Thursday, May 24, 2012

In This House Lived a Poet

Plaque on the corner of Pestel Street and Liteyny Prospekt in St. Petersburg

Today is Brodsky’s birthday. If the Nobel laureate were still around, he would have been seventy-two. In his native Saint Petersburg—formerly Leningrad, or in the poet’s lexicon simply “Peter”—Russians are celebrating Brodsky Week, whose goal it is to raise money to open a long-awaited museum in the apartment where Brodsky lived with his parents. According to Russia’s official national paper, the program for the week is “pleasantly unofficious,” including walking tours, a play, and screenings of a documentary about the poet.

Many doubt that Brodsky’s famous “room and a half” will open to the public anytime in the near future. The delay is owing to negotiations with a neighbor who occupies an adjoining apartment. The New Yorker’s Book Bench reported last year that a sale was imminent, but they were obviously mistaken. In the ensuing months, the neighbor’s asking price for the space rose to seventeen million rubles (over $530,000), but she recently agreed to bring it down to twelve million (just shy of $380,000) – still more than the city is willing to pay.

Now, according to, project organizers hope that the United States government will pitch in the money needed to close the deal. After all, Brodsky lived in the U.S. for over two decades, and he was the American poet laureate back in the early 1990s. In my own view, a museum jointly funded by the U.S. and Russia would be a fitting tribute to a writer who straddled two cultures and two languages. As Brodsky put it himself, he was a “Russian poet, an English essayist, and of course, an American citizen.”

In the meantime, visitors to Saint Petersburg can drop by the Anna Akhmatova Museum to view Brodsky’s desk and other items from his study, not to mention his postcard collection. As it so happens, I’ll pass through the city in about two weeks on my way to Petrozavodsk, so I might just stop in!