An Interview with Viktor Sosnora

Introductory Note: The life of the poet Viktor Aleksandrovich Sosnora has been one of continual risk. When he was a year and a half, in 1938, he was confined to clinic for three years with osteotuberculosis, and doctors almost had to amputate his arm and leg. When World War II broke out, Sosnora spent a year under the blockade of Leningrad before being evacuated to the Kuban region in the south of the Soviet Union. Soon after he arrived, the Germans overran the Kuban. Sosnora was captured three times by the Gestapo, but because of his youth he was released each time. His grandmother decided that it would be safer for him to live with the partisan detachment led by his uncle, but the Germans captured and executed the partisans, and Sosnora survived only by pretending to be dead after a bullet had grazed his skull. It was in the Kuban that Sosnora began to write, using a twig to etch his poems on the clay paths, which were washed smooth each time it rained.

In 1945, Sosnora moved to Warsaw to join his father, who was a regional commander in Rokossovsky’s army, and he attended second grade at a Polish school. The pair traveled throughout Europe, and then settled in Arkhangelsk on the White sea, where the elder Sosnora became deputy commander of the military district, and where Viktor studied at a music school. By seventh grade he had completed the university course in history and botany in Lvov and passed his university exams as an unmatriculated student.

Sosnora first decided to become a writer when he was sixteen. Over the next three years he wrote two novels, two plays in verse, and many stories and poems, all of which he destroyed. When he was drafted into the Soviet Army in 1955, he continued to write, even during the eight months he spent in solitary confinement for playing prank while on guard duty. After he was discharged, he once again burned everything he had written. In 1958 he enrolled in the philosophy department of Leningrad State University, supporting himself by working as a factory electrician.

His poems first appeared in 1960, thanks to the support of the poet Nikolai Aseev, and in 1962 his first book, January Downpour, was published with a foreword by Aseev. At twenty-three he became the youngest writer in the Leningrad Writers’ Union. He traveled to Paris in 1965 to read his work during the evening of Soviet poets organized by Elsa Triolet and Louis Aragon, and again in 1970 as a lecturer on eighteenth-century Russian literature at the New Paris University.

In 1981, after an operation on the his pancreas, during which he nearly died, Sosnora lost his hearing. His deafness is especially tragic, since, as with the Russian Futurists, the articulation of sounds, as much as meaning, shapes the seemingly disconnected free associations of his poetry. In “Afterwards” Sosnora evokes a highly sensory sorrow by alternating liquid I’s with the intrusively harsh…

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