Tag Archives: Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Potato Flower

Yevgeny Yevtushenko poem from his 1975 collection Ottsovsky Slukh.

Potato Flower

Impertinent,
but no blasphemer,
I love, as god’s gift, asphodel
And lily-of-the-valley,
and the cornflower
But I detest any catpiss-guttery
Flowery-scented Eau-de-Cologne,
Corrupting the chaste odour
Like chemical verses.
And better than any –
joking aside –
I love the flower of the simple potato,
As I love my brother,
For its smell of earth untainted with caramel,
For the fact that no one could possibly devise
A deception
at least out of it!

Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Songs Of Revolution

This Yevgeny Yevtushenko poem was in English language Soviet magazine Sputnik, November 1967.

Songs of Revolution

Sing more often
songs of Revolution.
If you’ve forgotten them –
you’re grievously at fault.
Life’s become soft?
You nurse your constitution?
These songs will bring your nursing to a sudden halt
Buy a collection.
Give them thorough inspection.
Not once,
not twice,
but time and again.
To yourself,
or out loud,
with feeling and inflexion,
Don’t toss them aside if they pain your brain.
In their strains you’ll hear
the cold clatter of chains
Coming from snow-swept Siberian plains.
And still they are singing –
not the tunes of the day,
But songs of revolution
in secretive voices
Instead of the bold ones
that stated their choices.
The tyrant’s lash
would have stopped their singing
If they sang as they wished –
top-toned,
ringing.
We are bound to them by the one-blood’s parity.
We are bound to sing with a top-voice clarity.
Life’s become soft?
You nurse your constitution?
You’ve lost faith in people?
Lost faith in the world?
Sing more often
songs of Revolution.
They’ll throw into focus
what a soft life has blurred.

Yevgeny Yevtushenko
1954

Adrian Mitchell, Anarchy

Profile of Adrian Mitchell from Anarchy magazine, volume 6 number 8, August 1966.

Adrian Mitchell, poet 1966
John Garforth

Poets can be dangerous fellows, not washing, questioning the basic structure of our society, travelling on trains without paying their fares, refusing to conform and leading dubious sex lives.Lunatics, lovers and so forth. Plato was the first aspiring politician to suggest excluding such people from society.
… the people of Britain, who were never consulted,
are paying for the cold war
paying in every sense
while the cost of the cold war goes up and up.
We will pay for kicking Red China in the teeth
We will pay for arming the South African fascists
We will pay eventually
If we first don’t have to make the final payment
of our own lives and our children’s lives.

The mandarins of our culture claim this is not real poetry. Its tone is so different from The Wasteland. “I think we are in rats’ alley Where the dead men lost their bones.” They claim that all propaganda is bad art. Which is not to say that poems must not have a theme, or that poets must not try to change our way of seeing the world. It means only that poets must not write about politics or comment on the society around them.
But since Christopher Logue collected a £1 from each of his friends and published his first volume of poetry at their expense, establishing himself as a poet, the mandarins have been losing influence. In 1958 Logue published a broadsheet, “To My Fellow Artists”, and went around selling it himself. Now his latest broadsheet, “I am going to vote Labour because God votes Labour” has been sold in all the best bookshops and has received attention in the press.
Logue is well known throughout the country as a performer, because of his readings in canteens for Centre 42, and because of the Poetry and Jazz recitals. He and Yevtushenko and Allen Ginsburg found a new audience for poetry, leaving the way open for new poets. The finest of whom is Adrian Mitchell.
On the wall of a dripping cave a stunted man with weak eyes wrote:
“It’s your standard of living
don’t let the Bronze Age ruin it.”

