Monday, January 28, 2008

What is Poetry?

Joseph Brodsky

What is poetry? Joseph Brodsky, who died on this day in 1996, aged fifty-five, insisted that poetry's job was to explore the capacity of language to travel farther and faster. Poetry, he said, is accelerated thinking. When thinking of poetry it is worthwhile, and enjoyable, to consider and reflect on the poetry of those who, like Joseph Brodsky, have created superlative examples of verse and who have thought well and often about the subject.

I enjoy reading his poetry to experience his way of exploring "the capacity of language" to deal with ideas and move our hearts. Given the extreme circumstances of his life and the rewards he received for his poetic art this is an inspirational experience. In anticipation of his death he penned the poem Taps which opens with the following lines:

I've been reproached for everything save the weather
and in turn my own neck was seeking a scimitar.
But soon, I'm told, I'll lose my epaulets altogether
and dwindle into a little star.

Perhaps "a little star"; but he remains, for those of us who appreciate his poetry, a Supernova of twentieth century literature.

Collected Poems in English by Joseph Brodsky. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York. (2000)

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