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So Forth

So Forth

by Joseph Brodsky

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Joseph Brodsky's last volume of poems in English, So Forth, represents eight years of masterful self-translation from the Russian, as well as a substantial body of work written directly in English.


Joseph Brodsky's last volume of poems in English, So Forth, represents eight years of masterful self-translation from the Russian, as well as a substantial body of work written directly in English.

Editorial Reviews

Susan Shapiro

This final, posthumous book of poetry by Joseph Brodsky, the Nobel Prize winner and former poet laureate of the U.S., is by far his most intimate and confessional. This is Brodsky's third collection in English -- he published seven earlier books in the Soviet Union, from where he immigrated to this country as an involuntary exile in 1972. While his self-translations are uneven and at times overly academic, a deeply personal tone takes hold in So Forth and nearly sweeps the reader away with its expertly evoked sadness and nostalgia.

The best of these poems, which first appeared in The New Yorker, New York Times, and The New Republic, show Auden's influence in their simplicity of language, their rhymes and their infusion of deceptively innocent emotion. In the graceful, lovely poem "A Song," Brodsky says: "I wish you were here, dear,/ I wish you were here. I wish I knew no astronomy/ when stars appear./ When the moon skims the water/ that sighs and shifts in its slumber./ I wish it were still a quarter/ to dial your number." The poem acquires new meaning and poignancy when you realize, in the last stanza, that the "you" has died.

So Forth, which Brodsky dedicates to "my wife and daughter," includes a bewitching dream poem called "In Memory of My Father: Australia," in which the ghost of a father who died in a crematorium says simply: "Looks like I've lost my slippers." The poem ends: "better these snatches of voice, this patchwork/ monologue of a recluse trying to play a genie/ for the first time since you formed a cloud above a chimney." Though it could be interpreted as anyone's father, the direct address and longing for a family connection are undeniably close and moving.

In this collection's most gentle and moving poem, "To My Daughter," Brodsky seems to anticipate his death while saying goodbye to his baby girl. He writes, "On the whole, bear in mind that I'll be around. Or rather,/ that an inanimate object might be your father ... / you may still remember a silhouette, a contour/ while I'll lose even that, along with the other luggage./ Hence, these somewhat wooden lines in our common language." Of course, these lines aren't wooden at all -- they show a newfound warmth and accessibility. They're the work of a gifted poet who learned to transcend all political and language barriers and speak in the universal language of heart and mind. -- Salon

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Nobel laureate Brodsky completed work on this sobering and brilliant collection just a week before his death this past January. Over a third of the poems collected here were written in English, Brodsky's adopted language, and the poet himself translated the rest from Russian, sometimes in collaboration. The tone of erudite melancholy which has always flavored Brodsky's verse is here so pervaded with thoughts of exile and mortality as to sometimes verge on outright despair. Among the collection's strongest works is "A Footnote to Weather Forecasts," in which "snowflakes float in the air like a good example/ of poise in a vacuum." In "New Life," Brodsky muses that "Ultimately, one's unbound/ curiosity about these empty zones,/ about these objectless vistas, is what art seems to be all about." Yet, many of these poems, especially those written in English, have a more colloquial, slang-infused rhyming style which owes a pronounced debt to Auden, as in "Song of Welcome": "Here's your food, here's your drink./ Also some thoughts, if you care to think." "Lullaby" shares its title with one of Auden's most famous verses: "Grow accustomed to the desert/ as to fate/ lest you find it omnipresent/ much too late." Brodsky doesn't always seem fully comfortable in this more casual mode; often his slang is clearly not that of a native speaker. But this is a small quibble in the face of an astonishing collection from a writer able to mix the cerebral and the sensual, the political and the intimate, the elegiac and the comic. In the book's final poem, "Taps," Brodsky, imagining his death, seems to offer a self-effacing wink, as if he were amused by the power he claims for poetry: "I'll twinkle among the wires, a sky's lieutenant,/ and hide in clouds when thunder roars,/ blind to the troops as they fold their pennant/ and run, pursued by the pen, in droves." Brodsky's death is a loss to literature; his final collection of poems is the best consolation we could ask for. (Sept.)
Library Journal
"Every warmth is finite/ That of the human hand is more so." How much warmth we have lost in the death of Nobel laureate Joseph Brodsky is suggested by this brilliant final volume of poems, perhaps his best single collection, and one of the outstanding collections of the period. Russian by origin, American by fate, Brodsky developed a voice and a view that were deeply personal in their details and broadly human in their reach; he was, by the end, a truly international poet. He was like a late child of his beloved Virgil, Horace, and Ovid, whose elegiac verses were similarly compassionate, sharp-eyed, and inconsolable. Here, his flexible, distinctive style absorbs and celebrates language and experience that is sophisticated, coarse, and learned; the sly slant rhymes complete the effect of a beautiful strangeness, addressing the predicaments of human life in history. His epiphanies salvage a kind of gladness from the work of the poet: "Having bumped into memory, time learns its impotence." An essential purchase.Graham Christian, Andover-Harvard Theol. Libr., Cambridge, Mass.

Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.40(d)

Meet the Author

The poet Joseph Brodsky received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1987.

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