Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Distinguished Professor of Literature at the Henry Kendall College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Tulsa, poet, novelist, essayist, dramatist, publisher, editor, actor, director and screenwriter, turns 84 today. [April 2017 update – he died “surrounded by relatives and close friends in Oklahoma, where he taught at the University of Tulsa”]
Arguably the most famous living Russian poet (certainly the best-known in the West, from his frequent trips, and now residence, there), he seems strangely inexhaustible, still, in his advanced years, an intrepid world-traveller (he took on a gruelling 26-city tour of Russia just last year, not to mention, Germany and Yakutia, and, following the insertion of a pacemaker, continued his travelling this year, with a memorable appearance this past April in Peru, at the 111 Festival Internacional de Poesia de Lima)
From an interview that he gave there: “..Yo vivo de la poesía, pero también escribo prosa y enseño. A mi me parrece que la poesía es una necesidad. Si hay gente que pede tolerar vivir sin poesia significa que la humanidad está en un momento peligroso..” (“..I live poetry, but I also write prose and teach. It seems to me that poetry is a necessity. If there are people who can tolerate living without poetry it means that humanity is at a dangerous time..”).
Humanity is at a dangerous time
April 1, 1965 (April Fools Day), Allen Ginsberg, writing from Moscow, to Gary Snyder: “..Got drunk with Yevtushenko and waiting for Voznesensky to get back to town tomorrow..”
This was the beginning of a life-long friendship with both “Red Cats” (Yevtushenko and Voznesensky) – an important (underground) US-Soviet cross-fertilization.
Late 1985 in Russia, as part of a touring party, Allen gave a reading at Lomonosov University (part of the giant Moscow State University system), Yevtushenko and Andrei Sergeev acted as interpreters.
The following year, in Nicaragua, Yevtushenko (along with Ernesto Cardenal and Allen), signed a joint statement, for artistic unity, transcending divisive political systems – the so-called “Declaration of Three” (to World’s Writers)
Yevtushenko is perhaps most famously remembered for his 1961 poem, “Babi Yar” [Babiyy Yar]. Here he recites the poem with music by Dmitri Shostakovich (Shostakovich’s Symphony No.13), conducted by Kurt Masur & the New York Philharmonic
A more recent reading (in Russian) (“recorded and sent in lieu of the artist’s actual appearance for presentation to a concert audience in Rostov”), in remembrance of Babi Yar, from 2012, can be viewed here.
And here‘s another powerfully politically-charged Yevtushenko poem, (from 1962, tho’ similarly, a recent recording) – “The Heirs of Stalin”
Here’s Yevtushenko lecturing in the US in 1999
More Yevtushenko videos – here (2010 in Genoa),
here, here, here, here (in four parts) in Grenada, Nicaragua
here (2009 in Washington DC),
here (2007 in Chicago),
and, memorably, from 1995, (in five parts) – from one of our favorite bookstores, D.G.Wills in La Jolla/San Diego – see here
“Traditionally, Russian poetry probes those questions which move us most from intricate political queries to fine psychological points…Russian poetry was never exclusively descriptive, nor psychological, nor didactic, nor melodic. (I speak now abour good poets only; they alone are representative.) Russian poetry is made up of all those elements, but it also usually contains a measure of serious political thought..”
“I always try to take anything that interests me from anyone – and yet try to remain myself. As you see, I go back to my notion of an eclectic art – yet one solidly centered, innerly held together by the force of one’s personality.”