Russia a poet is more than a poet.”
As an American poet
accustomed to meager readership and small audiences for public readings,
I traveled to Russia with Yevgeny Yevtushenko in July of 2001
anticipating, if not the legendary soccer-stadium size crowds of the
“thaw,” at least a deeper and more widespread appreciation for poetry by
everyday people. Though the flame of poetry has been somewhat
dampened by the advent of consumer/pop culture, the average Russian
still has a connection to poetry that can only be called soulful. The tour proved to be an arduous – the
Russian infrastructure is slowly crumbling – but wondrous journey that
revealed how pervasively poetry imbues the national character.
After all, for nearly a century the poets were, in the face of the
official social realist truth, speaking the simple human truths – the
truth between the lines. For the people that truth was as
sustaining as good brown bread. One can live by it. They have not
forgotten that. The
occasion of our tour was Yevtushenko’s annual birthday performance at
the Moscow Polytech and the opening of the Poet’s House, a museum in
his childhood home at the Siberian crossroads of Zima Junction.
Our cast included a international line-up of poets, critics, and
yevtushenkologists representing Poland, France, Nicaragua, the United
States and the whole of Russia from St. Petersburg to Kamchatka.
Over the course of two weeks I participated in a dozen readings, four tv/radio
interviews and a panel discussion, “Poetry in the 21st Century.”
The one constant on the trip can be summed up by Gogol’s quote from
the last century, ‘the two problems with Russia are the roads and the
food.” That being said, the hospitality and poetic intelligence
of the people more than made up for any inconvenience.
To continue and read the full text of the article
with many additional photos, click to go to Ray's
Written by Ray McNiece, published first in Ohio Writer Magazine in
edited form, 2001.
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McNiece and Yevtushenko Tour
On the Road in Russia, by Ray McNiece
Ray and the legendary Yevtushenko at Bratsk