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Leningrad Poetry 1953–1975

The Thaw Generation


Emily Lygo

This is the first book-length study of the outstanding generation of Leningrad poets whose careers began during the Khrushchev Thaw. The text brings together memoirs, interviews, and archival research to construct an account of the world of poetry in Leningrad, in which many now-famous figures began writing. The author describes the institutions, official events, unofficial groups, and informal activities that were attended by many young poets, including the pre-eminent poet of this generation, Iosif Brodsky. Alongside a detailed study of Brodsky’s work from the early 1970s are close readings of two other major poets from this generation whose work has often been overlooked, Viktor Sosnora and Dmitry Bobyshev.


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Introduction 1


Introduction In the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, there was a flowering of poetry in Russia that can be compared in its scale and significance to the Silver Age of Russian poetry from the end of the nineteenth century to the early twenti- eth century. The most famous poet by far to emerge from this era was Iosif Brodsky, whose career was crowned with the accolades of Nobel Laureate (1987) and Poet Laureate of the United States of America (1991). In his Nobel Lecture, Brodsky spoke of the generation of Russian poets to which he belonged: That generation – the generation born precisely at the time when the Auschwitz cre- matoria were working full blast, when Stalin was at the zenith of his godlike, absolute power, which seemed sponsored by Mother Nature herself – that generation came into the world, it appears, in order to continue what, theoretically, was supposed to be interrupted in those crematoria and in the anonymous common graves of Stalin’s archipelago. The fact that not everything got interrupted, at least not in Russia, can be credited in no small degree to my generation, and I am no less proud of belonging to it than I am of standing here today.1 He accepted the Nobel Prize as recognition of the services that his genera- tion – and not he alone – had rendered to culture. Brodsky was one of a great number of poets who appeared in Leningrad at this time, but only a handful of his contemporaries have become at all...

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