Mitchell’s shy, tense and mumbling performances are now familiar to a wide audience. His slight build is emphasised by the jeans and boiler jacket that he affects, making him look like the bewildered Johnny Ray on a massive and alien stage. (He would no doubt prefer a comparison with Brecht’s proletarian gear.) A flatly regional accent is ideally suited for snarling out lines such as, “Tom Sawyer’s heart has cooled, his ingenuity flowers at Cape Canaveral.” Each time the audience laughs, or applauds the end of a poem, he seems to grow more bitter. Any recent sign of relaxation, the hint of a smile, do not alter his intensely savage persona.
A master of the Trafalgar Square rallies and the Beat barbecues at the Albert Hall, a popular draw at St. Pancras Town Hall – he is clearly doing something quite different from T. S. Eliot, who wrote for his six friends. Mitchell’s emotion is not shared by The Times or the BBC (those arbiters of good taste), which is why they would call him hysterical, but he speaks with and for a massive section of the community who have no place in the Stuffed Poets’ scheme of things.
Most people ignore most poetry
because
most poetry ignores most people.

Mitchell is, of course, hysterical, and he is naive. There is none of the awful knowingness that we find in the New Movement. His power as a poet lies in the strength of his emotion, rather than in his verbal elegance. But this should be easy for us to appreciate since Allen Ginsburg broke through the form barrier. We can comprehend the slack rhythms, running lines and sudden, jagged stops (just as we comprehend that a lack of rhyme can still be poetry). If we accept this, the things that seem weaknesses in Mitchell become part of his armoury.
His phrasing and his wit sometimes parody the adman, and sometimes have the slickness of an adman. “Snow White was in the News of the World – Virgin Lived with Seven Midgets, Court Told. And in the psychiatric ward an old woman dribbles as she mumbles about a family of human bears, they ate porridge, yes Miss Goldilocks of course they did.” From a poem that communicates to every moron who failed his eleven plus, never learnt to read more than the Daily Mirror, and has his ignorance exploited by the moguls of the colour comics and commercial television. Salts of the earth, of course, but Mitchell communicates through a vernacular that is almost universal (it sells everything from brassieres to Bentleys), and thereby demonstrates that language is the class barrier rather than intelligence.
It is not necessary to argue that a great poem can be simple in its language; The Wasteland uses simple speech patterns, as does The Dust Coloured Girl with a Child on her Back, and nobody is more direct than Robert Graves. What matters is the complexity of the idea being expressed. And Adrian Mitchell is speaking to all those people who suffer or fear the “real” agonies. War, death, insanity, injustice, as well as the “poetic” agonies of love, nostalgia and God. It is sheer snobbery to assume that Hopkins became a great poet because at one time he was considered difficult to understand. Hopkins was writing about these same things.
Mitchell uses broad, satirical effects instead of obscure and personal nuances to express his anguish. The hero of his novel, If You See Me Comin’, is a blues shouter; no lieder for him. In the pages of Woman’s Mirror Adrian Mitchell writes about pop music, and in the Sunday Times for a while he reviewed television. He proved at Oxford how clever he was, so now he can dispense with all that.
If You See Me Comin’ is a spiritual autobiography, given shape by covering a week after the central character’s arrival in a northern town to sing the blues, which is also the last week in a condemned man’s life before hanging for murder. It is a poetic novel, concerned with the hero’s attempts to re-enter the normal, brutal and alien world after a nervous breakdown. He has white hair, wants to be loved and to love, yet the only real relationship he sees around him is between a man and his dog. The rest is all for fun or for gain. Like Mitchell’s poems, if it weren’t so funny it would be unspeakably depressing. We don’t even wonder what is going to happen next in this world.
Mitchell is like the novelist in The Tin Men, he wants to convey moods, describe what it is like to walk down a particular street, how places feel, to express the smell of a November evening. And this he does without savagery. He seems only to dislike people. As someone said about Evelyn Waugh, whether or not this is a bad novel it does not contain a bad sentence. Every word, page, paragraph is superb, full of gags, insight and anguish. Only his enemies for other reasons would attack Mitchell for not having written a rattling good yarn.
What are you going to put in its place? ask the old mythologists. What are you positively for? Well, Mitchell probably wants socialism (broadly), but this is beside the point in 1966. There are plenty of Harold Wilsons working and scheming for compromised improvements. Mitchell is more valuable to us while he is being idealistically negative, saying no, help, and this is ugly. When every rogue has the right to reply and every racket employs a public relations man, it is unnecessary to demand balance from the victims.
Adrian Mitchell may be a highly successful victim, but he seems genuinely to write from his own suffering or outrage. There is no slick protest or clever argument, merely articulate screams, and this rivets our attention. People who feel the kind of despair that Mitchell expresses have seldom bothered to write about it, and when they have it has usually been easy to dismiss. Herein lies his uniqueness.
In 1961 Yevtushenko came to England, and he visited a recital at the St. Pancras Town Hall one Sunday evening. Adrian Mitchell was on stage, and he made an incoherent speech that broke off in choked emotion. He said that as a child during the war he had been taught that the Russians were heroes, brothers, and fighting for what was right. Since the war he had been told continuously that the Russians were evil and monstrous…. But he wanted to welcome Yevtushenko, assure him that most English people of his age regarded Russia as a country with problems like our own facing them with us…. The cold war was something to do with business men and politicians. Yes, he was pretty naïve.
To write such a poem as Veteran with a Head Wound you have to be naïve. It would not otherwise be such a fine poem. Naivety is the counterpart of those words like barbed, bitter and brilliant. But to conclude with an assessment of Mitchell’s place in contemporary culture would be pompous and slightly previous. He has earned enough money from his translation of the Marat/Sade play to give up his reviewing to work on another novel and write more poetry. But we can be sure that he will never be Poet Laureate.
When death covers England with a sheet
Of red and silver fire, who’ll mourn the state,
Though some will live and some bear children
And some of the children born in hate
May be both lovely and complete?
Try to distract this soldier’s mind
From his distraction. Under the powdered buildings
He lies alive, still shouting,
With his brothers and sisters and perhaps his children,
While we bury all the dead people we can find.

