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writers in prison committee report - PEN Canada

writers in prison committee report - PEN Canada

JOSEF BRODSKY russia

JOSEF BRODSKY russia Judge: What is your profession? brodsky: Translator and poet. Judge: Who has recognized you as a poet? Who has enrolled you in the ranks of poets? brodsky: No one. Who enrolled me in the ranks of the human race? Josef Brodsky was 23 years old in 1963 when he stood before a Soviet court charged with “parasitism,” because of his neglect of his “constitutional duty to work honestly for the good of the motherland.” (The above excerpt from his trial transcript was leaked to the west and later published in the New York Times.) Brodsky, a school dropout and self-taught poet and translator, had been earlier denounced in the evening leningrad newspaper, which called his poems “pornographic and anti-Soviet.” When several periods of incarceration in asylums for the mentally ill did not effect the desired attitude adjustment, he was arrested, tried and sentenced to five years hard labour at a prison camp near Arkhangelsk. His was one of the early cases championed by the Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN and one of the most famous and most successful. As a result of international pressure, much of it orchestrated by PEN, Brodsky was released after 18 months. 1960s His “freedom” was hampered by constant harassment from the authorities, but he continued to write. His international reputation continued to grow, despite his inability to travel abroad, and he became an embarrassment to Soviet authorities. After seven years, in 1972, he was finally given a visa to leave the country, then taken to the airport and deported to Vienna. While there, he met the poet W.H. Auden, who helped arrange transit to the United States, where he became poet-in-residence at the University of Michigan. He never returned to his homeland, even after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Brodsky eventually settled in New York City, and became a U.S. citizen in 1977. He continued to teach at a number of Universities, and wrote in both Russian and English, translating his own poetry. He won many major literary prizes, including the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1987. Perhaps the most significant honour from his adoptive country was his appointment as the first foreign-born Poet Laureate of the United States in 1991. He died of a heart attack in 1996. PEN CANADA 5

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