Parnok, Sofia Yakovlevna [Парнок, София Яковлевна] (1885–1933) By Chandler, Robert
Sofia Parnok was born into a Jewish family, in the southern Russian city of Taganrog. Her father was a pharmacist; her mother, a doctor, died when Sofia was six. After decades of neglect, Parnok is now recognized as a gifted and original poet.
Parnok studied music and law before deciding to devote herself to poetry. In 1909, after divorcing her husband, she settled in Moscow. She converted to Orthodox Christianity; she appears always to have seen herself as Russian rather than Jewish.
In 1914 she and Marina Tsvetaeva fell in love. Tsvetaeva wrote about their affair in her poem-cycle ‘The Girl-Friend’, and Parnok in her first book, Poems (1916). No Russian poet before her had written so directly about female—let alone lesbian—sexuality.
In the 1920s she published four collections of poetry, the last two through The Knot, a publishing co-operative she had co-founded in 1926. An influential critic, she was the first to pick out the four now considered the greatest Russian poets of their time: Pasternak, Tsvetaeva, Akhmatova and Mandelstam. After 1928, unable to publish her own work, she supported herself mainly through translations from French.