Thanks to the foresight of Dingle Arts supreme, Doctor Michael Fanning, the internationally famous Russian poet, Yevgeny Yevtushenko gave a reading at the Mall Arts Centre, Youghal. Yevtushenko was in Youghal for a family wedding and this was a rare treat indeed.
I bought my first slim volume of his work back in the sixties in a shop called Crokers on the Quay, near Grant Hogan Hair Stylist. It was run by a Miss or Mrs Hayden and I foolishly thought that all bookshops sold poetry and Penguin Modern Classics at that. Yevtushenko was a flamboyant protest poet who read like a whirlwind when I heard him read in London some years later. His 1961 book Babiy Yar was a revelation. His A Precocious Autobiography was a sixties best seller.
Now in his seventies he is still a tall noble figure, if a little stiff on his feet, but his style of reading in English and Russian is still theatrical, emphatic and full of vigor and expressiveness. He arrived with his family in a racy coloured cap, a multi-coloured jacket and an ethnic Russian shirt and sneakers.
John Lynch, the NSO principal viola player and Jane Hughes, cellist, played a Bach tune, a Borodin Nocturne and a haunting Armenian tune.
Yevtushenko began in English, with a poem against hypocrites and the ambition to love all the women in the world. His powerful opening to Babiy Yar – No ornament stands over Babiy Yar – hit me with the impact that Ginsberg’s Howl did back in the flipfloppy sixties.
One of his five sons, also Yvgeny, read the English translation of that powerful love poem, Sleep My Beloved, in a fine American accent. His father teaches in Tulsa University, Oklahoma.
The musicians featured a haunting piece from Shostakovich’s 13th Symphony as well as O Carolan Tunes and Yevtushenko continued with a powerful satirical poem, Sod Off. He was as romantic as ever with a poem to his fourth wife, Masha (Maria Novika), in the audience – I love you more than possible, I love you more than impossible too. A section from his 1966 book, The City Of Yes, The City Of No, was a stirring blast from the past and there was still that tangible exchange of energy.
He also included a poem from his recent collection, Walk On The Ledge (2005), and the audience, of which at least thirty percent were Russian, rose in ovation and adulation.
It was an event to remember and my wife Margaret and I were delighted to be there and to meet old friends, Ann and Tony Cullen.