Poet opens conference on Russion democracy

by Colin Grey | 11/11/93 6:00am

Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko captivated a capacity crowd at Lowe Auditorium last night with readings from his works.

The recital, followed by a showing of Yevtushenko's film "Stalin's Funeral," opened a conference on "The Future of Russian Democracy," sponsored by the Dickey Endowment.

"We removed Stalin from the mausoleum / But how do we remove Stalin from Stalin's heirs," Yevtushenko read from his poem "Stalin's Heirs," gesturing passionately while his voice first roared through the auditorium and then dropped to a subdued whisper.

Yevtushenko led the struggle against the superficial poetic optimism which followed Stalin's death in 1953, and in the 1960s he toured the U.S. reading his poetry, often in front of thousands of people.

"I think we poets, we cannot push false optimism into human souls, because then we would be pushing you into abysses of pink clouds," Yevtushenko said.

Richard Sheldon, chair of the Russian language and literature department, said Yevtushenko "has always been a poet who has been a spokesman for his generation, the Krushchev generation. So after Stalin's death, the very serious controls began to be lifted."

"Yevtushenko quickly emerged as someone whose poems called for change," Sheldon said.

The conference continues today and Friday, with further presentations by Russian poet Alexander Kushner and Vladimir Lukin, the ambassador of the Russian Federation to the U.S.

Also, a series of panel discussions on the struggle for democracy in Russia are planned for the rest of the week.

"We have a great deal to learn about this from poets and intellectuals like Yevtushenko and Kushner, as well as from the other diverse speakers at this conference," said Professor Martin Sherwin, director of the Dickey Endowment.

Both Russian and English versions of Yevtushenko's poetry were read to the crowd, who alternately laughed at his jokes and were moved by his recitations.

Yevtushenko pointed out the difficulty of translating Russian lyric poetry to English, saying that the poetry loses its musicality.

"Forgive my execrable Siberian accent," he said.

Following the readings of his poem, Yevtushenko showed his 1990 movie "Stalin's Funeral," which starred Vanessa Redgrave.

The film chronicles the funeral of Stalin, when hundreds of mourners were crushed to death lining up to grieve for the dead tyrant.

Both in color and in black and white, it mixed the dramatic stories of characters caught in the frenzy with actual documentary footage from Stalin's funeral.

"Stalin, even dead, he continued to kill people," Yevtushenko said.

"Stalin's Funeral" was never shown commercially in the United States because it was too complicated, Yevtushenko said.

After the film, the presentation ended with a recital of Yevtushenko's most famous poem, "Babi Yar," a plea against anti-Semitism.

Yevtushenko said even today the poem's message holds, as interracial bigotry has begun to resurface around the world.

"I would like very much if this poem would be forgotten as soon as possible," Yevtushenko said.

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