Friday, 20 March 2009

UNESCO World Poetry Day 2009

To celebrate UNESCO World Poetry Day tomorrow, 21st March 2009, UNESCO will hold several events to honour the life of Pablo Neruda. A good choice. Poet-in-Residence on the other hand will pay homage a day earlier than recommended and to another poet, a man whose graveside he has had the honour to visit. Here then is a suitable poem from the pen of Joseph Brodsky a man who charged at the world with full intensity as Sven Birkerts rightly said.

Letter to an Archaeologist

Citizen, enemy, mama's boy, sucker, utter
garbage, panhandler, swine, refujew, verrucht;
a scalp so often scalded with boiling water
that the puny brain feels completely cooked.
Yes, we have dwelt here: in this concrete, brick, wooden
rubble which you now arrive to sift.
All our wires were crossed, barbed, tangled, or interwoven.
Also: we didn't love our women, but they conceived.
Sharp is the sound of the pickax that hurts dead iron;
still, it's gentler than what we've been told or have said to ourselves.
Stranger! move carefully through our carrion:
what seems carrion to you is freedom to our cells.
Leave our names alone. Don't reconstruct those vowels,
consonants, and so forth: they won't resemble larks
but a demented bloodhound whose maw devours
its own traces, feces, and barks and barks.

Joseph Brodsky 1940-96


  1. What a hard poem, Poet - certainly the work of a realist I would say - I have to say that I personally prefer things a bit softer.
    Somehow it reminded me of the Janacek Opera - "From the House of the Dead" - do you know it? I saw it in Birmingham about twenty five years ago performed by the Welsh National Opera - although I forget the music completely (Janacek does not make it easy for us to remember his "tunes"!) I have never forgotten the feeling of harsh reality it produced in me.

  2. I don't know that one. I've seen Jancek's Jenufa three times over the years. It's the one where they hide the baby in the frozen stream. I visited Janacek's house in Brunn quite recently. A small garden house quite near the centre. There's not a lot to see, a few few old photos, a piano, some musical scores (may not be originals), a bit of correspondence etc. Not very much in the way of old chairs and tables
    and you have to stand far away behind a rope. But anyway you can appreciate that it was for Janacek a small oasis in a busy city.
    I like this Brodsky poem because of it's "harsh reality" as you rightly call it. Verruckte is German for madman, by the way.

  3. love it - and the one at Brodsky's grave

  4. Perhaps a comment from Brodsky himself would be useful to anyone thinking about this poem "What should I say about my life? That it's long and abhors transparence." From May 24, 1980.

  5. Brodsky's life was long although what was he when he died, 50-something? The 18-months internal exile and hard labour in Russia prior to his expulsion and then his external exile must have seemed very long to him.


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