"I Keek It, I Vin It"

Two decades ago, the general managers of professional football teams discovered that the highly specialized jobs of placekicking could be done by sometime soccer players, most of them born and raised abroad. The placekicker, we remember, is often called upon to deliver a field goal whose three points, especially in the game's concluding moments, can tilt the final score from one side to another. This placekicker would then be mobbed by his teammates; newspaper headlines could proclaim that he had "won the game," discounting the performance of the other players who did most of the work. It was Alex Karras, then a star tackle, now a television star, who charged that it was a degradation of a great American game to allow players who were only on the field a few seconds and who could hardly speak English, to scream, "I vin it, I keek it."

This bit of ancient history comes to mind with Joseph Brodsky's new book of essays. Within less than 15 years in this country, he has become the most successful poet of his generation (which is also mine). He took an early MacArthur Prize. In 1979 he became the youngest poet in our National Institute of Arts and Letters. His new books get reviewed on the front page of the New York Times Book Review. He received an honorary degree from Yale. Etc., etc. Brodsky is a good poet, accomplished in undistinguished ways, but somewhat obvious and bombastic. He is by no account...

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