The American poet W. H. Auden remarked that Andrei Voznesensky is a writer who understands that “a poem is a verbal artifact which must be as skillfully and solidly constructed as a table or a motorcycle.” Voznesensky was well known for his technical virtuosity and structural innovation. His metric and rhyme schemes varied, often determined by the aural and visual aspects of the work. He paid close attention to surface patterning and sound play—assonance, alliteration, shaped text, stepped lines, palindromes—and often startled the reader with shifts in perspective, incongruous juxtaposition of images, and unexpected rhyme created by inserting slang or colloquial language into a line. He confronted the reader with a staggering array of metaphor, historical reference, and cultural allusion. Evidence of his early training in painting and architecture abounds in his work, which has been described as cubist, Surrealist, and Futurist. Voznesensky acknowledged, “As a poet I have been more profitably influenced by ancient Russian churches and by the works of Le Corbusier than by other poets.”
Voznesensky’s concern with technique and experimentation related directly to the content of his writing and his central concern with human destiny, which he viewed as dependent on interconnectedness. For him, without a sense of connection to one another, to culture and tradition, and to the planet, humanity might fall into a destructive spiral. In a mechanized, technological world, the potential for fragmentation and alienation is great. The responsibility of the artist is to expose relationships, to “peel the skin from the planet.”
Voznesensky sought to achieve his goal by breaking away from habitualized methods of seeing, from routines that limit and fragment vision. His wordplay, his seemingly bizarre selections of imagery, his multiple perspectives, and his blurring of genres were all designed to defamiliarize the world, allowing the reader to discover the spiritual ecosystem of existence. While Voznesensky’s themes are universal, his innovativeness, particularly his sound play, makes his work difficult to translate. Effective English versions of his work are the Haywood/Blake 1967 edition Antiworlds and the Fifth Ace and the award-winning collection An Arrow in the Wall, edited by Smith and Reeve.
“I Am Goya”
One of the earliest and best-known of his poems, “I Am Goya” (1959), exemplifies Voznesensky’s skill in creating new forms to examine broad themes. He framed the poem by opening and closing with the same line, “I am Goya.” In identifying with Goya, a nineteenth century Spanish painter known for his harsh depictions of war, Voznesensky established an immediate link across time, space, and artistic genres. He reinforced these links in each of the four stanzas with an...
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