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This article is taken from PN Review 247, Volume 45 Number 5, May - June 2019.

Joseph Brodsky in Leningrad Patrick Miles
I ARRIVED IN MOSCO on 10 September 1969 for a ten-month academic visit. I was twenty-one and as well as improving my Russian I wanted to see as much of the country and its people as possible, immerse myself in its nineteenth-century literature, and experience the Soviet poetry scene, which was widely thought to be the most vibrant in Europe.

In fact, this phenomenon was petering out. Although I had been enthusiastic about Yevtushenko’s verse (particularly his love lyrics) as a teenager, by 1969 I regarded him as hopelessly compromised and had no desire either to hear him or meet him. Andrei Voznesensky was the most popular Soviet poet. I was mad about his love diary Oza (we were all in love with love in the 1960s), but I found his public reading bogus. When I met him and tried to discuss with him why he had not been let out for the recent Poetry International in London, I sensed an adept of the Soviet artistic elite. Some other poets were excellent (Akhmadulina, Okudzhava, Martynov), but none of them set me alight. There was always an elephant in the room: the genocidal system that had killed Gumilev, Yesenin, Mayakovsky, Mandelstam, Tsvetaeva before them. It was clear that this subject was unmentionable, as were almost the very names Mandelstam and Tsvetaeva. Moreover, in Moscow it proved impossible to get hold of new poetry in samizdat.

By Christmas 1969 I was thoroughly disillusioned with the Soviet poetry scene. I also needed a break from Moscow’s claustrophobia. The standard cure was to apply ...

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