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4.1 of 5 stars 4.10  ·  rating details  ·  574 ratings  ·  52 reviews
In this brief, intense, gem-like book, equal parts extended autobiographical essay and prose poem, Brodsky turns his eye to the seductive and enigmatic city of Venice. A mosaic of 48 short chapters—each recalling a specific episode from one of his many visits there (Brodsky spent his winters in Venice for nearly 20 years)—Watermark associatively and brilliantly evokes one...more
Paperback, 144 pages
Published June 1st 1993 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 1992)
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Dec 11, 2013 Kalliope rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Kalliope by: Geoff Wilt

He is buried there.

Joseph Brodsky is buried in the Isola di San Michele cemetery in Venice.

He is not alone. Other writers, other artists, also chose to rest there. Diaguilev, Pound, and Stravinsky among others keep him company.

Knowing this while reading his very personal ode to Venice acquires an eerie poignancy and adds a premonitory elegiac tint to his prose. I say it is highly personal because this text does not belong to any particular genre. It is a mixture between a lyrical chant, an analy...more
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
A love letter to a place, Venice, which the author (a Russian-American) fell in love with and went back to again and again. The reviewer Kalliope even pointed out that his remains were buried there, like those of a couple of other famous dead people (Brodsky won the Nobel in 1987, nine years before his death in 1996).

Venice is, of course, the city of canals, waterways, gondolas and water. I have read a couple of novels set there but I've never been to that place. I know water, however. During r...more
There are plenty of guidebooks to Venice, and plenty of fictional accounts by writers who lived there and fell in love with the city. (Indeed, novels set in Venice by writers who weren't Venetian is a kind of literary sub-genre that ranges from Henry James to Ian Fleming.) It's hard to imagine a more beautiful love song to a city than Joseph Brodsky's Watermark. It won't tell you about curious sites to see, or hotels to stay in, or describe romantic gondola rides at midnight. But Brodsky, who fo...more
As part of the Nobel Readers Project... I knew it would invariably come up that I did not really think the writer "that good." (I did not think that it would happen with the letter "B") Who am I to say Joseph Brodsky is mediocre when a panel of experts said otherwise. Should the Nobel Prize transcend taste? I am not sure the answer to that question, but here is what I think of Joseph Brodsky's work:

It is like a dull and clouded sky pierced with shafts of light: the effect can be lovely at times,...more
Brodsky makes love to Venice on paper. This was fabulous, breathtaking, enchanting. Though found in the poetry section, and rightly so, this is neither poetry nor prose poetry. It is written in small, maybe two page chapters. Brodsky, returning to Venice many winters of his life, writes of his time there and of the impact that Venice made on him and others. He examines these and from them extracts beautiful, haunting truths about life and existence. As Thoreau did with Walden pond, Brodsky does...more
Mid-course Brodsky changes from travel sketches to more focused description and philosophical meditation. Some gems: "Perhaps art is simply an organism's reaction against its retentive limitations," and "A metaphor—or, to put it more broadly, language itself—is by and large open-ended, it craves continuum: an afterlife, if you will." But, most memorably, there's this description of winter light:
It carries no warmth or energy... Its particles' only ambition is to reach an object and make it, big
If you didn't already want to go to Venice, this will make you feel you have to travel there before you die and before it's completely underwater. The only thing I think that could be better than reading this there is reading it on the beach, which I did, and which only reinforced his ideas and imagery. There's water, and God, and musing, and clear-as-a-drop moments in time in this book, a paean to a place that in many spots reads like prose poetry, made me chuckle, made me sad, and gave me a LO...more
I expected more, something less solipsistic, and more about Venice—the magic of the place— not quite so much of Brodsky on Brodsky.

Nevertheless, it's nice as a meditation, something to read to slow down, especially if one has spent time in Venice. If someone hasn't visited the City, I would recommend Jan Morris' "The World of Venice," or John Julius Norwich's "The History of Venice."

In the end, it was a kind of prose poem, so criticism is beside the point, but I think it could have benefited fr...more
There are those who love Venice. And there are those who hate Venice. And then there is Brodsky, above and beyond love and hate, “because one’s love, too, is greater than oneself”. Always a great poet, with Watermark a great painter. He paints with words. And it is a most beautiful painting. Whether this is because he writes of beauty or because that beauty is Venice, almost a painting itself, the result is art.

Living in Venice, I cannot avoid the suggestive power of his talent with words. At t...more
Feb 24, 2013 Jennifer rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Jennifer by: Trina
This is a mesmerizing, beautiful, personal, poetic homage to the city Venice. Visiting Venice only off-season, over nearly two decades, Brodsky strings together stories, impressions -- all so beautifully articulated and wonderfully insightful -- of the city, its people, the mood, its effect on himself, on the human psyche in general. I loved this tiny book and it will stay with me, I think, coming to mind every time I return to Venice.
tone fluctuates from detachment to poetic, as can be expected from a Russian writer. But some very good quotes and perspective on a city on water. It is more episodic, a collection of essays than a narrative. I would read this with his essay, Guide to A Renamed City about St. Petersburg for a fuller understanding of his mentality. And the latter is always recommended for any reader. Brodsky's prose is greater as a poet.
I see that the reviews for this book are mostly 4 stars and from enthusiastic fans of the writer. Surely, my review will be the odd one out. That's ok.

