Andrei Voznesensky Voznesensky, Andrei (Vol. 15) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Voznesensky, Andrei 1933–

Voznesensky is considered one of the finest contemporary Russian poets. Voznesensky, who was a protégé of Boris Pasternak, explores the artistic imagination at odds with political authority and the concerns of the individual over the collective. His work is technically refined and highly experimental in its use of modern jazz and rock rhythms, slang, neologisms, and technical jargon to evoke the diversity and confusion of modern city life. (see also CLC, Vol. 1)

G. S. Fraser

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Voznesensky [in his Selected Poems] is … fluent, light, gay, something of a virtuoso in fanciful surprises and daring juxtapositions, frivolous at times, almost rococo. His commitment is against solemnity and pomposity in Russia, against official anti-Americanism (he loves America even at, especially at, its most gimmicky and glittery) and for a tradition of dandyism, of insouciance, even of romantic individualism…. But swift, light and difficult formal intricacy is, unfortunately, the one quality in verse that is almost untranslatable—the "play" element, depending so much on the genius of the poet's native tongue. (p. 155)

G. S. Fraser, "Brecht, Grass, Voznesensky," in Partisan Review (copyright © 1967 by Partisan Review, Inc.), Vol. XXXIV, No. 1, 1967, pp. 150-56.∗

Sidney Monas

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The youthful and brilliant Andrei Voznesensky descends as much from Mandelstam, whom he never mentions, as he does from Pasternak and Lorca, to whom he pays eloquent tribute. He is strong (as he needs to be under the circumstances), talented, and in his reach and ambition, capacious. Perhaps this makes him sound too solemn; his work also has about it a touch of Marcel Duchamp, dada, and the Beatles. We now have in English … two new volumes of translations [Selected Poems and Antiworlds]. The drama of Voznesensky's nimble play is there to be observed….

His poems are the dynamic asides of a very private person in a very public place. Who is the audience? Who is the poet? They become one; they incorporate each other. Worlds are energized by their antiworlds…. The poet is an airport, a center of world-communication, into and through which the outcasts of the world must pass and be transformed. Poetry is a severed head in the hands of power, speaking not only to the drama-stricken multitude that watches, but in bubbles of blood to the very hands of power that dangle it. Worlds and antiworlds are ineluctably inter-locked and in their high-tension become each other: "If you live, you burn!"

Sidney Monas, "Public and Private Muse" in The Hudson Review (copyright © 1967 by The Hudson Review, Inc.; reprinted by permission), Vol. XX, No. 1, Spring, 1967, pp. 121-36.∗

James Bailey

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Andrej Voznesenskij is one of the better-known and more original representatives of the current innovative trend in Russian poetry. Study of his verse may provide some indication of the meters being employed by present-day poets and of possible new developments taking place in Russian versification.

Several characteristics which complicate study of Voznesenskij's meters must be pointed out…. His poems often lack the formal clarity and precision found in a more traditional type of poetry. Syllables may be sporadically added or dropped in a meter which otherwise conforms to classical metrical schemes, two or more meters may be utilized in one poem (polymetrical verse), passages in free verse may be inserted, words with a differing number of syllables after the final stress may be rhymed (such as feminine with dactylic), the order of rhymes may vary from stanza to stanza, and sections in prose may be inserted. In some cases the meter may be so syllabically loose that it retains only a vague sense of an underlying pattern…. (p. 155)

One of the more obvious characteristics is the violation of the integrity of the line. As a rule, the meter, syntax, intonation and rhyme (if present) tend to correspond at the end of the lines. These elements usually coalesce so that the integrity of the line is preserved, and any departure from such correspondence is perceived as a divergence from the norm. Graphically Voznesenskij often breaks the line into separate segments which may be arranged in a column (stolbik) or staggered (lesenka), and besides utilizing lines of regular length, he may also run two lines together (doubled line). When such graphic devices are employed, the customary unity of the line is broken. (pp. 155-156)

[One] of the salient features of twentieth century Russian poetry is the increased attention paid by poets to sound texture and internal rhyme. When a poet resorts to a large amount of internal rhyme which echoes end rhyme, then the organizing function of the rhyme is weakened…. The sound layer [can intrude] so deeply into the composition of the poem that end rhyme becomes confused with internal rhyme. (p. 156)

When extensive usage of internal rhyme is connected with the graphic breakup of the lines [as in some of Voznesenskij's poems], the result is even more divisive from the standpont of the integrity of the line. (p. 157)

It should be remembered that meter in Russian verse depends on the inner ordering of stressed and unstressed syllables. The intonational, syntactical, and euphonic layers in a poem may or may not coincide with the end of the metrical line;...

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Philippe Radley

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The theme of Voznesensky's [Vzgljad: Stixi i poèmy] is embodied in the multi meaning title (vzgljad can mean "look," "glance," "view," "opinion")….

The look is very vast in range. The book is something of a tour: through Russia, the USA, Canada, history. It is also a tour of verse: Voznesensky recounts his impressions of several modern American and Canadian poets, translating some of their verse along the way (his version of Robert Lowell's "Caligula" is a real tour de force). Curiously this whole section is, with the exception of the translations, in prose.

There is an air of news, of current events: everything seems very topical. It is as if Voznesensky is giving us a diary in verse. In this he resembles Lowell … whom he calls America's greatest poet. Both seem out to show that poetry, which communicates in ways other than prose, contributes to knowledge of the world and hence can be used as a topical medium.

