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Yevgeni Yevtushenko Brings His Passionate
Russian Poetry to Davidson

CONTACT: Bill Giduz

by Emily Drew '04
with contributions from Stratton Lawrence '03

"I am terribly sorry for my inevitable Siberian accent," said Yevgeny Yevtushenko as he began his poetry reading at Love Auditorium on September 7. Appearing as Davidson's McGaw Lecturer, the internationally acclaimed Russian poet spent a full two days on campus, hosting a poetry reading, visiting class sessions, and showing one of his films.

Among the audience of 500 were many visitors from outside the college.

Almost 500 members of the community attended the poetry reading, and heard Yevtushenko recite a selection of his works in both Russian and English. He reminded listeners early on of the hazard of translation: "It is like a woman: if it is beautiful, it is not faithful; if it is faithful, it is not beautiful."

Yevtushenko reflected the spirit of his Russian verse with lyrical movements and his expressive voice as he recited "Sleep, My Beloved," "I Would Like...," "Metamorphoses," "The Anti-Shoelaces," "The Umbilical Cord," and "The City of Yes and the City of No."

Yevtushenko and an assistant created the translation of "The Umbilical Cord" on their way to Davidson, and read it for the first time ever for the audience in Love Auditorium He later granted permission to publish the translation to Libertas, a student literary paper.

"The Anti-Shoelaces" spoke most directly to the Davidson audience. This poem, originally written in English, was intended as a wake-up call for American youth who grew up with a sense of national security and freedom. The poem points out how much they take their prosperous society for granted, and ignore the greater opportunities their heritage enables.

Yevtushenko was introduced by Alan Michael Parker, associate professor of English.

Yevtushenko reading in Love Auditorium.

At one point he came into the audience and read from the aisles.

Yevtushenko discussed his memories of the Cold War in Russia. "It was a terror," he said, "not a terror like when Stalin was killing people on the streets, but still a terror."

He then read the poem "I Would Like..." which conveys the endless possibilities and vagaries of human life.

A large crowd of fans gathered for autographs following the reading.

He followed his poetry reading with a book signing in Chambers Gallery, where a crush of fans new and old purchased his works and queued up for autographs.

After growing up in post-WWII Russia, Yevtushenko rose quickly in his country's literary and political scenes. He was expelled from the Young Communist League for his "individualism," and his poetry stood alone as the first to speak against Stalinism. In 1960, he recited his poetry in Western Europe, breaking the Iron Curtain and forming friendship with artists such as Pablo Picasso, John Steinbeck, and T.S. Elliot. In 1961, he published "Babi Yar," a renowned poem in which he challenged anti-Semitism. Yevtushenko served as a member of the first freely elected Parliament of the USSR from 1988 to 1991, where he used his influence to fight against censorship and to improve the lives of the Russian people.

Yevtushenko was assisted on stage by his friend, Bill Davidson.

He has written 40 books of poetry, three novels, and produced, acted in, and directed three films. He has recited his poetry at The Lincoln Center, Madison Square Garden, Carnegie Hall, the Opera di Roma, and the Bolshoi Theater. He currently serves as the poet laureate of Russia, and divides his time between Russia and the United States. He remains a living artifact of the by-gone era of Eastern Socialist art that flourished in Eastern Bloc countries during the '50s and '60s.

Yevtushenko met with intermediate Russian language students in a more intimate setting on Friday morning.

On Friday morning following his reading, Yevtushenko visited Prof. Leonid Livak's Russian 201 class. In that forum, he spoke in Russian and English of the links that should exist between politics and art. He said, "Politics manipulate. Politics kill. For an artist to be indifferent to politics is to be indifferent to human life."

Later in his discussion, he told the students to never be indifferent no matter how small the cause. "There are no little sufferings because there are no little men," he said.

He also met a class of introductory Russian language students taught by Troy Williams.

Yevtushenko also shared many personal memories with this class of six students. He told them of the danger that his political activism placed on his family. He mentioned his favorite book, Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls, and told the story of his favorite poem that he wrote. The poem was inspired by the request of a mother whose young son had committed suicide. Yevtushenko wrote of a man jumping from a building to his death, and killing a dove perched on a wire as he fell. Yevtushenko said he wrote the poem to give hope to others considering suicide, and he continues to receive letters of thanks from people who were uplifted by his verse.

First year faculty member Leonid Livak hosted Yevtushenko in his class on Friday morning.

His movie showing that evening gave further insight to his experiences. Yevtushenko¹s script for Stalin's Funeral was based on a chapter of his novel, A Precocious Autobiography, which detailed the events surrounding Stalin's death and demonstrated the effects of politics on human life.

Yevtushenko said many people opposed the production, but he proceeded after receiving a personal go-ahead from Mikael Gorbechev. "It was a sign of coming democracy," said Yevtushenko.

Despite this enthusiasm for democracy, Scott Denham, associate professor of German, believes that "Some key elements of youthful communist ideology are alive and well in Yevtushenko's film." With its focus directed to the power of a collective, united people, Denham said "The point [of Stalin's Funeral] is clear: sacrifice individual autonomy for the sake of the group, and all will be well."

Yevtushenko's appearance at Davidson kicked off a schedule of outstanding lectures for the year. Others who will follow him include Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, an expert on suicide, on October 19; Former West Virginia Gov. Gafton Caperton of the College Board at Fall Convocation on October 21, and James H. Billington, Librarian of Congress, on April 18.

 

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