art + Culture, 24 May 2015,

39 Olga Sedakova, ‘Konchina Brodskogo’,