Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

#17 - JRL 7263
Moscow News
July 23-29, 2003
Yevtushenko: "Real poets will come fast and furious"

What do you think of today's poetry?

I like the '90s set. They are the ones their 1960s grannies took to Bulat Okujavas funeral handing down to them their own young love of poetry they had preserved in their souls. The post-1960s generations produced lots of well-read and gifted individuals. Why didnt any of them make history? Before, those poets mostly tried to imitate Andrei Voznesensky, Bella Akhmadulina, and myself. Now a good many of them decided they would like to write in the Brodsky style. Alexander Mezhirov once aptly observed that "todays poetry by the young reminds me of a choral rendition of the Brodsky solo aria." But imitation cannot make a great poet.

There are now many talented satirists. I mean the people who have taken up jibes and teasing as their principal intonation. Simultaneously there have been attempts to sling mud at the 1960s generation. What was the result? Who reads Viktor Yerofeev now? No one does, no one likes him. It is difficult to like him because he does not like anyone either. Or take Dmitry Bykov. A remarkably gifted man, but an out-and-out cynic. And this destroys poetry. So I see the future of poetry in the 1990s generation. Something tells me that from this set of very young people real poets will now start coming fast and furious.

What writers are you reading at the moment?

I am in love with French writer Romain Garry. I can never have enough of his stuff. I regret I missed the chance of meeting him, because both of us happened to be in Paris and in America at the same time. All of his books are wonderful. As a WWII pilot, he was even more famous than Saint-Exupery, and a finer writer, too, I guess. Why did they take so long to translate him here? I think I know the reason. He has never been either a Communist or an anti-Communist. Just like myself. He made fun of the right- and the left-wing alike. And people resent not so much others arguing with them as being condescendingly mocked. And because Elsa Triolet and Louis Aragon had the final say in all matters of translating from the French, they must have seen to it that his books never got to Russia. Meanwhile, he was fluent in Russian.

You are giving a public reading at the Polytechnic Museum tonight (July 18. - Ed.). Do you know yet what you will be doing next morning, after your birthday?

As soon as the Polytechnic reading is over, Ill board a plane to go to Georgia. I feel greatly honored by this invitation. Ill be celebrating Mayakovskys birthday there. Itll be a two-way affair - a soiree dedicated both to Mayakovsky and to Yevtushenko. Incidentally, its been ages since we last saw this kind of Russian-Georgian cultural event.

And after Georgia?

After that Ill go to the Bratsk Hydroelectric Power Plant. This is apropos of the changes in our life. In 1993 the Bratsk power plant was in an appalling state. People were leaving in droves; wages were withheld for months. Now things are very different. People are going there instead. I am glad it has turned out this way because I once wrote a long poem about that plant; it was first banned by a censor, but the plant workers protected me against those who tried to ban it.

What are you working on now?

I am finishing a three-volume anthology, Ten Centuries of Russian Poetry. Each volume is a thousand pages long. From the 11th to the 21st century. I had to make a translation of The Lay of Prince Igors Campaign myself, and rhymed to boot. I still cant believe Ive done it.

And who will be at the other end of the 1,000 years of Russian poetry?

I am not sure yet. I am currently at the close of the 19th century. But I am already selecting a number of very young guys. Hopefully, the anthology will come out next year. I even left off writing a novel I called City of the Yellow Devil, after Maxim Gorkys expose of New York. The novel is a parallel narration about my first trip to the United States in 1961, from which you can learn lots of interesting things that happened to me there, and also about my adventures during the war, as a child, when I escaped to the front, accompanied by a small girl. It is going to be a sort of sentimental-satirical novel. And once that is over, I am thinking of carrying on with my work in the movies. I have a screenplay all ready. Mosfilm Studio is funding the shooting. Itll be a film about a soccer player of the glorious time of Bobrov and Khomich. Possibly, Ill act the principal part myself, though its quite a job combining directing and acting. The protagonist will have two ages, young and old. There will be a lot of the autobiographical there. You know, I narrowly missed being a footballer. Simply my first batch of poems was published in 1949. While I was really a goalkeeper.

Top   Next