When Joseph Brodsky was alive, he and I would often go to the Russian Samovar to drink and talk about poetry. It was always vodka-many flavors of it. Joseph would usually have cilantro. I would have cranberry. We talked and talked, stopping now and then to take large bites of smoked salmon, smoked sturgeon, pickled herring, usually with black bread. And the caviar we consumed! The food, like the vodka, was excellent. But what made the Russian Samovar special was its owner, Roman Kaplan, who knew Joseph before he came to this country. He is one of the warmest and most generous men that I have ever known. Whenever I go to New York, I go to the Russian Samovar, sit down, have some vodka, and talk with Roman. A gifted pianist plays sad Russian songs. Almost everyone in the restaurant is speaking Russian. Mikhail Baryshnikov, who is a part owner, is a frequent patron. Joseph hovers nearby.
Mark Strand is the author of numerous collections of poetry, including Man and Camel (2006); The Continuous Life (1990); and Blizzard of One (1998), which won the Pulitzer Prize. His many honors include the Gold Medal for Poetry from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Bollingen Prize, three grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, a National Institute of Arts and Letters Award, the 1974 Edgar Allen Poe Prize from the Academy of American Poets, and a Rockefeller Foundation award, as well as fellowships from the Academy of American Poets, the MacArthur Foundation, and the Ingram Merrill Foundation. He has served as Poet Laureate of the United States and is a former Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. He currently teaches English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University.