17 December 2017
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Speeches at the unveiling of Joseph Brodsky memorial (Keele University, 6 June 2016)

Welcome Speech: (Old Library, by Professor Mark Ormerod, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost)


Your Excellency, Lord Lieutenant, Deputy Mayor, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It’s a great pleasure to welcome you all to this very special occasion, which seeks to mark a historical association between Keele University and Russian literature, and in particular, our links with the world famous Russian Poet and Nobel Laureate, Joseph Brodsky – Nobel Prize for Literature in 1987

 It is also a great pleasure and very special honour to welcome His Excellency, Alexander Vladimirovich Yakovenko, Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the UK, and those guests who have also made a significant journey to be here with us today.

It is through the support of the Russian Embassy that Keele is now able to become the home of this timeless representation of Brodsky, created and kindly donated by distinguished Russian sculptor, Kirill Bobylev.

I would also like to thank Russian Maecenas Magazine (http://www.rusmecenat.co.uk/en/), the Russian Heritage Committee and the Keele University Russian Poets Fund, for their support in bringing about this unique, cultural opportunity for the University.

Russian language began to be taught at Keele more than 50 years ago, and degree level Russian Studies started in the late 1960s with the appointment of the first Professor of Russian Studies, Professor Evgeny Lampert whose own multi-disciplinary interests saw the course covering literature, history, politics and culture as well as language.

Within a few years the Russian Department had expanded to cover a full range of disciplines within the degree course, and saw the appointment of new staff including Professor Joe Andrew who is here today, and I would like to thank Joe for his involvement and enthusiasm in bringing about today’s event.

The inspiration behind this very special occasion however, is Professor Valentina Polukhina, the world leading expert and authority on Joseph Brodsky who, having written and edited many major studies of this world-leading poet, was pivotal in welcoming him to Keele University.

Professor Polukhina was at Keele from 1973 to 2001, and during this time around 50 internationally famous Russian writers came to the University including

Evgeny Evtushenko

Bella Akhmadulina

Andrey Sinyavsky

Oleg Prokofiev

Vladimir Makanin and

Irina Ratushinskaya.

A particularly notable visit was by Olga Sedakova, as ‘Poet in Residence’ at Keele, a unique scheme established by Valentina, in addition to other initiatives such as the Russian Poets Fund.

It therefore gives me great pleasure to hand over to our Professor Emeritus, Valentina Polukhina, for an overview of Joseph Brodsky and his links with Keele.


On behalf of the University, I would like to formally acknowledge the foresight, creativity, skill and generosity of sculptor, Kirill Bobylev, who began this work in 2015 as part of a St Petersburgh-born project called ‘Joseph Brodsky: The Return’.  And he has indeed returned … to the University with which he had such a strong affinity and we sincerely thank Kirill Bobylev for this beautiful donation, which will take pride of place among the University’s collections and be permanently housed in the Walter Moberley Building, home of Modern Languages for many years at Keele and where Brodsky met with students.

Note: Kirill Bobylev resides in Russia and is unable to join us for today’s event.



Poetry is still taught at Keele at undergraduate and postgraduate level and the University continues to enjoy associations with a number of highly acclaimed poets such as Roy Fisher and Carole Ann Duffy.


Jim Sheard, Senior lecturer in Creative Writing, in the School of Humanities, has been writing and publishing poetry for over 20 years.

His pamphlet ‘Hotel Mastbosch’ won the Ictus Prize and went on to be the Poetry Book Society’s Pamphlet Choice in 2003.

His first full collection, ‘Scattering Eva’ was published by Cape in 2005 and was shortlisted for both the Forward Prize for the best First Collection and the Glen Dimplex Award for Poetry.

His collection Dammtor was published in September 2010 and was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation.

I would therefore like to invite Jim to conclude this very special occasion by reading Brodsky’s poem, ‘Stone Villages’.


Speech by Professor Fiona Cownie, Pro Vice Chancellor (Education and Student Experience)  Keele University.


Your Excellency, ladies and gentlemen.

It gives me the greatest pleasure to participate in this morning’s event, reflecting as it does the importance for the University of ensuring that all our students have the opportunity to appreciate something of the value of the Arts, whatever subject they happen to be studying.

Art nourishes the soul; it speaks to our condition, both intellectually and emotionally. It is one of the fundamental forms of human self-expression and communication, frequently challenging us to see things differently and to think about things differently. And, as one of my favourite artists, David Hockney said recently “Art should be about joy”. But it should also be about the most profound and difficult ideas, enabling us to explore and understand the darker side of life, such as those subjects we can find in the main themes of Josef Brodsky’s poems, those of loss and exile.  Through art we can examine power, conflicts, emotions – indeed, life itself. Thus it is that an appreciation of the arts helps our students develop the critical intellectual skills that are central to their experience of higher education.  And for our students, as for ourselves, it seems to me that in an age of consumerism, when it is all too easy to focus on the utilitarian, our cultural heritage is more important than ever, helping us to develop empathy with many different aspects of the human condition, thus doing what the philosopher Martha Fineman calls ‘cultivating humanity’. The importance of the arts to a university such as Keele should not be underestimated.

The bust of Brodsky which lies at the centre of today’s event is a very fitting addition to the Keele Art Collection. The Collection was established in the early 1960s by a very generous donation from Sir Barnett Stross, a local doctor, M.P. for Stoke on Trent and a lifelong art lover. Many artists working in Britain from the 1930s to the 1950s are represented in that original bequest, including L.S. Lowry, Duncan Grant and Rowley Smart. Since that time, the University has been fortunate to benefit from other generous donations, and the collection has continued to have a large proportion of works by British artists from the twentieth century to the present day. It also includes a range of sculptures, including works by eminent artists including Dame Barbara Hepworth and Sir Jacob Epstein.

This particular piece, by the Russian artist Kirill Bobylev, reflects the continuing importance to the University of its strong association with the arts. We are fortunate that, due to the efforts of a number of people, including in particular Professor Polukhina, Bobylev decided to donate his work to a place that has a strong affinity with Brodsky. Professor Polukhina is an internationally acknowledged expert on Brodsky. She has also organised visits to UK universities, including Keele, by Russian writers, since 1976, and in 1985 Brodsky himself visited Keele. The position of Russian Poet in Residence at Keele, as well as the Russian Poets’ Fund, were established as the result of her efforts. As a result of those connections, our staff and students, now and in the future, will be able to enjoy and appreciate another work of art of great quality, as well as being reminded of the special connection that Keele enjoys with Russian literature.





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Evening with Professor Valentina Polukhina: Joseph Brodsky and his heritage

On 13 October Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko took part in the event dedicated to the Russian poet Joseph Brodsky, whose prominent scholar Professor Valentina Polukhina has donated her archive of Brodsky papers to the museum of the poet in his native St Petersburg. The evening was hosted by the Russian cultural centre Rossotrudnichestvo and featured talks by Prof. Polukhina, Director of the Museum Mikhail Milchik, deputy editor of Rossiyskaya Gazeta Yury Lepsky, museum volunteer poet Arina Bedrina and the film about Brodsky "A cat and a half".

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