From the Iron Curtain to the Stage

Photograph: Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, right, assisted by Professor Kenneth Koch, gave a lively bilingual reading of his work in Miller Theatre. Photo Credit: Joe Pineiro.

Yevgeny Yevtushenko--film director, movie actor, photographer, professor of Russian literature and European cinema at Queens College and the first Russian poet to break the "Iron Curtain" and to recite his poetry in the West--read from his work before a Russian- and English-speaking audience in the Kathryn Bache Miller Theatre on May 1.

The reading was part of the F.W. Dupee Poetry Reading Series, co-sponsored by the School of the Arts Writing Division. He was introduced by poet and professor of English and comparative literature Kenneth Koch, who also presented English translations of his work.

Koch said of the poet, who is known for his political convictions, both inside and outside of his writing: "He seems indifferent to nothing and responsive to everything ... His poems of private feelings are as radical as the others."

Yevtushenko presented, in English and Russian, both prose and poetry, often making large gestures with his arms and whole body and wandering across, and off, the stage as he read and recited his work.

The poems he read included a piece against anti-semitism and facism, and a tribute to the first May Day in Chicago. "This is a great worker's holiday," he said before reading "At the Grave of the First of May."

His poems are filled with unusual images, including that of "a pickled hyena in heavy syrup," as well as political and literary insight. In one poem, he says "The poet in Russia is the image of his own age."

The reading was followed by a champagne reception and book-signing in the lobby.

Columbia University Record -- May 10, 1996 -- Vol. 21, No. 26