Sophia Parnok

Posted on December 6, 2010

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Sophia Parnok and Olga Tsuberbiller

The daughter of a pharmacist and a doctor, Russian poet Sophia Parnok (she changed the spelling of her name from the more Jewish-sounding Parnokh) started writing at an early age about her lesbian sexuality and love affairs, earning the disapproval of her father. In 1905 at the age of 20, she fled Russia with her current lover to Geneva, where she lived until she ran out of money and was forced to return to her family home in Taganrog. In order to escape the stifling atmosphere, she married a friend and fellow poet and moved to St. Petersburg in 1907. By 1909, she was divorced and moved to Moscow, where she supported herself as a journalist and translator. She also wrote poetry.

In 1914, Parnok met and fell in love with fellow poet Marina Tsvetaeva; at the end of their relationship, she published her first book of verse, Poems – some of the first Russian poetry to deal with lesbianism. By 1917, she had a new lover, the actress Ludmilla Erarskaya, and the two moved to Sudak on the Crimean peninsula, where Parnok wrote the libretto to the opera Almast by Alexander Spendiaryan.

Parnok published more books of verse – Roses of Pieria and The Vine – and met Olga Tsuberbiller shortly after the publication of the latter in 1923 – the two of them lived together from 1925 until Parnok’s death. Her final two books, Music and Half-voiced, attracted little attention. By 1928, the Soviets had decided her poetry was unlawful, and she was unable to publish after that.

The final love of her life was physicist Nina Vedeneyeva, whom she met in late 1931 and inspiring her to write her last two cycles of poems, “Ursa Major” and “Useless Goods.”

Parnok died in 1933 at the age of 48.

Sophia Parnok has a Wikipedia page, here, as well as a page at glbtq.com, here. She also has a Facebook fan page, here, and Diana Lewis Burgin’s biography of Parnok, Sophia Parnok: the Life and Work of Russia’s Sappho is on Google books, here. Translations of five very short poems can be found here.