Interviews

Yevgeny Yevtushenko, The Art of Poetry No. 7

Interviewed by Olga Carlisle

The hopes for a general literary revival in Russia, which were so strong in Moscow when I interviewed Boris Pasternak for The Paris Review in 1960, have not been fulfilled—the events following Khrushchev's denunciation of modern art at the Manege show in late 1962* marked the end of these hopes. In 1965, the prevailing mood in Russian intellectual circles is a mixture of impatience and fatigue, yet it is not without a secret intensity. The literary scene is marked by a superficial calm, due to the oppressive (but not repressive) tactics of the authorities; beneath this calm there are men of talent and passion producing often unpublished, but fortunately not always unread, manuscripts.

In 1965, Yevtushenko tells me that he still believes that a renewed Marxism might be reconciled with literary integrity; that the present system is not incompatible with human and artistic growth. This is an uncomfortable position today in Moscow, where a stifling Socialist Realism is the only sanctioned aesthetic doctrine. To hold his own view requires a heroism which has become Yevtushenko's trademark. He needs this heroism, for in the immediate post-Khrushchev era he has against him not only the official dogmatists, but many of his younger followers, who now criticize this leader of only a few years ago as not radical enough.  

I.  

I first met Yevgeny Yevtushenko during that winter of 1960, when many new poetic voices were being heard in Moscow. Stalin had not yet been officially denounced; one still came upon his mask-like effigy here and there. However, people averted their eyes from his portraits and avoided mentioning his name. The existence of concentration camps under the Stalinist regime was unmentioned except in small circles of friends behind closed doors, yet one could sense that everyone was engaged in a kind of private probing, a secret sorting-out of fact from falsehood.

Intellectuals were becoming increasingly conscious of the vacuous climate in which they had been living for so long. In their meetings with me, my new acquaintances sometimes seemed to be breaking through some of their old fears for the first time: the fear of associating with a stranger, of evoking the past, of speaking one's mind. It was a rather awesome atmosphere—but also one filled with an amorphous hopefulness.

At that time Yevgeny Yevtushenko was already well known in Moscow literary circles, but his face and personality were not yet familiar to millions of people in the USSR. and the West. Shortly before my trip, I had read some of his poems in Soviet literary magazines. They were outspoken and threw off a special aura of youthfulness—a kind of swinging, joyful poetic journalism, altogether free of the stock clichés about Soviet life.

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.

I was staying in the center of Moscow, which was then buried under a particularly heavy snowfall. In the somber, enormous Hotel Metropole, I occupied a suite of rooms furnished in Victorian style. It was paneled and heavily curtained in a manner perfectly appropriate to the Metropole's long-standing reputation as an establishment where foreigners and their guests were closely watched by the hotel's personnel, and perhaps even spied upon. But on the late afternoon of Yevtushenko's visit, no sooner had he arrived, removed his overcoat, shaken the snow flakes off his grey astrakhan fur hat and presented me with a large bunch of hothouse lilacs, than my dusky suite brightened noticeably.

Yevtushenko is a very tall, ash-blond young man with a small head atop a long athletic body, pale blue, humorous eyes, a slender nose in a round face, and an open manner that was startling in the Moscow of those days. Oblivious of the oppressive surroundings, he sat down and without preamble talked about Russian poetry. He talked of himself, of the great poet of the twenties, Mayakovsky, and, at length, of contemporary Soviet poets. His generosity toward his fellow poets struck me at once; he named many, praising their poems, quoting whole stanzas of some: “Voznesenky and Akhmadulina are our most promising poets,” he said. “Ahmadulina is in the great Russian tradition of women poets, of Akhmatova and Tsvetaeva. This is the tradition of high, unadulterated lyricism. She is my wife,” he said, smiling, “and you must meet her. Alas, I myself belong to a less exalted poetic tradition. My verse is usually dictated by contemporary events, by sudden emotions—but such is the nature of my talent . . . when I am deeply moved, I am prompted to pour my feelings out at once in verse.” As he spoke, Yevtushenko got up, moved around the room, sat in turn in every one of various overstuffed armchairs, settling eventually on the dark-blue velvet settee, his long legs, crossed, stretched far into the room. But soon he stood up again to recite a poem of his own, one of several dedicated to Mayakovsky:  

What is it destroyed Mayakovsky,

Put a revolver in his hand?

To him with his great voice, his nobility,

If only there had been offered some tenderness.

