poets I’m reading: Would You Be Yevtushenko? by Geoffrey Dutton

Today’s work by Australian poet, Geoffrey Dutton, references the star status of Russian poet, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, in his own country.

In his obituary of Dutton which appeared in The Independent on 25 September 1998, Clement Semmler wrote:

Happier was Dutton’s friendship with the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, whom he arranged to visit the Adelaide Festival in 1966 and again for a visit in 1973 when Dutton took the poet on an outback trip. “He had an enormous capacity for drink,” Dutton recalled, “and he developed a taste for Australian champagne.”

Dutton had many of Yevtushenko’s poems translated and published and they corresponded for many years.

Before the two poets met, Yevtushenko was interviewed by Olga Vadimovna in The Art of Poetry series. This excerpt is provided by way of a backdrop to Dutton’s poem which appears below.

The Paris ReviewSpring-Summer 1965, Number 34

Soon after my arrival in Moscow I took advantage of my father’s acquaintance with the poet and telephoned him. I invited him to have tea with me one afternoon and also mentioned that my father had requested an inscribed volume of his poems. Yevtushenko accepted my invitation and was very friendly on the telephone, but I gathered that he found my father’s request naïve. “Olga Vadimovna,” he said, “clearly you are a newcomer to Moscow. Printings of poetry are sold out at once in our country. The twenty thousand copies of my most recent book of selected poems disappeared in two days. Not a single copy left. But, I’ll recite some of my new verse to you,” he added with warmth.

 

Would You Be Yevtushenko? – Geoffrey Dutton

Let us now praise poets, famous or infamous,

Whose prices are unquoted at Sotheby’s or the Hotel Drouot,

Who rate no plainclothes men at Parke-Bernet’s,

Whose worksheets are unprompted by Rudy Komon.

Mild fellows, politely turning their backs to you,

Going with any drapes or wall to wall,

Never in Vogue, photographed by daylight crouching,

Paint brush in hand, in elaborately slept-in clothes.

 

Poets, the only incorruptibles left, I praise you,

Whose hands are never mirrored in the Steinway lid,

White and insured for half a million dollars,

But only make scratching sounds on lonely desks

Or scribble lines on scrumpled envelopes from pockets.

 

Whose rights are never sold to MGM

For the price of a happy ending, never Book of the Month,

Never serialized in any of the Heralds, or Readers-Digested,

Never living the modern, exciting way

On TV between harmless armpits and filtered lips.

 

Quiet fellows, putting up your little flowers

(Fertilized by CLF, the only brand,)

Or comfortable in universities avoiding the scent

Of Australia like the dahlia in the old limerick,

At the lathe in the study, making smooth and rounded legs

And not minding there is nothing at all to stand upon them.

 

But if, oh uncorrupted ones, you had the chance,

Bursting from some far country not called free,

With millions for audience, books in hundreds of thousands,

Under TV lights, with an income twice the Prime Minister’s,

Just from poetry,

Would you have the nerve to come out of your alientation

In your old Irish tweeds smelling of exile and cunning,

And in the awful public heat, not regret

The cosy warmth of being untempted and ignored?

 

From Poems Soft and Loud: F W Cheshire, 1967


One response to “poets I’m reading: Would You Be Yevtushenko? by Geoffrey Dutton

  • David Herbert

    I remember going to see Yevtushenko perform – at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. A wonderful night. I can still see him moving – doing a shuffling walk to one of his poems.

    Wow! That would have been a great experience. I’ve just posted one of my favourites of his from back in my student days.

    Like

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