Very often I cite the work of Bella Akhmadulina but rarely that of her ex-husband, the much better-known Yevgeny Yevtushenko. A giant of 20th century Soviet/Russian poetry, Yevtushenko died in, of all places, Tulsa, Oklahoma, this past weekend. His passing made me think back to university in the mid-to-late 90s. One professor had spent time with Yevtushenko, telling of what a magnificent and shameless flirt he had been. No surprises there. I marvel at times thinking of poets filling concert halls and stadiums, holding rapt the attention of a massive audience. Can you imagine a modern audience in America trying to get tickets to such an event?
Oh what a sobering,
what a talking-to from conscience afterwards:
the short moment of frankness at the party
and the enemy crept up.
But to have learnt nothing is terrible,
and peering earnest eyes are terrible
detecting secret thoughts is terrible
in simple words and immature disturbance.
This diligent suspicion has no merit.
The blinded judges are no public servants.
It would be far more terrible to mistake
a friend than to mistake an enemy.
Or this lovely one (which I’ve just read aloud and recorded).
And let us not forget the masterpiece for which he may be best remembered, Babii Yar.