Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Review of "Joseph Brodsky in Venice (1981)" by Campbell McGrath

"Joseph Brodsky in Venice (1981)" by Campbell McGrath was offered by Poets.org's Poem-A-Day on March 5, 2014.  A link to the poem, including the poet's notes as well as links to other poems by the same poet, may be found here:  http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/23899?utm_source=PAD%3A+Joseph+Brodsky+in+Venice+%281981%29+by+Campbell+McGrath&utm_campaign=poemaday_030514&utm_medium=email.

Campbell McGrath (b. 1962) teaches creative writing at Florida International University in Miami.  Influenced by Walt Whitman, he has many published books of poetry to his name, and is considered by critics to be a master of the long, free verse poetry form.  Among his numerous prestigious awards and honors are a Pushcart Prize, a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant, and a Guggenheim Fellowship.  McGrath reveals in his notes that Joseph Brodsky was his teacher at Columbia University in the 1980s.  Additional biographical information may be found here:  http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/campbell-mcgrath.

Nobel Prize recipient Joseph Brodsky (1940 - 1996) (pictured), a Russian Jewish poet, was persecuted by the authorities of the Soviet Union both for his poems and his religious beliefs.  He was eventually placed in a mental institution and sentenced to hard labor in the Arctic for his refusal to bow to the communist regime.  With the aid of W. H. Auden, he was released into exile in America, settling at first in Michigan.  He continued to compose poetry in Russian, which he translated into English, until his death.  As might be expected, his poetry is characterized by feelings of deep sorrow and great loss.  Additional biographical information may be found here:  http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/joseph-brodsky.

The poem begins with a reference to "La Serenissima," which refers to The (former) Most Serene Republic of Venice.  Information about this former Renaissance city-state may be found here:  http://www.venipedia.org/wiki/index.php?title=Republic_of_Venice.

The twelfth line ends with the word "Ecco," Italian for "here."  It's use may also be a nod to the publisher, Ecco, that published McGrath's latest book of poetry, In the Kingdom of the Sea Monkeys (2012).

The final line of the first stanza makes reference to Akhmatova, presumably the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova (1889 - 1966), who expressed admiration for Brodsky's independent character and originality.  Additional information about this poet may be found here:  http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/anna-akhmatova.

There are many rhymes and near rhymes throughout the poem.  The poet reveals in his notes that this is in keeping with Brodsky's work, at least in the original Russian.  The second person singular used throughout probably refers to Brodsky, but may refer to the reader or be synonymous with the pronoun "one."  McGrath paints the scene that Brodsky is viewing in rich, descriptive language, evoking a Renaissance Italian artist's palate.

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