The poet and essayist Joseph Brodsky, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1987, was born in St Petersburg in 1940, exiled from the Soviet Union in 1973, and lived in America till his death in 1996.
Below: first grey Baltic flag refers to his birth in St Petersburg and the Grand Prix machine to his classic Elegy for John Donne.
Joseph B, you put us on the spot
with your stubbornness and utter dedication,
your sheer determination to take pole position –
to be first off the grid and first all the way –
and never in less than full control –
from that first grey Baltic flag to the final line.
With your dazzle, swerve and fierce acceleration
at times you almost disappear from sight
in the smoking scorch of simile
and shimmering haze of metaphor-exhaust.
You shame us hangers-back and lazy drivers
who dither at the wheel and take our time
in all-too-frequent pit-stops to refuel,
emerging at far less than GT speed.
You signal to us to get up and shift
from low and slow gear into overdrive
taking the circuits at full throttle
like your own personal Formula One
when you raced your great Grand Prix machine John Donne
on high octane with a whine of tyres.
(In time there were few tracks you hadn’t covered
in your supercharged flamboyant style.)
Your stand of trophies is an exhortation
to drive words round the tightest of chicanes,
testing the firmness of their tread
and their power to burn.
And not to be afraid to show our colours.