I’ll be spending the day in Amherst, at the Center for Russian Culture, where they’re having a symposium to celebrate what would have been Joseph Brodsky’s seventieth birthday. I’m particularly looking forward to the panel discussion “Joseph Brodsky: Contexts and Reception” by Catherine Ciepiela (Amherst College), Mikhail Gronas (Dartmouth), Andrew Kahn (Oxford), Maria Khotimsky (Harvard), and Yakov Klots (Yale) and the “group close reading of a poem by Brodsky” led by Polina Barskova (a fine poet herself; I discussed her here).

Meanwhile, any Helen DeWitt fans who happen to be in Manhattan today can meet her this afternoon; the venue is a block south of the old Knitting Factory, if any of my readers remember the first Knit, on Houston Street. …And now I learn that the new Knit, on Leonard Street, has closed, dammit. See my remarks on Chumley’s here.


  1. komfo,amonan says

    Knit’s in Williamsburg now.

  2. Yeah, if you can call that the Knit. They no longer seem to have the kind of music I want to hear.

  3. So how was it?

  4. It was great! The first session had five scholars presenting their ideas; one of them was kind of a prick (yelling at a couple of older scholars in the audience for whispering to each other during his talk), but all of them were interesting—I especially liked Mikhail Gronas’s talk on “Lenin and Brodsky”: after milking the topic for a few jokes, he showed how Auden’s elegy for Yeats, which Brodsky loved and imitated in his own elegy for Eliot, was influenced by Auden’s translation a few years earlier of the songs used in Dziga Vertov’s Tri pesni o Lenine [Three songs about Lenin], a commemoration of Lenin’s death (also “in the dead of winter”), which is not only in three parts like Auden’s later poem but uses some similar imagery (“My face in a dark prison lay… No learning mine nor light of day… From deserts gardens green”; cf. “In the deserts of the heart/ Let the healing fountains start,/ In the prison of his days/ Teach the free man how to praise”). There are multiple ironies here; not only would Brodsky have been shocked that the form of his poem ultimately went back to “a bunch of Komsomol activists in Central Asia” who wrote the texts Vertov used, but the very stanzas he so loved in Auden’s poem were later banished by Auden himself.
    Those talks were in English, but the afternoon sessions, a talk by photographer Mikhail Milchik of St. Petersburg (because Brodsky’s father was a professional photographer, there are lots of good photos of him as an infant and youth) and a group reading of “Осенний крик ястреба,” were in Russian, and I was astonished and pleased to find that I understood almost everything—I don’t get many chances to deal with spoken Russian!

  5. Oh, and the Center for Russian Culture is incredible—they specialize in emigre lit and have complete runs of journals like Sovremennye zapiski and shelves and shelves of books I’m dying to read, like Bely’s memoirs. I’m going to have to get in the habit of spending mornings there (they normally close at noon). And for those interested in samovars, they have an amazing collection of those as well.

  6. I’m envious, Hat. Are they going to publish the presentations/discussions?
    Yes, the museum/archive is AMAZING. Do be sure to check out the art. And I think their collection of emigre journals and archives is the largest in the world.
    BTW, I remember Brodsky quite well; he was teaching there then, and the first time I ever heard Russian poems recited was Brodsky himself, chanting and singing them, hitting his head when he’d forget or misquote a line, and then starting over again. It was like nothing I’d ever heard before — like walking through a door into a new world.

  7. I envy you. Oh, and Tomas Venclova was there; I don’t know if you knew him as well. There were probably a number of people you would have recognized.

  8. Are they going to publish the presentations/discussions?
    No idea; if I find out anything, I’ll let you know.

  9. komfo,amonan says

    Yeah, me neither, Hat. You left NYC before I got here, when it was already on Leonard St. Heck they had probably stopped playing the music you wanted to hear by then 😉

  10. Oy, I wish I’d known about this gathering. I somehow missed the call for papers. I’d gleefully have thrown my hat in the ring.
    Venclova was there too! Geez, I can’t believe I never heard a thing about this. And here I’m in the early stages of writing an article about Brodsky and Venclova.

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