—Living people are such a nuisance

Tenderness is for those safely dead.  

In the large sitting room—lit only by a desk lamp—he was an eccentric presence whose every movement was magnified in a play of huge shadows on the walls. He recited, his pointed profile so curiously at odds with his round face and high cheekbones, his long hands punctuating the lines with occasional broad gestures. He recited with theatrical dash, and his sonorous voice gave life to the poems, disguising their occasional thinness under a wave of emotion. His voice filled the room as he looked over my head to an imaginary distance, creating in me an illusion of being in a vast auditorium among rows and rows of rapt listeners.

He recited from memory a long fragment of a poem he especially liked called, “An Ugly Girl,” by the older poet Zabolotsky. Like his own poem to Mayakovsky, it is a plea for greater kindness in everyday life. Yevtushenko sat down, there was silence, then he spoke again in a passionate crescendo of statements: “The need to restore warmth to people's lives is our most imperative task. This alone can save us, save the whole planet. And, too, the Russian people have suffered too long. It is up to us to do something about this now. To create a climate of kindness, to let people open up and flower again. How will we ever make up for the injustice, the stupidity, and the blood if we don't start now? There is nothing in our Communist society to prevent this flowering, quite the contrary; but first we must conquer our inner fears . . . Many poets have done this, there is nothing blocking their inspiration any longer: all the great themes of our times are theirs. The prose writers have a harder time. Russian prose has suffered from years of stifling censorship, which affected poetry less insofar that it circulates orally with the greatest of ease. However, there are several promising prose writers in my generation: Dudintsev's New Year Tale shows clearly that he has matured since the days of Not by Bread Alone. Then there is Yury Kazakov whom you should read at once: in my opinion he is the best prose writer of the younger generation. He writes in a renewed, yet deeply Russian tradition, that of Anton Chekhov: compassion is his theme . . .”

Disdaining detailed explanations, Yevtushenko expected me to understand, perhaps to share his convictions, which he expressed in flowing sentences full of old-fashioned metaphors. Yet for all his rhetoric, he wasted no time on conversational amenities. He seemed possessed by an urge to get directly to the truth, and in this he reminded me a little of a New York beatnik. “We have entered a new age. In the name of communism we are looking for truth—in ourselves, in others. We often find it in simpler people,” he added, voicing a traditional Russian conviction. “Truth is as delicate as a tender plant. It has survived a harsh winter and now will grow.”

Yevtushenko was fascinated by the idea of the old Russian intelligentsia, particularly by its spirit of universality. “This spirit,” he said, “the world has to recapture if it is to survive.” He spoke of the birth of a new intelligentsia in the USSR: “It is like trying to catch a flow of water in the palm of your hand,” he said. “Most of it flows out but a little is retained in the cup of the hand. This is happening now. We and our children will eventually retain this little amount of water as against the mainstream—but of course the ever-increasing mainstream is our first concern. The fact that the Soviet government has been able to open the world of good books to the masses of people gives us faith in the future of Russia . . .”

Throughout our conversation—which at times seemed to me a sort of morality play—Yevtushenko speaking in the name of a dynamic and purified Soviet Union and I taking the part of the West—he would return to the problem of discovering unifying ideas which would ensure happiness and peace to Russia and the rest of the world. I had the feeling that through me, he wanted to be heard by Western intellectuals. He was intensely curious about Western intellectual life, the latest movements in painting and writing, and asked many questions about the Beat poets and the New York action painters.

Tea was brought and our conversation turned to the special role of poetry in present-day Russia. Yevtushenko spoke of the huge, spellbound crowds who listened to the young poets, of fifty thousand copies of printings of their works sold out in a day (not to be reprinted until the Plan, rather than the demand, dictated). I was never to hear him so eloquent about it as on this first tea-drinking meeting. At a moment of increasing political tolerance he was himself just sizing up the power of poetry—more specifically his own poems—and of his own personality. The force of verse expressing the long bottled-up emotions of a crowd was then a relatively new discovery to him. At that time, through an ever-growing number of public readings given by himself and other young poets, poetry was just beginning to carry a promise of honesty all over Russia: it was the first wedge to be driven into a monolithic system of stereotyped ideas and reactions.