This was not what I expected. Brodsky really likes to write about water as an element, as a synonym for time and how it reflects and is reflected throughout Venice. Half the time I didn't know what he was talking about. Most of the time the prose was dry and boring. A few moments I found it overly romantic (eye rolling).

Some interesting ideas abo...more
A true feast of images and thought. It reads like Kapuściński of aesthetics. I don't say that often but this book I must and will read again - there's not a word amiss, every paragraph brings a little discovery of perception. Exceptional masterpiece and an ode to Venice in prose that is not entirely prose. Oh divine book!
Kris McCracken
An extended love letter to Venice more than anything else, I'll be honest and admit that this one failed to 'grab me'. Pretentious in tone, I must be one of those readers that 'don't get it'.
Ovdje dvojim kako ocijeniti ovu pjesmu u rečenicama. Sama tematika mi nije bila prisna. Otkrivanje Venecije i njeno veličanje, pa njeno opisivanje..., ali svidio mi se način na koji je Brodski uspio opisati učinak toga grada na njega samog. Pjesničke slike (mada u rečenici one su potpuno pjesničke) su nevjerojatno rijetke i zadivljujuće. Dakle, dvojba glasi - sadržaj ili umjetnički dojam?
Sadržaj: opise ni inače ne volim, uvijek ih nekako čitam a istovremeno ne registriram - ne mogu si ih predoči...more
Asma Fedosia
Watermark, a book of travel essays about Venice, Italy, by Joseph Brodsky, derives from one of the many five-week winter holidays--December/January 1981--the Russian-American author spent there over his semester breaks from teaching. The title implies a faint imprint, and such is the content, more of a prose poem with extended metaphors from Greek myth and with reminiscences about literary friends from W H Auden to Anna Akhmatova and of Italian Renaissance painters and paintings. Then, too, is t...more
Anupama Amaran
So much of poetry explained in this thin volume. He writes this about winter nights in Venice: "…reading and strolling dully along, which is about the same, since at night these narrow stony gennels are like passages between bookshelves of some immense, forgotten library, and equally quiet. All the 'books' are shut tight, and you guess what they are about only by the names on their spines, under the doorbell." I could have guessed at such riches from Brodsky-- poetic and didactic explanations of...more
Goddamn, but if you're going to write a city do it like a poet doing a long essay. A couple of infelicities here and there - attractive Venetian friend is reduced to her appearance, which, yes, flags for sexism, but flags for inconsistent shallowness given Brodsky's desire to probe beyond the surface of the city that sired Attractive Venetian Lady. Felt like and artistic/intellectual cop-out. Also a couple of wonky scientific analogies - extended metaphors that betray a misunderstanding of the s...more
Artem Huletski
Гармонично вплелось в предыдущие знания о Бродском. Со временем понимаю его образы всё лучше, и здесь нам уже есть, о чём поговорить. Выписал адреса to see.
Josh Mings
Great read on the ideas of perception and memory involving Venice...and the allegory that these are all watermarks on the mind.
Vladimir Boronenko
very nice and creative, as is usual with JB
Brilliant Poet, looking for more of his works
skaista apcere par neiespējamo.
Kavita Das
This book was my introduction to Brodsky - who seems to be famous for his poetry. This book is his love song to Venice and consists of a meandering set of vignettes with some beautiful ruminations and reflections on Venice and on life itself. I would not recommend it to anyone that is looking to read something linear. However, by the end of this short read, you will find yourself contemplating booking a ticket for Venice in the winter time.
George Hamilton-jones
While somewhat fiddly, this work is a nourishing and earnest evocation of a most romantic city.
The author clearly has a talent for capturing the loneliness of an old, foreign city in the depths of winter, but it just got too much for me. It reminded me of high quality maudlin undergraduate poetry. Not bad in the beginning, but halfway through the book and I was ready to toss it straight into a Venice channel.
Stephen Hull
The jury's still out. Just about anything about Venice interests me and Brodsky's prose is very evocative, but I sometimes feel that his cleverness gets in the way of what he's trying to convey instead of facilitating it. But I will read it again before I return to Venice -- and I MUST return to Venice.
Jul 07, 2007 Sheri rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: those who love langorous prose, anyone heading to Venice
I discovered this book in the English language section of a Venetian bookshop and immediately fell in love. Brodsky, a former poet laureate of the United States, writes in these 40 or so small essays his own personal history of this water-stone-and-sky bound city.
Kevin Hancock
I just returned from Venice and saw a memorial for the author there. This beautifully written book did not invoke for me any similarities to the beautiful movie set I just visited. It's worth a read and Venice is definitely worth a second visit, however.
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Iosif Aleksandrovich Brodsky (Russian: Ио́сиф Алекса́ндрович Бро́дский, IPA: [ɪˈosʲɪf ˈbrot͡skʲɪj] was a Russian poet and essayist.

Born in Leningrad in 1940, Brodsky ran afoul of Soviet authorities and was expelled from the Soviet Union in 1972, settling in America with the help of W. H. Auden and other supporters. He taught thereafter at universities including those at Yale, Cambridge and Michiga...more
More about Joseph Brodsky...
Collected Poems in English Less Than One: Selected Essays A Part of Speech On Grief and Reason: Essays To Urania: Poems

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“The eye identifies itself not with the body it belongs to but with the object of its attention.” 25 likes
“An object, after all, is what makes infinity private.” 8 likes
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