Obituary: Joseph Brodsky
Wednesday 31 January 1996
He hated the fact that Americans chatted about emotions and money and food the way other nationalities talked about politics or the weather, but he loved American colloquialisms, especially those of the Fifties, and would pepper his patter with wince-making pills such as "groovy" and "dig it".
He adored making puns - a lot of them bad - in American English. He dug it. He took such delight in English puns, in fact, he would often risk a perfect line of poetry or prose to include one. There was never any point in trying to advise Joseph not to do something for the sake of preserving its perfection or its health. Joseph was not a conservator - or he would still be here today. After his first heart operation, only the most obtuse of his friends tried to advise him to give up the smoke. Forget it - he had purchased a boy's lifetime pass on the Dipper.
I met him in Boston in May 1989, when I'd gone to the States for my daughter's graduation from Dartmouth College. I was, at that time, still living under police custody in England with Salman Rushdie, but the event was too important to miss. I flew to the States unannounced, but before I went Salman and I called Derek Walcott in Boston to tell him I was coming. When I got to Boston, I went to see Derek - and Joseph was there.
Two days later Joseph decanted some of his heady vintage devilry under a faultless New England sky for America's Ivy League youth. His speech was a cry against boredom, imploring callow souls not to rage so much against the dying of the light, as against daytime TV. His message was lost on Dartmouth. They expected a bubblegum speech; what they got was a nicotine hit and a blast of Siberian air. When the ceremony ended, no one came to thank him. He stepped off the stage and took off the pasteboard and strode across the college green, his robe flapping, and lit up a Marlboro. Groovy.
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