Yevtushenko was in the process of becoming a national symbol: the denunciation of Stalinism was being initiated at the level of poetry. By the end of my long conversation with him, I knew I had heard a persuasive public voice, a spokesman for a whole generation. Here was someone bigger and brighter than life, but also a kind of conventional romantic hero: Yevtushenko imitated Mayakovsky, or rather an image coined by Mayakovsky—that of a flamboyant, proletarian young poet of the Revolution. The emphatic directness of his whole style gave great weight to whatever he said, even if the flamboyance was something of a pose, a deliberate game. For Yevtushenko has a special talent for improvisation in real life as in his poetry; when he chooses to, he can write a poem on a designated theme in one afternoon.

I remember on each of my subsequent encounters with him displays of his sparkling imaginativeness. Usually the center of attention, he instinctively recognized the dramatic possibilities in situations, in modern provocative ideas, and seized on them avidly, as actor, as poet, intent on giving, through his personality, a memorable stamp to ephemeral events. He acknowledges this bent for performance, relating it to Pasternak's, who “nobly acted out his life” (Pasternak, Hamlet), though Yevtushenko's acting is more of a conscious effort, more studied than Pasternak's ever was. In Leningrad later that winter, drinking champagne among friends and making a marvelous, elaborate toast to the glory of Pushkin, whose city we were then visiting: “To Pushkin, who smells of snow and champagne . . .” One year later in New York I saw him at an academic reception where, after reciting his breezy, optimistic, “On a Bicycle,” he answered many thorny political questions, disarming the rather hostile, solemnly anti-Soviet audience with his suave shrewdness. In a taxicab in Moscow in the carefree spring of 1962, he recited his “Monologue of the Beatniks.” Four of us were on our way to the Moscow Artists' Union where, as a result of the relaxed political mood of that period, Yevtushenko's friend, the painter Yury Vasiliev, was to speak on his ideas about experimentation in art. The “Monologue of the Beatniks” electrified Yevtushenko's audience of five, including the taxicab driver who pulled momentarily against the curb, “so that I may fully taste the beauty of art without endangering your lives,” as he explained it. The not overly sophisticated Russian rhymes sounded terrific as he recited:  

. . . The twentieth century dumbfounded us.

Lies were heavy as taxes.

Like dandelion seeds

Ideas blew away from living breath . . .  

And our hands laughed applauding

And our feet grinned and danced . . .  

II.  

In Moscow during the spring of 1962 I saw Yevtushenko often. Moscow had undergone great changes since my first visit there. It was a gayer, busier city, now hard to get around in. Muscovites struggled energetically for the available taxis, whose fares had been lowered. People seemed better off than they had been in the winter of '59-'60. A holiday atmosphere prevailed for several weeks: that year, the first of May celebration and Orthodox Easter fell within a few days of each other. The weather was warm. Moscow had been invaded by shoppers from out of town. Peasant women carried shopping bags bursting with the staples purchased from well-stocked Moscow stores—everything needed to prepare the traditional Easter paskha and kulich. The women looked as if they came out of the depths of Russia, with their kerchiefs and wide skirts and round faces. It was very much of a political occasion, too: Lenin's portraits were to be seen everywhere, the city was hung with innumerable red and pale-blue flags. The two celebrations didn't seem incompatible though, quite the contrary: most Muscovites were planning their weekend so as to make the most of both festivities.

As friendly and open as ever, Yevtushenko now glowed with success: he was the semi-official spokesman of the liberally minded youth. He had traveled to the United States, to Europe, and as a Pravda correspondent to Cuba, where he had been befriended by Fidel Castro; it was rumored that he was on the eve of being admitted to the Party. He had been divorced from the brilliant, mercurial poetess, Bella Akhmadulina, and was now happily married to blue-eyed Galya. Galya, slightly older than Yevtushenko, is a poised, intelligent brunette who has the reputation in Moscow of having first-rate taste in literary matters.

Yevtushenko and Galya had just moved into a flat situated in a large new complex of buildings planned expressly for members of the Writers' Union and their families. It is far from the center of town, along the wide Kiev highway, in a fast-growing new district where tall brick developments are erected next to old suburban log houses. The area hadn't been landscaped yet, the dug-up streets were still unnamed. Inside the buildings, the apartments were not yet numbered.

The Yevtushenkos' place was already decorated in a particular Moscow fashion: a dash of contemporary Scandinavian and a little folklore—lovely Ukrainian ceramic toys—are mixed with objects which seem out of the 1920s, armchairs full of nonfunctional angles and complicated geometric patterns. All in all, the effect was gay and hospitable.

