Less Than One, By Joseph Brodsky


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The Independent Culture

When Brodsky, in US exile from his native Russia, won the Nobel in 1987, he became the youngest literature laureate. But the Leningrad-born poet, critic, essayist and dissident, jailed young as a "social parasite" under Soviet law, had matured faster than most.

Hardship and persecution as a poetic prodigy hothoused his style of dandyish, even swaggering virtuosity. Each one an impassioned performance, these classic essays stride across life, art and politics.

Tender memoirs of his parents, and city, sit beside ardent celebrations of his Russian peers (Akhmatova, Mandelshtam, Platonov) and a radiant pair of tributes to WH Auden, first idol, then friend. On every page, we hear "the voice that stays behind when its owner is gone".