World-renowned Russian poet visits Elliott school

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World-renowned Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko spoke about his poetry and recited some of his work at an event held in the Elliott School of International Affairs Wednesday night.

Yevtushenko spoke about how his life experiences influenced his work, and said writing helped him make sense of the atrocities he witnessed while living in the Soviet Union.

“There will never be a time where people will not need poetry,” Yevtushenko said. “Poetry has great power to separate people from such hopelessness.”

Yevtushenko read his poetry in Russian, and three GW students, Thomas Keegan, Jennifer Hopkins and Michael Abts, read verses of the poems in English.

At one point, Yevtushenko translated some of Hopkins’ work on the spot into Russian, his native language.

Yevtushenko spoke about his appreciation for the sacrifices investigative journalists in Russia made who were killed by members of the Mafia, and dedicated one of his poems to them.

He also gave a dedication to American poets who influenced his work and who he said accepted him even though he was from the Soviet Union. Yevtushenko was friends with poets such as Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg, John Steinbeck, Arthur Miller, John Updike, John Cheever, Leonard Bernstein, Louis Armstrong and Stanley Kramer.

Yevtushenko also gave his perspective on historical events such as the Kitchen Debate between Former U.S. President Richard Nixon and Soviet Leader Nikita Khrushchev, and said how Coca Cola was considered to be a symbol of capitalist poison in Russia during that time.

Russian professor Peter Rollberg invited Yevtushenko to the event and opened with an acknowledgment of his prestigious 60-year-long career as a poet.

Eugene Gelfgat, a freshman majoring in international affairs, said he was born in Russia and thought the event was amazing, truly inspiring and touching.

“The passion, enthusiasm he showed and the powerful tone he used were unreal, I have never heard poetry been read like that before,” Gelfgat said.

He added, “He was so good on capturing everyone’s attention in a setting like that I truly felt that he had a profound connection to what was happening in his country and he showed a great amount of bravery in expressing himself and his views on the Soviet Union, especially during Perestroika and the war on Afghanistan; He’s a true patriot of Russia and an amazing guy.”

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