For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives 

In the valley of its making where executives 

Would never want to tamper, flows on south         

From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs; 

Raw towns that we believe and die in; 

it survives, a way of Happening, a mouth.

                                                                   W. H. Auden

Book Proposal

We do not often think of our poets as military men or men of power, but Joseph Brodsky’s 1994 poem “Taps”, in which Brodsky calls himself “a sky’s lieutenant,” presents the poet, both ironically and with some degree of seriousness, in precisely that way. “Taps” is not the first time Brodsky addressed the question of the poet’s influence — what the poet does, who he does it to, what he does it for, and how he does it. Rather, the vision of the ironically powerful poet is central to Brodsky’s entire poetic project.   Click here to read proposal + here to read the introduction (password required)

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     Whereas prose aspires to the fiction of its descriptive, objective power, poetry continually betrays its origin as social act. Speaking very broadly, my research engages with the modes through which the poetic word manifests its active nature: performativity, rhetoric, apostrophe and poetic address, ekphrasis, and reader response. These concerns are key to understanding the importance of the poetic word in twentieth-century Russia.  

Osip Mandelstam’s famous statement, “Only in Russia is poetry respected, it gets people killed,” has an obverse side: in the turbulent, but rhetorically hyper-aware, context of the Russian twentieth century, Russian poets maximized and underlined the active features of their craft to create an alternate discursive social space where the interactions between poet and reader (or poet and listener) challenged the predominant rhetorical environment.  

My research deals with those poets – Joseph Brodsky and Marina Tsvetaeva – whose work was driven by their awareness of the communicative efficacy of the poetic word.  This approach is complemented by my work on the unofficial poets of the 1960s, which addresses these issues from the point of view of a linguistic community, rather than individual authors.

© Rebecca Pyatkevich 2014