Girl Beatnik

Girl Beatnik

This girl comes from New York
but she does not belong.
Along the neon lights, this girl
runs away from herself.

To this girl the world seems odious-
a moralist who’s been howled down.
It holds no more truths for her.
Now the ‘twist’ alone is true.

With hair mussed and wild,
in spectacles and a coarse sweater,
on spiked heels she dances
the thinnest of negations.

Everything strikes her as false,
everything-from the Bible to the press.
The Montagues exist, and the Capulets,
but there are no Romeos and Juliets.

The trees stoop broodingly,
and rather drunkenly the moon
staggers like a beatnik sulking
along the milky avenue.

Wanders, as if from bar to bar,
wrapped in thought, unsocial,
and the city spreads underneath
in all its hard-hearted beauty.

All things look hard-the roofs and walls,
and it’s no accident that, over the city,
the television antennae rise
like crucifixions without Christ.

Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Flowers And Bullets

This poem is dedicated to Allison Krause, one of the four slain on May 4th, 1970 at Kent State University. She had reportedly placed a flower in the barrel of a National Guardsman’s rifle on the previous day and said, “Flowers are better than bullets.”
Bullets and Flowers was originally published in May, 1970 in the Soviet Pravda newspaper.
In December, 1970, Yevgeny Yevtushenko donated the manuscript of this poem to the Kent State University Libraries’ Department of Special Collections & Archives. This translation of the poem by Anthony Kahn was published by City Lights Books in 1970.

Flowers & Bullets

Of course:
Bullets don’t like people
who love flowers,
They’re jealous ladies, bullets,
short on kindness.
Allison Krause, nineteen years old,
you’re dead
for loving flowers.

When, thin and open as the pulse
of conscience,
you put a flower in a rifle’s mouth
and said,
“Flowers are better than bullets,”
that
was pure hope speaking.

