From Russia, with poetry

The celebrated Russian poet, Yevgeny Yevtushenko visited the Carpenter Auditorium at UVM on Wednesday evening for a reading of his socially and politically conscious poetry.Amidst the many works he read from, the 73-year-old poet kept the audience engaged, and at parts, in stitches-supplying body language and suggestive tones to compensate for his frequently incomprehensible Russian accent.”Translation is like woman, if [it] is beautiful [it] is not tasteful, if tasteful, not beautiful” was as much of an apology for the futility of his efforts to convey his poetry in English, as it was a precursor to his “women are like vodka” joke.Donning a bright blue collared shirt with huge vibrant flowers printed on the side,Yevtushenko maintained a familiar tone with his audience. Crooning, snarling and sobbing, he conveyed the message of his words even when he recited them in Russian, and carried himself like a man of half his years.Yevtushenko’s forlorn portraits of dictatorial Soviet Russia served as a reminder to the gathered listeners of the suppression of poetry and other free thought under Stalin’s rule. The privilegeand honest joy Yevtushenko feels when he shares his poetry is proof that he subscribes the adage that artistic thought can only exist where there is freedom.”I would like to be born in every country, have a passport for them all to throw all foreign offices into panic, be every fish in every ocean and every dog in thestreets of the world,” his poem “I Would Like” begins.When he wrote the poem, in 1972, the Cold War was in full swing, and expressing a desire to plunge into Lake Baikal andresurface in the Mississippi as the poem reads, could have easily been considered treason, but this poem is characteristic of the passion with which Yevtushenko writes. He is listed among Russia’s most prominent contemporary poets.After speaking of the clever way Robeson exposed some of Stalin’s atrocities, such as the murder of a popular poet, Yevtushenko played a sound bite of Robeson singing a traditional Russian song and swooned to the deep bass of Robeson’s voice, carrying a tune along with thesinger.Yevtushenko’s romantic poetry at one point carried him directly into the audience as he reached out with a longing gestureto one female audience member, reciting as if she were the only person in the room.Evidently to Yevtushenko, poetry is something to be experienced, and not simply heard.