These were hectic days for the poet and his wife: they were about to leave for London on an official tour. The apartment was the scene of constant comings and goings: Galya was packing, the telephone which had just been connected rang incessantly. Friends of the Yevtushenkos dropped in to say goodbye. Many came to look at their collection of paintings. Yevtushenko, who is very proud of this collection, had just finished hanging it. Like the apartment's decor, it had a vague 1920's look, with a majority of rather crude surrealistic works by Moscow painters, but some good painting also. There was a handsome, monumental canvas by Nikhonov, of men playing cards; a set of working drawings by the sculptor Ernst Neizvestny, strong and expressionistic; and several competent abstractions that Yevtushenko had brought back from Cuba.

Despite this rush Yevtushenko agreed to be interviewed for The Paris Review. I had dinner at the Yevtushenkos' on the evening set for the interview. It was still daylight when we sat down to a supper of steak and small, ripe tomatoes, the latter being one of Yevtushenko's favorite foods. There was a huge platter of them and they matched the bright decor created by the versatile Yury Vasiliev, who had used painted wooden spoons and Ukrainian popular motifs to relieve the standardized proportions of the kitchen where we ate. Through the window, a smell of cheremukha came into the kitchen (this is the alder blossom which appears so often in Russian poetry, and whose heavy smell was unknown to me until that spring). The sun was slowly setting behind a landscape of foamy green trees and huge construction cranes.

The Yevtushenkos were in an excellent mood. We celebrated the occasion with champagne. Thus, like many of Yevtushenko's undertakings, the interview was something of a glamorous improvisation and was preceded by much animated conversation and elaborate toasts, an important part of festive Russian dining. Finally, when the table was cleared and Galya was packing in the next room, Yevtushenko and I moved into the living room. The poet's desk stood there, an elaborate Scandinavian design with rounded lines, livened by a huge photograph of Hemingway in his middle years and an inscribed portrait of Castro—two bearded deities presiding over our exchange. We continued to drink the sweet, mellow Soviet champagne.

Yevtushenko declined to answer those questions which particularly intrigued me then, about international trends in literature—or the possible correspondences between certain Soviet poets and the younger generation of American writers. But he was obviously delighted to answer other questions, especially those dealing with art. We were surrounded by works by Vasiliev and Neizvestny and it was about them that Yevtushenko spoke first. Then, as we proceeded with the interview, he sat down at his desk and typed out his answers, sometimes interrupting himself to recite a poem which emphasized the point he wanted to make. He was relaxed and gay, getting up at times to walk around the room and look out of the window, displaying the same restless energy that I remembered from my first meeting with him.

“To me, Ernst Neizvestny is the most talented sculptor at work today in the USSR. Neizvestni is a sculptor in a class with Henry Moore. Yet Ernst is only thirty-eight years old, and he has grown in an all-Russian artistic atmosphere. His works are an excellent example of a completely centered, yet outwardly scattered, approach to art. This is disconcerting to a Western viewer: you have come to value a superficial, smooth unity of style too highly, Neizvestny is a Realist in the grand sense of this word. In art, I see as realism whatever is directly, imperiously dictated by life. Neizvestny's most realistic works, though, always contain an element of the fantastic, a dimension in depth, while his imaginary works retain an element of realism. Picasso appeals to me for the same reason: his outward eclecticism is in fact the manifestation of the highest kind of concentration. Picasso is a fire, his flames may reach in all directions, but his essence is always one.

“As for Vasiliev, he has the same impulse as Picasso, he wants to try everything—oil, ceramic, metal, mosaic, stone . . . He takes chances, he is not afraid of failures; even when he frankly imitates, he manages to remain himself. His energy is astonishing. Although he might not belong to the main thread of modern art, he is a kind of knot holding this thread which was cut during the ‘cult of personality’ era. Don't you think there is great merit in being a knot, even though a crude one, making a courageous attempt at holding together broken ends?” (Yevtushenko said this sensing that I was no great admirer of much of Soviet avant-garde painting, which is full of rather obvious symbols out of the Surrealist era.) Knowing that Yevtushenko was interested in art in that peculiar Russian fashion which considers painting as an extension of literature rather than a world of its own, and wishing to avoid an argument—for we had a running disagreement on the subject of painting—I asked him what he thought about the future of Soviet poetry.

