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This review is taken from PN Review 20, Volume 7 Number 6, July - August 1981.

APPLYING THE GEOMETRY Joseph Brodsky, A Part of Speech (Oxford) £4.95

This book is a large undertaking, containing poems whose dates of composition cover thirteen years, many of them broad and ambitious in scope, and here translated, often with admirable skill, by a team of ten which includes Anthony Hecht, George L. Kline, Daniel Weissbort and Richard Wilbur. Add to this the allusive, playful nature of the poet's mind, his skill as a linguist (he has worked with the translators on many of the poems, and one poem, an elegy for Robert Lowell, was written in English), together with his wide reading, which gives us echoes of, for instance, Akhmatova, Auden and indeed Lowell, and it will be obvious that a short review cannot do the book justice.

One of its most striking features, and perhaps the poet's dominant metaphor, is the sense of geometrical shape which pervades his characteristic themes of parting and exile, the tug of the past against present and future. The earlier poems in particular are full of angles, perpendiculars and triangles, and even 'Homage to Yalta', a series of dialogues involving a murder, is centred on a triangle of love. In the very first poem, present separation and past sharing are seen in geometrical terms-'the triangle, before it came about,/had been a perpendicular'-and this measuring of experience by reference to space and surface recurs often, whether as direct mention of Euclid or, as in 'The Funeral of Bobo', more rhetorically ('O window squares, O arches' semicircles'). Many of the poems of place, such ...


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