Ellen Hinsey: In the spring of 1972, you were allowed to publish a single volume—your only officially sanctioned book of poetry in Soviet Lithuania, The Sign of Speech—
Tomas Venclova: During this period, the censorship situation had somewhat improved. After 1968, the prevailing atmosphere was one of a “freeze,” but there were some unexpected fluctuations in the party line, which were duly reflected in the editorial policy of the Lithuanian state publishing house. For a time, experimental verse was permitted (or benevolently overlooked), especially if it possessed a “life-affirming,” that is, optimistic, quality or had a folkloric aspect. Usually, a “locomotive” was required: The very first poem in a book by a first-time author had to mention Lenin or Fidel Castro (or, preferably, both) with due enthusiasm. Everyone consented to this demand, which was unspoken, or only discussed in private between an editor and an author. For me, it was out of the question. After my experience with my science book, I scorned the system and had enough respect for poetry to reject these “rules of the game.” Incidentally, Brodsky faced a similar dilemma. After his exile, a book of his poems was being prepared in the USSR, but Yevtushenko told him it needed a “locomotive”—a piece about Lenin or, at, least, about the great Russian people. Brodsky had a poem on people and their language, and quite a good one (Akhmatova admired it), which could perhaps have been construed as “patriotic” and therefore adhering to the official line. [My friend, the physicist] Romas Katilius persuaded him this would have been a gesture of capitulation. Brodsky refused to include it in the book; it was subsequently rejected by the publisher. To my astonishment, The Sign of Speech appeared without any mandatory “locomotive” or “lightning rod”—perhaps the first such case in Soviet Lithuania, or possibly in the entire Soviet Union.