Brodsky was born on this date (May 24) in 1940. I’d only heard of his work, never read any, when one evening in 1999 or so, I heard a recording of him reading ‘A Song’ on NPR. In the twenty years since I heard that recording I can still remember its cadences. This video, with its accompanying Chopin, is close, but it’s not the same. He’d passed away two years before, but this poem enchanted me such that I went out the next day or the day after that and purchased the slim volume So Forth, published by his estate in 1996. I was reading a lot of poetry at the time.

In Moe’s books in Berkeley, someone saw me flipping through Robert Hunter’s Glass Lunch and asked if I’d read his translations of Rilke. Another poet who’s name I knew, but whose work I hadn’t read. Shortly thereafter I started consuming Rilke. The Duino Elegies and Sonnets to Orpheus did my head in, as I would have put it at the time, though not in Hunter’s translations which I found online. The Norton Press dual language editions. Housman, Stein, Wilde, and Sharon Doubiago carried me through those years as well.

My memory is that I bought the Brodsky at Moe’s (RIP) as well, but the bookmark inside insists it was Booksmith on Haight Street. I can vaguely picture myself paying for it there, probably having already exhausted the two used bookstores across the street. I don’t know if Austen was still a going concern at that point. I’d worked a couple of stints there, but after Jeffrey died and Brian took it over, it didn’t last too long. That spot might already have become another shoe store by ‘99. I don’t recall the name of the other used bookshop on the street, but for all the paperbacks crammed into the place I rarely if ever found a book there I wanted to buy. And I was voracious.

I’ve not opened So Forth in several years, and find that it still has a blue plastic sticker marking A Song on page 5. The name Joseph at the top of the front cover is sun faded, but the spine is intact, and the glue binding intact. Flipping through it, though, there’s no page that isn’t a joy to read. These poems reward reading aloud. Not to say I and my poor understanding of my iPad’s voice memo function do them justice, but here’s one called Ab Ovo which I quite like…

Note: Copyright in this poem is held, I’m certain, by the estate of Mr. Brodsky. I will remove this recording upon request.

So Forth can be ordered via the links on the publisher’s web site here.