Invited to participate in the Poetry International Festival, Yevgeniy Yevtushenkotravelled to Cuba. Seductive, congenial and mischievous like an 83-year-old adolescent, the Russian poet “performed” in Havana two months after The Rolling Stones did so, and though his myth is as old and sustained as the British band, and his charisma is not inferior to that of Mick Jagger, his readings did not fill a plaza or a space – as he did so many times in Russia decades ago – but his presence and his voice magnetised the places through which he passed, inscribing a new event on the island this 2016.
The readings by Yevtushenkoin the VillenaRoom of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC) and in the Casa del Alba were different in their stage design and content, since the audiences were different. The first consisted in a collective reading among colleagues; while the second, in a more open space, afforded surprises.
In the Villena Room
What first caught my attention in the Villena Room was the artists’ timid welcome. I was expecting to find a full room and the contrary happened. The Siberian author was the last to speak that evening, after HailiKarahan (Turkey), Barnard Laye (Benin), Alvaro Salvador (Spain) and Pedro de Oráa (Cuba). His first words were a tribute to his wife Masha, present there, to whom he dedicated the reading of a love poem. It was like entering, all of a sudden, a storm: from the confessional tone, almost in a whisper, with which he was speaking he went on to declaim his verses in a torrent, as if he were in the presence of a multitude and had to conquer it. That is how he said his first five quatrains, until he changed his tone, like an anti-climax, and whispered the first verse of the last stanza to later retake the passionate discourse in the three final verses and finish way up when saying: “I love you more than love itself.”
Afterwards Yevtushenkoread a poem in which he abundantly develops irony. It is a text from 2004 full of scathing humour alluding to the social and human situation of the Russian nation in recent decades. The composition in a narrative form, interspersed with dialogues and a diversity of voices, allows for a dramatized reading and shows the wide range of resources of the poet, actor and film director.
At the end of the event the participants were able to purchase a copy of his book Manzanasrobadas (Stolen Apples), have the privilege of having the book signed and dedicated to them and to witness his affable manner, of close friendship, which sets aside the divo’s fame.
In the Casa del Alba
Dressed like a rock star, Yevtushenkowent to the Casa del Alba, in the Capital’s Vedado district, to meet with a public consisting of close to one hundred persons, in which the Russian community predominated. That circumstance marked the reading.
The presence of compatriots drove him to a bilingual reading (Russian and Spanish) of the long dramatic poem “La ejecución de StenkaRazin” (The Execution of StenkaRazin). But it was really difficult for the non-bilingual listeners to follow it that way despite the poet’s expert trade of expressing his texts and the efforts he made to maintain the appropriate rhythm. However, the emotional poetic discourse and the wealth of its content maintained the auditorium on tenterhooks.
To lighten the atmosphere, the writer included in the programme the two poems previously cited: the neoromantic “Teamo mas que a la naturaleza” (I Love You More than Nature)and the satirical “En el paísllamadoMás o Menos” (In the Country Called More or Less), which create a relaxed climate of complicity with the public.
At the close of the event, the reading of the poem of an elegiac tone “La llavedelComandante” (The Key of the Comandante), dedicated to Che Guevara, originally written in Spanish, established a connection with the mural of Latin American icons that Yevtushenkohad behind him. At my side, a young Russian woman was checking the images on her cell phone. There she saved the photo of the famous writer her father must have surely spoken to her about: a poet who performed in the presence of thousands of persons in Moscow and Leningrad when she still had not been born.
I also saved the image of the poet that filled the stadiums like a rock star in the times in which he yearned to be ata rock star concert. But a long time would go by for his dream to come true, and it occurred the same year I was able shake the hand of the writer who evaded the gulag, Stalinism, the hate, and the iron Soviet borders, became a citizen of the world, was applauded by multitudes everywhere and his words were heard by God himself. (2016)
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