Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 539
Born in Moscow in 1933 to a well-educated family, Andrei Andreyevich Voznesensky was exposed to art and literature at an early age. His mother, a teacher, read him poetry and inspired his interest in major Russian writers. His father, a professor of engineering, introduced him to the work of the Spanish artist Francisco de Goya, which would later inspire “I Am Goya,” one of Voznesensky’s best-known poems. While growing up, Voznesensky pursued interests in the arts, especially painting, but he did not focus on poetry until 1957, the year he completed a degree from the Moscow Institute of Architecture. Then, in a strange twist of fate, a fire at the institute destroyed his thesis project. For Voznesensky, this was a sign that his future lay not in architecture but in poetry.
In the same year, he met the famed Russian writer Boris Pasternak, with whom he had been corresponding. Pasternak served as a mentor for Voznesensky, but the younger poet quickly found his own voice. The similarities between the work of the two authors lie in their moral vision and their goals as writers to revive Russian literature after years of oppression under the dictatorship of Joseph Stalin. An essential difference is in their fates. In spite of an easing of government censorship following Stalin’s death in 1953, Pasternak was expelled from the powerful Soviet Writers’ Union for the 1957 publication of Doktor Zhivago (Doctor Zhivago, 1958). The novel’s free-thinking protagonist criticizes Soviet Communism. However, in the changing literary-political climate of the time, Voznesensky quickly became one of the best-known poets in the Soviet Union. In 1960, his first collection, Mozaika (mosaic), appeared in print, and he published a number of collections in rapid succession, as audiences responded enthusiastically to the freshness of his work.
The success of Voznesensky, his contemporary Yevtushenko, and other “liberal” writers created a backlash within the Writers’ Union. By 1963, Voznesensky had come under attack from the more orthodox literary establishment, the government-controlled press, and Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev. Unlike Pasternak, who was censored for the content of his writing, Voznesensky was denounced for his innovative style, which critics claimed produced a decadent, superficial art, devoid of meaning. Charges of formalism and obscurantism resurfaced throughout the 1960’s and into the following decade.
In response, Voznesensky addressed his critics directly in his poetry, and he began to produce verse on the subject of creative freedom and the nature of art. He defended the complexity and ambiguity of his work, asserting, “if the poems are complicated, why then, so is life.” He also spoke out against government censorship. In 1967, he openly supported fellow writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who had been expelled from the Writers’ Union and later exiled from the Soviet Union for his attack on Soviet censorship. In 1979, Voznesensky participated in the publication of an independent literary journal.
In spite of recurring conflicts with government and the conservative literary establishment, Voznesensky incurred only minor punishment. Throughout his career, he was able to travel abroad, live comfortably, and publish regularly. He remained committed to innovative and experimental art forms, producing a body of work that challenges conventional classification. Married to the writer and critic Zoya Boguslavskaya, he had one son. He died in Moscow, at the age of seventy-seven, on June 1, 2010.