Once a year or so, on a seasonal basis I suppose, Jonathan decides that Joseph Brodsky was an overrated poet. Jonathan doesn't know much Russian, as far as I know, nor much about Russian literary culture of the 60s-70s-80s-90s. But he feels qualified. In Russia, Brodsky is considered a major poet, an immoveable presence & influence.

There was always sort of a vague Brodsky-resentment in the American poetry puddle. I remember a long rambling put-down by Sam Hamill in APR, to which I responded with a letter. That must have been in the early 80s.

Nobody has ever claimed Brodsky's poetry in English (translated or otherwise) was great shakes. But he was not an American poet. He was something cosmopolitan & not easily cataloged, & disturbing to some in the little proffy-professional ego-puddle we call American poetry.

[By the way, I have been reading M. Blanchot lately, thanks to Jonathan. Blanchot had some very insightful things to say about poetry/prose, language/meaning, Mallarme, Proust, Simone Weil, lots of other French authors, Broch, etc. He's emits that special Paris odeur de "I am so profound & serious" - but, unlike some of the other theorists & critics, he keeps it beautifully concise.]

On poetic language/meaning (in the essay translated as "The Mystery of Literature") - or the old form/content chestnut - he seems to be saying that, in poetry, these two make an irreducible pair. In ordinary speech, the words disappear into the meaning; in poetry, there is this oscillation - each one of the pair trying to be all-in-all, yet each needing the other. Somewhere in that irreducible tango lies the special form of truth which poetry offers.

Reminds me of the question John Irwin asked himself in the book about Poe & Borges (Mystery to a Solution) - how do you write a mystery story that the reader will want to read a second or third time (even though the crime is "solved" at the end of the 1st reading)?

Poetic form (the words) traps meaning in a circle or a ring, which thus becomes a kind of fountain, ever-renewing, everlasting. I tried to express this in an old poem, the opening poem in Way Stations:


Here the waters gather along the shore.
They meet the land breathing in foam,
and roll the sleepy pebbles and shells
back into long sand waves as before.

Our moon, casting her antique spells.
A motionless iris in the whale’s eye
of the sea, her unspeakable name
sinks to the bottom of lonely wells.

Her low whispers frame the deserted dome.
Her light covers the circus floor.
And she lifts, with one nocturnal sigh,
the heaving swells in a silver comb.

("Ocean State" is the motto of Rhode Island. Reminder : I was born on RI Statehood Day - 5.29.52 - a kind of circular number.)

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