Give no flowers to a state
that outlaws truth;
such states reciprocate
with cynical, cruel gifts,
and your gift, Allison Krause,
was the bullet
that blasted the flower.

Let every apple orchard blossom black,
black in mourning.
Ah, how the lilac smells!
You’re without feeling.
Nothing, Nixon said it:
“You’re a bum.”
All the dead are bums.
It’s not their crime.
You lie in the grass,
a melting candy in your mouth,
done with dressing in new clothes,
done with books.

You used to be a student.
You studied fine arts.
But other arts exist,
of blood and terror,
and headsmen with a genuius for the axe.

Who was Hitler?
A cubist of gas chambers.
In the name of all flowers
I curse your works,
you architect of lies,
maestros of murder!
Mothers of the world whisper
“O God, God!”
and seers are afraid
to look ahead.
Death dances rock-and-roll upon the bones
of Vietnam, Cambodia –
On what stage is it booked to dance tomorrow?

Rise up, Tokyo girls,
Roman boys,
take up your flowers
against the common foe.
Blow the world’s dandelions up
into a blizzard!
Flowers, to war!
Punish the punishers!
Tulip after tulip,
carnation after carnation
rip out of your tidy beds in anger,
choke every lying throat
with earth and root!
You, jasmine, clog
the spinning blades of mine-layers.

Boldy,
block the cross-hair sights,
drive your sting into the lenses,
nettles!
Rise up, lily of the Ganges,
lotus of the Nile,
stop the roaring props
of planes pregnant
with the death of chidren!
Roses, don’t be proud
to find yourselves sold
at higher prices.
Nice as it is to touch a tender cheek,
thrust a sharper thorn a little deeper
into the fuel tanks of bombers.

Of course:
Bullets are stronger than flowers.
Flowers aren’t enough to overwhelm them.
Stems are too fragile,
petals are poor armor.
But a Vietnam girl of Allison’s age,
taking a gun in her hands
is the armed flower
of the people’s wrath!
If even flowers rise,
then we’ve had enough
of playing games with history.

Young America,
tie up the killer’s hands.
Let there be an escalation of truth
to overwhelm the escalating lie
crushing people’s lives!
Flowers, make war!
Defend what’s beautiful!
Drown the city streets and country roads
like the flood of an army advancing
and in the ranks of people and flowers
arise, murdered Allison Krause,
Immortal of the age,
Thorn – Flower of protest!

Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Boris Slutsky

This passage from Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s 1963 A Precocious Autobiography looks at prize culture.

A Stalin prize meant a lot: immediate and enormous reprints, photographs and enthusiastic articles in all the papers, appointment to some official post, a car off the waiting list, a flat, and possibly a dacha. So, many people didn’t care a damn whether the book that got them the prize was read or not, what they cared about was the prize. It would be wrong of me to accuse everyone of having such an attitude. Many authors wrote honestly, without an eye to the award, and got it nevertheless. But careerists were plenty.
And while the brouhaha over gold and silver medals was going on at the Writer’s Union, the splendid poet Boris Slutsky, who had managed to get only one poem published and that as far back as 1940, strode about the Moscow streets with his precise military step. Strange though it is, he was never more serene and confident than any of the nervous candidates for the prize.
Not that he had much reason to be calm. At the age of 35, he had still not been admitted to the Writer’s Union. He kept himself on what he earned by writing small items for the radio, and lived on cheap tinned food and coffee, in a tiny rented room – he had no flat. His desk drawers were stuffed with sad, bitter, grim poems, sometimes frightening like Baudelaire’s, typed and ready, but which it would have been absurd to offer to a publisher. Nevertheless Slutsky was serene. He was always surrounded by young poets and he gave them confidence in the future. Once, when I came to weep on his shirtfront because my best poems were turned down, he quietly pulled open the drawer of his desk and showed me the pile of manuscripts inside.
“I fought the war. I’m scored all over by bullets,” he said. “I didn’t fight in order to keep these poems in my desk. But everything will change. Our day will come. All we have to do is wait for that day and have something ready for it in our desks and in our hearts. D’you see?”
I saw.

