Monday, May 30, 2011
Tuesday Poem - Lies by Yevgeny Yevtushenko
"Telling lies to the young is wrong."
This poem was given to my class at school when I was about 16. It had a most profound and powerful effect upon the whole class. Perhaps more than the poem I remember the galvanised electricty that ran through the room. The power of a poem was made manifest. I have to offer the above link because the translation I first read is hard to find. Other translations seem to have superseded it somewhat.
In 2006 I went to the Genoa Poetry Festival mostly because Yevtushenko was a guest. While I was waiting at the Palazzo Ducale for his gig, I walked outside for a cigarette, and a man and a woman dressed in very garish clothes walked swiftly past me up the steps. A phrase rose up in my mind unbidden. "End of the pier." They were for all the world like two ageing but unrepetent cabaret artists who were third on the bill at a concert at the end of the pier in Blackpool or somewhere like that. It was old world yet gallant.
I wondered who they were. It didn't occur to me that they were Yevtushenko plus companion. But of course they were.
He read some recent work, in Italian, which was admirable, and had his show down pat. It was a crowd pleasing performance. It pleased the Italian crowd.
But still I had loved that poem. So at an informal gathering in a bar I approached him and told him what it had meant to me. He was agreeable and told me it was because of Geoffrey Dutton the poem had reached Australia. I didn't confuse things by saying I had read the poem in New Zealand. And then he said something about Stalin. But my mind had seized up the way a fan's mind does sometimes when they are face to face with a childhood hero. I didn't take in the point he was making. I asked if I could take a photo of him. He consented.