The results here are mainly a matter of Voznesensky's deservedly famous virtuosity…. Voznesensky does puzzling things: "Ispoved'" and "Molitva Rezanova" are to a great degree the same poem presented in very different contexts. It is as if meaning were a lesser matter. Verse effects depend on other things. In Voznesensky's case this means irregular metrical patterns, approximate rhymes and a tremendous use of sound-effects. In the last poem, "Led," the title word is repeated dozens of times: the sound ends up reigning all alone.

There are puns and jokes, statements and questions. The suggestion is one of verbal fun as in his last book, Ten' zvuka (Shadow of Sound)…. Whether all this adds up to long-lasting depth is debatable, yet it seems the best Russian poetry now emerging from the USSR.

Philippe Radley, "World Literature in Review: 'Vzgljad: Stixi i poèmy'," in Books Abroad (copyright 1973 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 47, No. 4, Autumn, 1973, p. 789.

William Pratt

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Andrei Voznesensky has been one of the brightest stars of the Russian literary firmament for the past fifteen years and has enjoyed wide popularity abroad as well during most of that time. His poetry shines a biting wit on a sort of science-fiction fantasy of the modern world (or "antiworld," as he prefers to call it), and this is an arresting stylistic combination in any language…. [He has] inherited Mayakovsky's mantle as the Russian revolutionary satirist…. There is no American equivalent of Voznesensky, but if one imagined a blend of E. E. Cummings's verbal wit and Vachel Lindsay's platform drama, one might have a fair notion of Voznesensky's popular appeal.

At his best, Voznesensky can be brilliant in a calculatedly zany way, delighting in puns and ironic contrasts and commanding an international range of subjects, from the Paris Flea Market to the New York Airport, from Goya to Gogol. This jet-setter among poets displays all of his soaring and plunging imagination in [vypusti pticu!], though there are no poems in it as eye-catching as "Antiworlds" or "The Triangular Pear" of his earlier collections….

The veiled political implication of the title—"Set the Birds Free!" or "Let the Birds Out!" is bound to suggest a cry of freedom from inside Russia—is never fulfilled, and the poems have more to do with escaping from urban boredom than with escaping from a Russian prison or a Gulag Archipelago. The most overtly political poem in the collection is a tribute to the late Chilean poet Pablo Neruda—or rather, a diatribe called "Anathema" against those who overthrew the socialist government of Allende and thereby contributed indirectly to Neruda's death from cancer shortly thereafter. Voznesensky can be scathing, but seldom against his own country or its politics; his satire, for all its biting edge, is not as bitter as Mayakovsky's nor as purgative as Cummings's. He expresses admiration for Gogol but does not give evidence of possessing Gogol's savage pen. Still, if Voznesensky were more serious as a satirist, it is not likely that he would be so popular—nor so free. He does not wish to reform the world, but rather to play with its absurdities, to be outrageous without being outraged, and he is very good at the game.

William Pratt, "World Literature in Review: 'Vypusti pticu!'" in Books Abroad (copyright 1976 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 50, No. 1, Winter, 1976, p. 188.

R.D.B. Thomson

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Pasternak and Mayakovsky … have provided Voznesensky with so many models of poetic expression, and even values (moral and poetic), that at times his style seems to have been built entirely out of theirs. Their influences are particularly strong in his first three books,… but they can also be traced in his later collections. Very roughly, it may be said that Pasternak is felt primarily in the stylistic and technical aspects, Mayakovsky in the themes and vocabulary.

Voznesensky originally trained as an architect…. This provides a point of similarity with Pasternak, who also came to poetry via another art (in Pasternak's case, music). In both cases we have no juvenilia (poetry written before the...

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Joel Oppenheimer

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

As always, [in Nostalgia for the Present] Voznesensky focuses on everyday reality—"rolling up the particular" to use Williams's phrase—and the poems are accordingly free of cant, both literary and political. There is an unfortunate stop-and-start quality to the procession of poems because of the different translators. This makes it difficult to settle down with and read straight through; but browsed, the book works splendidly.

A major section of the book is devoted to "Story Under Full Sail."… This work shows Voznesensky in a new dimension, handling the long poem. It is solid, full of beauty and insight, and very exciting….

Voznesensky, always the most accessible of the contemporary Russian poets, is served well by this book, and so are we.

Joel Oppenheimer, "Books: 'Nostalgia for the Present: Poems'," in The Village Voice (reprinted by permission; copyright © 1978), Vol. XXIII, No. 48, November 27, 1978, p. 106.

Richmond Lattimore

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Voznesensky is widely traveled and widely acquainted…. His range and variety are amazing; but a constant theme is that of elusiveness within the chosen subject, the feeling of something known to be there which can not be caught. "I long not for art—I choke on my craving for reality" (from the title poem [of Nostalgia for the Present]), almost as if sometimes, like Marianne Moore sometimes, he actually disliked poetry. And there is something, whether in his frequent colloquialisms, or diffuse composition, or the rhyming stanzas, that resists transformation into any final expression as poetry in English…. Sometimes, again, as in "Winter at the Track," I find the Russian fancy just too fantastic for this literal and visual mind. This volume also has one long narrative poem, "Story Under Full Sail."… [A] poem full of brilliant pieces, which, however, have to have notes and commentary before they can be really put together. Unlike "Snow in Tokyo," this is a story-telling whose parts surpass the whole. (pp. 453-54)

Richmond Lattimore, "Poetry Chronicle," in The Hudson Review (copyright © 1979 by The Hudson Review, Inc.; reprinted by permission), Vol. XXXII, No. 3, Autumn, 1979, pp. 441-54.∗