“Happy changes are taking place in our lives right now,” he answered, “and they are felt in many realms. In the realm of literature, it is in poetry that they manifest themselves most clearly. There are many new poetic trends in Russia now, like many horses galloping and racing each other, they overturn the mossy cobblestones of past thinking . . .

“Some people of course continue to think cobblestone thoughts, but in my opinion to view Russian poetry with irony and skepticism today is almost a crime. Where else in the world does poetry have the impact it has in the Soviet Union? Where else do poets express their country's deepest aspirations?”

Yevtushenko then told me about the Day of Poetry, a yearly festival which has progressively grown in scope, and which is marked now by the publication of an annual anthology of the poets participating.

“When some years ago the poet Vladimir Lugovskoy proposed that a public recital of poetry be held every year in the fall, not everyone believed in its success; but the Day of Poetry is now part of Russian life, an institution, an occasion for popular rejoicing . . . On this day, poets climb on counters in bookstores, they sell their autographed books, they read their verse and meet their readers. This takes place all over the country, but in Moscow it has a special amplitude. That evening, Muscovite poets assemble near Mayakovsky's statue and read again, this time in front of a huge crowd of eight or ten thousand people. The listeners stand for hours on end, even though the October wind blows hard. There have been years when snow fell that day, but the crowd did not disband; it stood listening in the storm.”

I ventured to say that lack of popular entertainment might partly account for the following the poets commanded.

“No, no,” protested Yevtushenko, “those readings are not organized frivolity. No artistic activity as esoteric as poetry can have a massive following unless it has something mature to say. Go to a Moscow bookstore, try to buy the poetic works of Akhmatova, those of Bella Akhmadulina or Boris Slutsky or Andrei Voznesensky. The booksellers will only shrug their shoulders at you . . .

“Two factors in my opinion may explain this. First, the poets I just named are true poets—the time when courtiers flattered their master through verse writing and called themselves poets is altogether over. But we also have in the U.S.S.R. many excellent readers, attentive and discriminating. This is not to say that the poets I have just mentioned (and many others, excellent poets whose names would mean nothing to Westerners) adapt themselves to the taste of the readers, however cultivated this taste may be. On the contrary, those poets contribute to the sharpening of public taste, they form and widen this taste, and this is their most important function. Incidentally, all the poets I speak of could not be more different from one another. Voznesensky has a kind of ‘atomic style’ full of breathtaking, rhythmic pirouettes. Akhmadulina is restrained, she is a painstaking jewelsmith of words, yet she is lyrical, completely of our time. Boris Slutsky, on the other hand, is altogether deprived of atomic surge, he is a stonecutter, a poet as virile as a stonecutter. Martynov can be cryptic, an inventor of charades. In his verse, profound philosophical themes are hidden under a graceful melodic disguise.

“Among the older poets, Alexander Tvardovsky* stands out, but now he moves us less than he used to. In my opinion he is a magnificent poet, but his verse lacks magic— however, such is his poetic gift. Under our eyes, what Mayakovsky once dreamt of is taking place:  

Only one thing to me is important:

That there be poets,

Many excellent, different poets!  

“Traditionally, Russian poetry probes those questions which move us most, from intricate political queries to fine psychological points . . . Russian poetry was never exclusively descriptive, nor psychological, nor didactic, nor melodic. (I speak now about good poets only; they alone are representative.) Russian poetry is made up of all those elements, but it also usually contains a measure of serious political thought.

“Without exception, all our better poets today continue this tradition. This is why they are loved. This is why windowpanes burst in the public meeting halls where poetry recitals are held. The militia has trouble containing the crowds eager to hear the poets. These crowds are intense, responsive, often enthusiastic. But there is nothing subversive or scandalous in those readings, as is sometimes suggested . . . If there are people to whom interest in poetry seems scandalous, we will not bother with them. Such 'scandals' are the people's choice.

“Our audience is not a hysterical fringe. It is made up of workers, of students, of scientists. We poets feel that their interest and trust in us is in some measure a step forward into the future. We shall try not to disappoint them.”

I asked him who he considered his literary masters.

“I always try to take anything that interests me from anyone—and yet try to remain myself. As you see, I go back to my notion of an eclectic art—yet one solidly centered, innerly held together by the force of one's personality. Let me say, however, that Pushkin is my favorite figure in all of Russian letters. Also I love Blok, Mayakovsky, Pasternak . . . Esenin influenced me. All have helped me in various, often evident ways. I would be happy to know for sure that even one of my own lines will have served a poet in the future. In fact, this is how I would state my artistic ambition: to be able to write such a line . . . Incidentally, I love Walt Whitman. I also have a predilection for Paul Verlaine because of the melodic aspect of his verse. It may seem quaint to you but I once wrote a poem under the direct influence of ‘Chanson d’Automne.’”

