Remembering Yevtushenko

Yevgeny-YevtushenkoRobin Milner-Gulland at the Times Literary Supplement:

Yevgeny (known to all as “Zhenya”) Yevtushenko had remarkable presence; people who met him, or just heard him speak, were unlikely to forget the experience. It wasn’t simply a matter of his height and good looks, or even of his rhetorical skills; he carried a certain authority, was sharp-witted and could think on his feet. He talked uninhibitedly about serious subjects, but often had a tongue-in-cheek jocularity, with an ear for gossip and an eye for the more absurd, sometimes dreadful, aspects of Soviet life – and of life in general. He was (as he well knew) a terrific performer – from childhood on, as he recounts in the moving poem “Weddings”, describing the sad wartime weddings where he had to dance as part of the entertainment (“Dance! they cry out in despair, and I dance”).

In the early 1960s Zhenya was invited by the British Council to the UK; among the readings he gave was one at the Cambridge Union. We had a good lunch beforehand with Kingsley Amis – Zhenya was always keen to meet writers, preferably in convivial circumstances. At the Union he recited his work by heart, while Peter Levi and I read our corresponding translations. I noticed that in one poem – I think the famous “Babiy Yar” – Zhenya forgot a chunk of his own text. There I witnessed the true professional at work: not missing a beat, he transposed his own lines and got back on track.

more here.