Writer-Artist Eight: Joseph Brodsky
“There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.”
The greatest Russian poet of his generation, Nobel Prize-winner, Poet Laureate of the United States, and member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Joseph Brodsky illustrated many of his writings.
Drawings and Writing
Although he never formally studied art, his father was a photographer and taught him how to frame an image and develop his eye, and both parents introduced him to the poetry and line drawings of Russia’s greatest poet, Alexander Pushkin, to whom Brodsky is favorably compared. [You can see Pushkin’s drawings in The Writer’s Brush]. The prominent artist, Marina Basmanova, not only gave Brodsky a son but during their time together undoubtedly nurtured his interest in drawing.
His mentor, poet Anna Akhmatova, wrote of Brodsky’s drawings: “When I see them, I always think of Picasso’s illustrations to the Metamorphoses.”
Born in Leningrad, the descendant of a prominent rabbinical line, his impoverished family, marginalized as Jews, lived in communal apartments. Brodsky dropped out of school at 15 to take odd jobs, including cutting up bodies in a prison morgue and working in the boiler room of a ship.
At the same time, he taught himself English and Polish and began writing poetry. His poetry denounced as anti-Soviet, he was arrested, his papers seized, and he was confined in a mental institution and after a secret trial, sentenced to five years hard labor.
After serving 18 months he was exiled by the government and eventually settled in America with the assistance of W.H. Auden and others.
To find out more, check out The Writer’s Brush: Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture by Writers for more than 400 plates of artwork by great writers and the stories behind them.
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