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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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Chapter 6 Iosif Brodsky 275


Chapter 6 Iosif Brodsky When Iosif Brodsky first entered the world of Leningrad poetry he was still in his teenage years and working in unskilled jobs. His limited formal education and blue-collar employment, however, were not barriers to his joining poetry groups or participating in other officially-sponsored literary activities: Soviet ideology, after all, promoted the idea that the working class should participate fully in the artistic and cultural life of the nation. Nevertheless, the most prestigious and influential LITOS in Leningrad in the 1950s and 1960s were attached mostly to institutes of higher educa- tion and the majority of their members were from middle-class families and in education. Brodsky shared these young poets’ social background, but his occupation made him, to some degree, an outsider in their liter- ary world. His position somewhat outside the mainstream Soviet institu- tions of poetry and literature was further emphasised by the fact that he never actually joined a LITO as a regular member. His having a degree of distance from the ‘schooling’ in poetry that was provided by LITOs and conferences and more generally by the socialisation of Soviet higher educa- tion – discernible in his uncompromising attitude towards both form and subject in even his earliest work – means his poems do not bear the stamp of the system that some LITO poetry has.1 LITO leaders guided their students to write in such a way as would comply with the requirements for published poetry, thus enabling them to develop a career that would lead...

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