Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Review of Yevtushenko's Bratsk Station

My review of Yevtushenko's Bratsk Station on Amazon:

Yevtushenko is one of the most well-known of modern Russian poets in the West. He became famous as a supposedly "dissident" poet by speaking out against the Stalin regime. But Bratsk Station suggests the quality of his poetry doesn't match his fame.

The structure of the poem presents us with an absurdity: the casting of an Egyptian pyramid, one of the ancient 7 wonders of the world, and one of the most enduring and fascinating symbols ever created, as the "bad guy" and a hydroelectric power station as the "good guy"! Bratsk Station is composed of a number of short individual poems. The distinguishing trait of all of them is the absence of any depth of thought or emotion that is the hallmark of great poetry. It is all on the surface, as if Yevtushenko is either incapable of diving deep or he fears he will lose his audience if he does. The point of it all is to promote Soviet socialism. Lenin, demonstrably one of the 20th century's most evil men, is glorified as some kind of demigod. Here are a couple examples of what this poem attempts to achieve:

From the poem "Party Card"

If the bullet is to reach the heart
It must go through the Party card.

The Party card is a second heart,
Indeed, the heart is a second Party card.

From the poem "Nushka"

I am Nushka Burtova, I mix concrete.
I produce twice my daily quota.

From the poem "In a Moment of Weakness"

I believe,
as in redemption,
that all suffering mankind
will unite
in Lenin.

With the lines quoted above in mind, I often felt as if I were reading comedy rather than an attempt at serious epic poetry. This sledgehammer communist propaganda was written by a man viewed as some sort of dissident, but the only dissent in Bratsk Station is the kind that the Soviet authorities wanted to read, and Yevtushenko delivered.

We might try to give Yevtushenko the benefit of the doubt by suggesting that perhaps something is lost in the translation and that the original Russian is on a much higher level, but it just can't be. His themes are so superficial and so deliberately ingratiating to his communist government, that these lines must be viewed as those of either a hopeless mediocrity or a poetic slave avoiding the threatened whips of his masters. Yevtushenko built his poem around the idea that slaves were forced to create the pyramid while the Russians who built the Bratsk Station are masters of their fate, although to any disinterested party reading the poem nowadays, the Russian people were the slaves and their Soviet masters were the equivalent of the ancient Egyptian overseers with their whips. It is not easy to find a difference between the slaves of ancient Egypt and those of the Soviet Union.

Even Rosh Ireland, in the Introduction, gently apologizes for the impression these poems leave in the reader that Yevtushenko is "servant to the publicist," by suggesting his other writings are more complex, although that is debatable.

Bratsk Station is bad poetry created by an unfortunate poet determined to satisfy the expectations of a totalitarian Soviet regime. But Yevtushenko's enthusiasm for "the revolution" seems a bit more intense than necessary to "encourage the applause."

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