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From Russian with Love
Joseph Brodsky in English: Pages from a Journal 1996-97
Imprint: Anvil Press Poetry
Publisher: Carcanet Press
Paperback (256 pages)
(Pub. Sep 2004)
Joseph Brodsky died, in New York, on 28 January 1996. Asked by the editor of a Russian newspaper if I would write something about him, I continued writing, almost on a daily basis, mostly in my office at the University of Iowa. This lasted for a year or so. At first the writing was an attempt to comfort myself for the loss; then it turned into a kind of posthumous discussion with Joseph, in which I also examined our friendship, dating from the time of his expulsion from the Soviet Union. This friendship owed its existence, in the first place, to my interest in contemporary Russian poetry, as a translator, anthologist and editor, although we became closer, as the years in America went by.
It's the day after Joseph’s death, 29 January, 1996. Jill, my ex-wife, phones from London. She has just heard and is desolate. “He was family”, she almost wails. Yes, he visited us quite often, the red-brick Victorian mansion in West Hampstead (it must have been the early seventies). Anyway, the children were little at the time. I can summon up an image of Joseph and Véronique Schiltz standing in the garden. The words are gone, but I still see them there and I can imagine him smiling, almost apologetically, and chuckling or chortling, that sharp intake of breath, like a sob, or as if he were choking. Is he gazing at our white cat Osgood (a female, incidentally, inherited along with her name from a neighbour)?
I walked a quarter of a mile along the Fondamente Nuove, a small moving dot in that gigantic watercolour, and then turned right by the hospital of Giovanni e Paolo. The day was warm, sunny, the sky blue, all lovely. And with my back to the Fondamente and San Michele, hugging the wall of the hospital, almost rubbing it with my left shoulder and squinting at the sun, I suddenly felt: I am a cat. A cat that has just had fish. Had anyone addressed me at that moment, I would have meowed. I was absolutely, animally happy. Twelve hours later, of course, having landed in New York, I hit the worst possible mess in my life – or the one that appeared that way at the time. Yet the cat in me lingered; had it not been for that cat, I’d be climbing the walls now in some expensive institution.
The cat in me lingered. As mentioned, he did meow, especially if he surmised that he had caused offence.
For many years Daniel Weissbort was associated with the late Russian emigré poet Joseph Brodsky. From Russian with Love offers an account of their relations, in which the author is both translator and confidant to the great poet. In addition to being a fascinating biographical (and autobigraphical) study, Weissbort’s detailed discussions of the problems of translating Brodsky’s poems constitute a telling contribution to translation studies, and an essay on the nature of language itself.
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