Louis Daniel Brodsky, a stunningly prolific writer who composed nearly 12,000 poems, including more than 350 on the Holocaust, has died.
When Mr. Brodsky decided to become serious about his poetry, he committed himself to writing a poem every day of his life.
“He worked at being a poet,” said Eugene Redmond, professor emeritus of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and poet laureate of East St. Louis. “Lou went to work like a physician, like a person who worked in a coal mine, like a janitor, like a math teacher. It was amazing.”
Mr. Brodsky offered no apologies for what appeared to some to be an obsession.
“If one isn't passionate to the point of bursting,” he said in a 2011 Subtle Tea interview, “(one) might as well be something other than a human being. To be the opposite of passionate, ecstatic, is to be a vegetable or a rock.”
Mr. Brodsky died at his home in Clayton on Monday (June 16, 2014). He had chronicled more than a year of living with brain cancer in a book of poetry, The Words of My Mouth and The Meditations of My Heart. He was 73.
A graveside service will be today at B'nai Amoona Cemetery.
“Lou was the only poet I knew who was a poet in every fiber of his being,” Redmond said of his longtime friend.
Meditations of the heart
The title of Mr. Brodsky’s final work came from the Book of Psalms in the Old Testament, his “favorite book.” It is drawn from one of King David of Israel’s entreaties to God.
Mr. Brodsky worked diligently to make his thoughts and words pleasing to everyday people.
In 2002, he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "(I write) poems that are mystical, surreal, darkly humorous, highly satirical; I write love poems, Holocaust poems, poems that explore the creative process.”
He could have added poems that, at times, are autobiographical.
In The Edges of Forever, he spoke of death and narrated the aftermath of September 11th in the tome Shadow War. He returned to the oft-used theme of love in Making Love to Sunday and Heartbeats. The former sizzled with passion, the latter with contentment. Guilt-Throes lamented infidelity.
His voluminous cache on the Holocaust could possibly be summed up in the title of one of his poems: Cold-Blooded.
Since Mr. Brodsky began writing in 1963, in addition to churning out thousands of poems, he compiled more than 83 books of poetry and 25 volumes of prose, including nine books of short stories and nine books on William Faulkner.
His love of Faulkner began with The Sound and the Fury, a book on his freshman literature reading list at Yale University. He soon began collecting Faulkner and over a 30-year period, amassed one of the largest private collections in the world.
In 1978, he met a kindred spirit, Robert Hamblin, then an English professor at Southeast Missouri State University. After Mr. Brodsky found a home for his Faulkner collection at the university in 1988, Hamblin became founding director of the Center for Faulkner Studies; Mr. Brodsky became curator. The two collaborated on a raft of scholarly materials on Faulkner.
“There would be no Faulkner Center without his collection or his work,” said Christopher Rieger, the center’s current director. “Ninety-eight percent is from his original collection.
“This collection puts us in the company of bigger, much wealthier schools, at least in this area,” Rieger added.
The school reportedly paid $500,000, $1 million with interest, over 20 years for the collection, then appraised at $3.5 million. Mr. Brodsky used part of the money to repay his father $300,000 he had borrowed over the years to purchase artifacts.
Mr. Brodsky could not afford to be a collector on his salary at Biltwell Co., the men’s clothing factory his father owned. From 1968 to 1987, he worked as an assistant manager and started one of the Midwest's first factory-outlet apparel chains.
His father didn’t quite understand the son’s love of literature.
"My dad was so tough on me for so long," Mr. Brodsky told the Post-Dispatch in 2002. "But he always admired my desire to write and my fierce tenacity in doing so."
His first job -- teaching English at Miami-Dade South Junior College --was “a grave mistake.” It lasted four days.
A child of privilege, Mr. Brodsky sensed that he needed an environment that would imbue him with the soul of a poet. He was surprised to find it at his father’s manufacturing company. He spent nearly 20 years learning and caring about people, mostly blue-collar workers, at the Farmington plant.
“Lou was interested in understanding working-class people and people who may not have had (life) so easy,” Redmond said, “and he was sympathetic to the Civil Rights Movement.”
Mr. Brodsky credited his work on Faulkner for his growing awareness. He called his hometown a “closed, segregated society.”
"I came to understand that I was in Faulkner country in Farmington – even more, that I had grown up in Faulkner country,” he told the Riverfront Times in 1999. “(St. Louis) is not so different from Mississippi.”
From 1980 to 1991, he returned to academia part-time, teaching a weekly night class in English and creative writing at Mineral Area College in nearby Flat River (now Park Hills).
Every spare moment was spent writing: before work, after work, while driving to meetings.
"I could drive and write on a ledger book at the same time,” he admitted. “So I wrote thousands of poems behind a windshield.”
In 1988, he founded Time Being Books, a publishing company specializing in poetry, and began writing full-time.
His work appeared in numerous publications, including Harper's Magazine, Faulkner Journal and the American Scholar. Redmond, Maya Angelou and Elie Wiesel, were among his fellow authors who had endorsed Mr. Brodsky’s writing.
Edge of forever
Louis Daniel "L.D." Brodsky, was born April 17, 1941, in St. Louis, the eldest of Saul and Charlotte (Malter) Brodsky's five children. After graduating from St. Louis Country Day School (now MICDS), he graduated magna cum laude from Yale in 1963, where he was an oarsman on the crew team. He went on to earn back-to-back master's degrees in English and Creative Writing from Washington University and San Francisco State University, respectively.
Then, he began to write.
"(For our father) writing was like breathing,” said his daughter, Trilogy Mattson.
Mr. Brodsky was preceded in death by his parents.
In addition to his daughter Trilogy (Anthony Mattson) of Creve Coeur, his survivors include a son, Louis Daniel “Troika” Brodsky III (Elizabeth Potter) of Maplewood; a sister, Barbara (David) Kantrovitz of Ladue, and three brothers, Dale Brodsky (Robert Brooks) of Orinda, Calif., Roger Brodsky (Diane Kennedy) of St. Louis, and Jeffrey (Katie) Brodsky of Town and Country.
He is also survived by his former wife, Janet Brodsky, and one grandchild, Tristan Alexander Mattson.
A graveside service will be at 11 a.m. Thursday, June 19, at B'nai Amoona Cemetery, 930 North and South Road, in St. Louis. The family will greet friends and relatives from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Hilton St. Louis Frontenac hotel, 1335 South Lindbergh Blvd.
Memorials would be appreciated to the Saul Brodsky Jewish Community Library, 12 Millstone Campus Drive, St. Louis, Mo. 63146, and Camperships for Nebagamon, P.O. Box 331, East Troy, Wis. 53120.
The Edges of Forever
A.M. by evening, day by week,
Month by moon-measured month
Eliding into year by sun-yearning year,
Our spirits growing closer,
In endearing, clear-sighted nearness,
To an infinite fearlessness
Of death's wearying, dreary oblivion,
We celebrate the elational fate
Of our lives' serendipity,
Which seems to be guiding our souls
Toward that ethereal place
Where time blends into endless space,
And every second by minute
By hourly morning and night,
Every lying down together
And every waking up,
We embrace and we kiss,
In the same naked jubilation,
Whispering how grateful we are,
To the wishing-stars,
For having transported us so far,
Toward the edges of forever.
More can be found at Mr. Brodsky's website.