Poetic coming-out, (un)masking or ‘autofictional poetry’? Valerii Pereleshin’s Ariel and Poem without a Subject


autofictional poetry
poetic life writing
queer sonnets
Russian émigré poetry
Valerii Pereleshin


Recent critical interest in queer life writing places much emphasis on prose, instead of poetry, as a medium to express one’s sexual nonconformity. This is no less the case in the Russian context, as poetic life writing by queer writers remains on the margins of literary criticism. While Olga Bakich begins her biography of Valerii Pereleshin (1913-1992) by referring to the poet as a ‘Russian émigré gay poet’, there has been meagre attention on his queer life writing, despite growing scholarly interest in his works as a Russian émigré writer in China and Brazil. This article explores two poetic works which are considered the poet’s first selfreferential expression of same-sex love in his poetry: Ariel (composed 1971-1975; published 1976), a collection of sonnets, which is Pereleshin’s ‘lyrical diary’ of his fantasized love for a Soviet translator, editor, and writer in Moscow, and Poem without a Subject (composed 1972-1976; published 1989), an autobiographical account of the poet’s life as an émigré writer, as well as his struggles as one whose sexuality is considered ‘deviant’ in a heteronormative society. I explore the poetics of masking and unmasking in the representation of same-sex love in Ariel through an examination of Pereleshin’s appropriation of Shakespeare’s sonnets, with which he develops his own ‘autofictional’ poetry, a genre that enables him to express his passions through the intertwining of factual and fictional elements. My analysis of Poem without a Subject focuses on Pereleshin’s attempt to present his multifaceted literary and sexual life in the classical Russian tradition through the use of Pushkin’s Onegin stanza. Ultimately, I call attention to the limitations of reading Pereleshin’s poetic life writing as a comingout text, and examine strategies employed by the poet, mindful of the challenges in expressing sexual otherness in Russian literature and the threat of literary censorship, to develop his own version of queer life writing.
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