Yevgeny Yevtushenko has died in the United States aged 84. April 1
I saw him in about 74, at a university seminar. He only read in Russian (vigorously). I had just started to get into poetry through Hughes and Hill and Heaney, my 3 Hs. His delivery was extraordinary, his arms danced. I read his poetry and that of Andrei Voznesensky (who died in 2010), learnt that they read to crowds in soccer stadiums and was amazed. They were like rock stars, but spoke to the people and were devoted to their art. I write everyday but it is just a part of me, not a mission. I have no sense of heritage that they had, or a better future.
They believed in poetry and were proud of Russia’s tradition of poetry and literature. I visited Akhmatova’s flat in Moscow now a museum – poetry there is important – and not viewed as Auden put it:
. . . this unpopular art which cannot be turned into
background noise for study
or hung as a status trophy by rising executives,
cannot be ‘done’ like Venice
or abridged like Tolstoy, but stubbornly still insists upon
being read or ignored.
I remember visiting Pound’s grave on San Michele, Venice, close by was Joseph Brodsky’s, decorated with a scarf and with visitors from Russia paying respects and reciting a poem by heart (which I could never do for any poet, not even myself).
Yevtushenko’s first book, The Prospects of the Future, was published in 1952. From praising Stalin in his youth he went on to write, ‘The Heirs of Stalin’:
… it seems to me
a telephone was installed in the coffin
to someone yet again
Stalin is sending his instructions.
Under the cold stars, I wander alive
With you Vera, Vega, I am myself
Among the avalanches, like the Abominable
Snowman, absolutely elusive.
Voznesensky, ‘Who Are We?’