Lev Loseff, known in Russia, of course, as Lev Losev, is one of those people who found himself, and created himself, in a chosen country (the U.S.), not the country where he was born (the U.S.S.R., Russia). Losev, who was actually Lev Livshits, took the pseudonym of Losev when he became a young adult in order to distance himself from his father Vladimir Lifshits, a well-known writer, poet and playwright. Born in Leningrad in 1937, Lev was educated to be a journalist and began by working as an editor for the Kostyor (Campfire) children’s magazine in Leningrad. He wrote some plays for puppet theaters and he wrote some children’s verse. He abandoned “serious” poetry early in his life, considering that his work wasn’t good enough. However, he began writing poetry again in the mid-to-late 1970s and, over the course of the rest of his life, he published some dozen collections of verse. (The numbers vary according to the source, but the maximum number I have seen is twelve.) Losev emigrated to the United States in 1976, surely with the aid of Carl Proffer at the University of Michigan. It was at this time that he took the name Loseff for his legal name in English (his books and poetry in Russia were published under the name of Losev). He was employed as a copy editor at the great Ardis Russian literature publishing house, and he eventually graduated from UMI Ann Arbor with a PhD around 1978, to the best of my ability to ascertain. He was hired to teach Russian literature in the Russian Department at Dartmouth College in 1979, and he remained there until his death in 2009, spending many of those years as the Department Chair. In addition to his poetry, he wrote numerous books of a scholarly, historical and personal nature. They include On the Beneficence of Censorship: Aesopian Language in Modern Russian Literature (his PhD dissertation), Joseph Brodsky: A Literary Life (2006 in Russian, 2011 in English), Solzhenitsyn and Brodsky as Neighbors (in Russian 2010), Brodsky’s Poetics (in Russian 1986), Meander (a memoir in Russian 2010), and others. If you’re interested in his books, visit his page on Amazon.com.
At least in his later years, Loseff lived in a modest house just south of Hanover, New Hampshire, in which city Dartmouth is located. I walked from the Russian Department to his house in about 30 to 40 minutes. It is a straight jaunt down Main Street, Hanover, into the woods that take over Hanover almost instantly at the end of the tiny downton commercial district. You pass by several homes hiding behind trees, cross over a gorgeous pond, and go past the Pine Knoll Cemetery to Mourlyn Road on your left. It is a short cul-de-sac that climbs up a fairly steep, but short hill, and Loseff lived in the second house on the left, house number 4. There are only five residences on the small street altogether. You can see the view back down Mourlyn Road from in front of the Loseff house in the photo immediately below. The last photo below shows Mink Brook, part of which, at least, would have been visible from Loseff’s back yard. I happened to run into John Kopper, the current Russian Chair while I was snooping around the Russian Dept. last week. I explained what I was up to and he told me he had once published an article in the Russian Znamya thick journal, in which he related a brief story of Joseph Brodsky delivering the commencement address at Dartmouth in 1989. (We’ll come back to that at a later date.) According to Kopper, Brodsky, apparently feeling a bit frisky after finishing his speech, whipped his mitre cap off his head and sent it sailing through the air as if it were a frisbee. It made its way directly toward Loseff, hitting him smack in the bridge of the nose, breaking his glasses in two as it did. There are a couple of volumes available for those interested in Loseff’s poetry in English translation. Henry W. Pickford translated and edited Selected Early Poems of Lev Loseff, while Gerald Smith put together a Russian-English version of his work called As I Said/Как я сказал in 2012. Tomas Venclova, himself an emigre Soviet (Lithuanian) poet and scholar of note, who has taught most his adult life at Yale University, called Loseff “one of the chief representatives of Russian exilic poetry, a great master of ironic postmodern verse.”