Brodsky, poet who defied Kremlin, dies

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New York (AP) - The Nobel Prize-winning poet Joseph Brodsky, a Russian exile who became poet laureate of the United States, died in his sleep yesterday. He was 55.

The poet's wife, Maria Brodsky, called police to their Brooklyn home after failing to wake her husband. Brodsky was pronounced dead after an apparent heart attack.

"He was the only Russian poet who enjoyed the right to be called a 'great' in his lifetime," Yevgeny Kiselyov, host of the Russian weekly news program Itogi, told his viewers yesterday.

Brodsky, who wrote plays, essays and criticism as well as poetry, was always in conflict with the Soviet authorities. In 1964, he was sentenced to five years hard labour in the Arctic Circle region of Arkhangelsk on what Mr Kiselyov described as "the absurd charge" of parasitism.

Brodsky's sentence was commuted in 1965, but the persecution continued, and, in 1972, the Soviet authorities finally forced him into exile. He settled in the US, where he was befriended by W H Auden, and he became an American citizen in 1980.

In 1987, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. "A big step for me, and a small step for mankind," Brodsky joked after learning he had won the prestigious prize.

Life in the US was "terribly good to me," he once said.