Saturday, November 15, 2008

Stories that are only his to tell

Like most grownups who have lived a bit, I'm difficult to awe. But I was awed to meet Yevgeny Yevtushenko last night. Here is a Russian man who has lived all the way from Stalin through Putin, a poet who has collaborated with Shostakovich, appeared on the cover of TIME Magazine and met most of the poetic luminaries one can name (and many one could not name).

For instance: Robert Frost.

I asked the poet if he would sign one of the many sketches of him I did during his long reading at an absolutely insane event I'll describe at another time. The poet paged through my sketchbook. Alongside each sketch I had written a line from the poem he was performing while I was drawing him. It took me a moment to realize he was not so much choosing which of my sketches he wanted to sign as which of his lines he wanted to sign.

He paused at one sketch, accompanied by a line that I particularly loved. Not sure how it's punctuated as a poem, but here is the gist in prose: "If we want to embrace humanity, we do not have time to embrace our own life." I took it as a beautiful statement of the artist's paradox, why so many who create beauty are so hard to live with. Actually, he had something different in mind.

"That's not my line, actually," he said, in effect explaining why he wasn't signing that sketch, why he wasn't signing that line. "That was something Robert Frost told me. He told me, 'You should not only embrace humanity. You should embrace your wife. Go embrace your wife.'"

Rather than a statement of the artist's paradox, it was actually advice to the artist, from life: embrace a little less humanity, embrace a little more your wife.

Much to my amazement (a feeling I vastly prefer to awe), the poet then leaned into me and ventured into the most unbelievably personal accounting of his own life, of his own loves, of his own wives, words far too personal to print, stories that are only his to tell.


Anonymous said...

so he didn't sign it? he told you his life's story? and didn't sign your book?

.. inspirational nonetheless

I've really got into yevgeny yevtushenko, he is.. a legend.. and HE'S ALIVE! like a living encyclopedia. Wish I could meet him one day, you're lucky.

Confluence City said...

He did, I'll have to post the signed sketches, thanks.