What about contemporary Western influences? I inquired.

“As I see it, Hemingway is the strongest influence here,” said Yevtushenko. “Early works by Remarque are also widely read. Saint-Exupéry has reached us only lately, one finds elements suggested by him in contemporary Soviet writing. Catcher in the Rye is a great success. We are very much open to Western writers, and we may occasionally borrow their techniques. These borrowings are only sporadically successful; they often turn out to be sterile. On the other hand they sometimes lead to something organic, they help us grow.

“One Soviet poet for example is much influenced by the poetic intonation of Jacques Prévert but in his verse this intonation is transformed into something entirely new and Russian. In Voznesensky there is a curious mixture of the Rimbaud of Le Bateau Ivre with the clash and dissonances of an Allen Ginsberg, but Voznesensky remains a completely original poet . . .”

There was a ring at the door. Friends had arrived to wish the Yevtushenkos a good journey, bringing presents and several bottles of champagne. This meant the end of my interview, and though we had several more conversations in 1962, and again in 1965, Yevtushenko did not substantially alter the opinions expressed in this “formal” interview.

We stayed on and on, talking into the spring night, the windows open on a dark, balmy Moscow. The conversation dealt with Russia and the West, with poetry and painting. Yevtushenko's visitors were artists and poets, and they all rejoiced in his good fortune at making the trip; I was struck by the great yearning for intensified exchanges with foreign countries on the part of these young Russians. Now, three years later, nothing is done to allow visits abroad by the most talented Soviet artists and painters; instead, “official”-minded and unimaginative writers are all too often sent on cultural exchanges.  

III.  

Yevtushenko, who has deliberately tried to overcome Soviet cultural provincialism, has time and again reiterated his faith in the existence of a “community of good people” throughout the world, regardless of their political or national allegiances. In the winter of 1962-1963, an official campaign was launched to squelch this view, which is held to be unorthodox from the Communist standpoint. In an effort to discredit Yevtushenko in the eyes of his young Soviet contemporaries, among whom he is so popular, another prestigious young man was called on: the cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. Gagarin denounced Yevtushenko's want of patriotism in publishing abroad his autobiography without the sanction of the Writers' Union. Needless to say, the aviator's voice was not strong enough to smother Yevtushenko's. The young generation led by Yevtushenko has been heard across the Soviet Union; it has thrilled the Soviet public; this thrill is still reverberating across the country. The young poets have become known internationally, showing just how anachronistic the wall of Soviet cultural isolationism is.

Yevtushenko has demonstrated something else, too—unexpected not only in Russia but anywhere today: that a dashing young poet, speaking for freedom, might command the same sort of popular audience now as Lord Byron and Victor Hugo did in the days of Romanticism. Like those two poets, Yevtushenko's power is to be found in his whole personality, rather than in literary achievement alone.

Yevtushenko has helped earn the possibility of surviving, for himself and other members of his generation. If it were not for the years of his cunning yet generous public performance he and those he has praised might all have been crushed in the 1962-1963 drive against nonconformity in Soviet art.

Yet, because of the unchanging, ideological dogmas prevailing in Russia today, and also because of his own artistic limitations, Yevtushenko is unable to satisfy fully the Soviet public's urge for freedom of expression, a freedom which he himself was the first to initiate. Such is often the fate of innovators. In 1965, a new, more demanding generation of readers often finds that he is too superficial in his themes, too much in love with his own image, too ready to alter a line at the demand of an editor.

But no one has yet replaced him on the literary scene, not even Andrei Voznesensky, an excellent poet of the same generation, who is both a close friend and a rival. Yevtushenko's leadership does, however, show signs of fading. In the uncertain atmosphere now prevailing in Moscow, there seems on the part of the public an ever-increasing urge for truth. And on the part of the functionaries who control literary matters, an increasing fear of it.  

 

* Nikhonov and Neizvestny were the principal targets of official wrath at the Manege show in December, 1962.  

* Tvardovsky is one of the editors of the liberally inclined literary periodical, Novy Mir and the author of the anti-Stalinist satirical poem, Tyorkin in the Other World, published in 1963.


Author photograph by Nancy Crampton.