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Professor details author’s legacy

| Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Samuel C. Ramer, associate professor of history at Tulane University, presented his memories of Joseph Brodsky, Russian poet and essayist, in a lecture entitled “Writing a Memoir of Joseph Brodsky: Problems of Memory, Selection and Truth.”
Ramer focused on his recent memoir entitled “Remembering Joseph Brodsky: The Genre of Commemorating a Person.”
In the lecture sponsored by the Department of Russian and East European Studies, the Kellogg Institute of International Studies, the Department of German and Russian Languages and Literatures and the Nanovic Institute, Ramer said he was a friend of Brodsky.
“He left a deep impression on me,” Ramer said. “It is a rare talent to be able to convey the importance of your subject.”
Brodsky was born in Leningrad during the 1940’s. He emigrated to America during the 1970’s and became a resident poet at the University of Michigan, and later a visiting professor at universities such as Queens College, Columbia University and Smith College. He was also a Nobel laureate and later a Poet laureate for the U.S. Library of Congress.
Ramer said Brodsky possessed a direct, self-reflective attitude that gave him a constant sense of improvement throughout his life and he also enjoyed recognizing others’ positive qualities.
“He was very laconic,” Ramer said. “He had this recognition that no matter how hard you try to be a decent person, a great artist, there was a human term of recognition that there are many people a lot better than ourselves.”
Ramer said the themes in Brodsky’s poetry drew mainly on ideas of moral questioning and guilt.
“Somehow, his poetry suggested that we were all guilty of something,” Ramer said. “There was some sense that we all had to engage in some sort of moral introspection. There is some suggestion in his poetry that we are able to contemplate who we are and where we stand.”
Ramer said Brodsky avoided dwelling on the political situation in Russia during the time, even though the Russian government exiled him.
“He was averse to talk about his sentence in exile because he was afraid that this political interruption in his life would overshadow his literature,” he said.
Ramer said Brodsky was highly appreciative of American poetry and especially admired Robert Frost, who later influenced Brodsky’s presentations on American literature.
Ramer said the themes in Brodsky’s poetry drew mainly on ideas of moral questioning and guilt.
“Somehow, his poetry suggested that we were all guilty of something. There was some sense that we all had to engage in some sort of moral introspection,” Ramer said. “There is some suggestion in his poetry that we are able to contemplate who we are and where we stand.”
Brodsky’s poetry became prominent due to his ability to adapt well to American culture, despite the difficulty emigrant writers usually face when leaving their home country, Ramer said.
“He made himself a fixture in American culture,” Ramer said. “There was about his writing a certain stoicism and an absolute refusal to consider himself a victim. There was a ferocious commitment to artistic freedom.”

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