Ambulance

In his 1963 A Precocious Autobiography, Yevgeny Yevtushenko writes about support from Semyon Kirsanov he received whilst still a young poet writing mainly for Soviet Sports magazine and commemorative verse for newspapers. Kirsanov had been a Futurist and after Mayakovsky’s death was the leading Soviet poet in that style.

I decided to go and see my current idol Kirsanov, a mature and greying poet, in the hope of getting his moral support. He looked at me sadly.
“You thought I would like your poems because they’re like mine? But that’s just what I dislike about them. As an old formalist I can tell you: forget about formalism. A poet has only one indispensable quality: whether he is simple or complicated, people must need him. Poetry, if it’s genuine, is not a racing car rushing senselessly round and round a closed track, it is an ambulance rushing to someone’s aid.”

Gangster Poetry

This amusing incident is related in Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s (1932 – 2017) 1963 A Precocious Autobiography.

The ruler of our street, the Fourth Meshchanskaya, was a boy of about sixteen who was nicknamed Red.
Red was big and broad-shouldered beyond his years.
Red walked masterfully up and down our street, legs wide and with a slightly rolling gait, like a seaman on his deck.
From under his cap, its peak always at the back of his head, his forelock tumbled down in a fiery cascade, and out of his round pock-marked face, green eyes, like a cat’s, sparkled with scorn for everything and everyone. Two or three lieutenants, in peaked caps back to front like Red’s, tripped at his heels.
Red would stop any boy and say impressively the one word ‘money’. His lieutenants would turn out the boy’s pockets, and if he resisted they beat him up hard.
Everyone was afraid of Red. So was I. I knew he carried a heavy metal knuckle-duster in his pocket.
I wanted to conquer my fear of Red.
So I wrote a poem about him.
This was my first piece of journalism in verse.
By the next day the whole street knew it by heart and exulted with triumphant hatred.
One morning on my way to school I suddenly came upon Red and his lieutenants. His eyes seemed to bore through me. ‘Ah, the poet’, he drawled, smiling crookedly. ‘So you write verses. Do they rhyme?’
Red’s hand darted into his pocket and came out armed with its knuckle-duster; it flashed like lightning and struck my head. I fell down streaming with blood and lost consciousness.
This was my first renumeration as a poet.

Football And Poetry

Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s (1932 – 2017) writes about two his great passions in his 1963 A Precocious Autobiography. In this exert he is fifteen years old.

At night I wrote poetry and in the daytime I played football in backyards and on empty lots. I came home with torn trousers, battered shoes, and bleeding knees. the thd of the bouncing leather ball was, to me, the most intoxicating of all sounds.
To outflank the defences of the other side by feinting and dribbling and then to land a dead shot into the net past the helplessly spreadeagled goalkeeper, this seemed to me, as it still does now, something very like poetry.
Football taught me many things.
When I became a goalkeeper myself, I learnt to detect the slightest movement of the adversary’s forwards and to anticiate their feints. This was to be a help to me in my literary struggle.
People prophesied a brilliant career for me as a footballer.
Many of the boys I played with at school became professionals. On the rare occasions when I meet them now, I have a feeling that they envy me, and I catch myself out envying them.
Football is in many ways easier than poetry. If you score a goal you have concrete evidence: the ball is in the net. The fact, as they say, is indisputable. (The referee may after all disallow the goal but only exceptionally.) Whereas the likliest thing to happen if you score a goal in poetry is for thousands of referees’ whistles to shrill out to disallow it – and nothing can ever be proved. And very often an offside is declared a goal.
In general, in spite of all the intrigues and the dirt that go with it, sport is a cleaner business than literature. There are times when I am very sorry I did not become a footballer.