Books: Notes From a Poet in His Prime Less Than One

by Joseph Brodsky; Farrar, Straus & Giroux; 501 pages; $25

Adjectives are the potbelly of poetry and not for Joseph Brodsky. His own verse is taut with nouns and verbs: "I said fate plays a game without a score,/ and who needs fish if you've got caviar?" But prose allows the Soviet-born exile to present himself in full figures of speech. Most of the essays in this first collection have appeared in magazines and literary journals; together they parade an extravagant talent and an uncompromising intelligence that equates aesthetics with morality: bad art indicates a bad character.

Brodsky, 45, is something of an international celebrity and hero. He was already an...

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