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By John Helmer, Moscow

There have been many, many advertisements for the poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, but none as alluring as those he composed and performed for himself.

Now that he has died, and his body is to return this week from Oklahoma for burial near Moscow, there will be many more advertisements. Some will be eloquent for not turning him into the crude symbolism which marred much of his poetry and the Russian intelligentsia from which he came, and which continues to discredit itself a little bit more each year since 1991.  Better to remember Yevtushenko’s beautiful blue eyes, and his taste for clown costumes on and off stage.  

Since my journey to Russia started with Yevtushenko more than fifty years ago, along with my publishing career, I’m reminded of what I thought then of Yevtushenko’s many ambiguities; what I thought when we last met at the Moscow funeral of a mutual friend in 1994, as Yevtushenko glanced about for people of higher rank to be seen with, beside the coffin; and the common, er communist oblivion into which he fell over the past two decades.

Yevtushenko’s one-line judgements remained sharper than his couplets, as he occasionally conceded himself.  He recognized what a mediocrity Boris Pasternak was; politely termed Doctor Zhivago “disappointing”; and didn’t finish reading the book, or defend the man in public.  Click for more

Quadrant (Australia), Volume 10, Issue No. 3, May/June 1966

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