Saturday, November 15, 2008

My Russian poet St. Louis lawyer cop birthday bash

I am getting a controversial Russian poet for my birthday - and I am getting him delivered to a Missouri winery by a St. Louis lawyer who makes his money representing cops.

It all started when a local political operative and attorney tipped me to a source. He said he knew a lawyer who takes a lot of cop cases and often has the drop on things that are coming down the pike.

I called the guy. I met with him for a beer. He had the drop on a lot of things. Before long, sure enough, they came on down the pike.

News editors and reporters (I'm a bit of both) feast on guys like that, so I saved his number on my cell phone and he because one of the people I call once a week or more, just to see what has him riled up, worried, or curious.

I don't always see a story where he sees a story, and I can't always make the stories I see work in the context of a weekly newspaper that caters to the African-American community, but we have been of sufficient use to one another that a certain amount of trust - and, I'd like to think, fondness - has developed.

Then an invitation comes in the mail. His law firm is celebrating an anniversary on November 15th. It's at a winery in Missouri, not so far from my house in St. Louis County, and myself and my wife are invited as his guests; we won't have to pay for a thing.

November 15th happens also to be the anniversary of my nativity. This starts to sounds like an interesting way to spend my birthday - talking to lawyers and cops at a winery, where liquor will loosen the whistles and tales will be told. And that is when I fell out my chair.

As I continued to read down the letter, it said there would be a poetry reading at the event. Now, I'm a poetry obsessive. I read poetry, write poetry, translate poetry, set poetry to music, adapt poetry to film, sketch poets, organize art invitationals based on poetry, and am attempting to score a poem for sword, bellydancer and birthday cake -- all within the context of an arts org, Poetry Scores, that translates poetry into other media.

Lawyers, in my experience, do none of these things. Lawyers, in St. Louis, at any rate, seldom stoop to poetry. It would, in particular, be the last thing I would expect of a St. Louis lawyer whose bread and butter are city cops.

And, then, get this: the poet is not just any local poet. It's Yevgeny Yevtushenko! This is a legendary Russian poet with roots deep in the Soviet experience, an international figure of widespread fame and, even, notoriety, since some see him as a fiercely independent critic, and others as a double agent who has made his own complicated peace with any number of dangerous Soviet and Russian regimes.

Yevgeny Yevtushenko! At a Missouri winery! To celebrate the anniversary of a St. Louis law firm! On the anniversary of my birth! At the invite of a lawyer who represents cops!

Is that Confluence City, or what? And will it not be a fertile space for the meeting of double agents, who can be counted on to give up their secrets in the future, even if it's only when it, of course, benefits them?

I was so happy, I took my battered old anthology of Russian poetry and read it in line as I waited to vote for Barack Obama absentee.

Happy Birthday to me and to my new favorite law firm.

Here is a taste of Yevtushenko from a large internet archive of his work in translation:


Girl Beatnik
By Yevgeny Yevtushenko

This girl comes from New York
but she does not belong.
Along the neon lights, this girl
runs away from herself.
To this girl the world seems odious--
a moralist who’s been howled down.
It holds no more truths for her.
Now the "twist" alone is true.
With hair mussed and wild,
in spectacles and a coarse sweater,
on spiked heels she dances
the thinnest of negations.
Everything strikes her as false,
everything -- from the Bible to the press.
The Montagues exist, and the Capulets,
but there are no Romeos and Juliets.
The trees stoop broodingly,
and rather drunkenly the moon
staggers like a beatnik sulking
along the milky avenue.
Wanders, as if from bar to bar,
wrapped in thought, unsocial,
and the city spreads underneath
in all its hard-hearted beauty.
All things look hard -- the roofs and walls,
and it’s no accident that, over the city,
the television antennae rise
like crucifixions without Christ.

(Translated by George Reavey.)

Image of the poet as a young man (beekeeper) from some strange, wonderful website. Or here he is on the cover of TIME Magazin.


Torchandtonic said...

Nice time stamp of 4:44 on this entry .......happy birthday!


Brett said...

Happy Birthday to you!

Confluence City said...

Thanks Brett for the comment I deleted accidentally!