One of my Influences: Yevgeny Yevtushenko & his poem “Party Card”

It’s one of the few physical books I carry with me when/wherever I travel, whether I have just a rucksack with my stuff in it or a suitcase: a book of selected poems by Yevgeny Yevtushenko.

From famous poets & poems website, the author bio: “Born in Siberia near Lake Baikal in 1933, Yevtushenko is Russia’s best-known living poet, attracting huge stadium audiences (30,000 at one reading). He has also written essays and toured the world as a speaker, currently spending half of the year teaching at Tulsa University in Oklahoma.

His most recent work is a novel, Don’t Die Before You’re Dead (1991) which follows the Soviet Union from the end of World War II through the early 1990s. Although he was sometimes held in disfavor during the Soviet years (once labeled “the head of the intellectual juvenile delinquents” whose poems were “pygmy spittle”), Yevtushenko has been immensely popular from the early 1960s until the present.”

Although he has more well-known and critiquely acclaimed poems such as Babi Yar, Momento and Epistle to Neruda, this is my favorite. The simplicity of meter and pacing, yet the profound emotion and images envoked always quiets and moves me to contemplation.  It reminds me of the pragmatism needed for survival in extreme circumstance if you are to remain sane and continue to do good and believe in and be able to see good in others…and yourself.

Party Card by Yevgeny Yevtushenko

A shot-up forest full of black holes.
Mind-crushing explosions.
He wants some berries, he wants some berries:
the young lieutenant, lying in his blood.
I was a smallish boy,
who crawled in the long grass till it was dark
and brought him back a cap of strawberries,
and when they came there was no use for them.
The rain of July lightly falling.
He was lying in remoteness and silence
among the ruined tanks and the dead.
The rain glistened on his eyelashes.
There was sadness and worry in his eyes.
I waited saying nothing and soaking,
like waiting for an answer to something
he couldn’t answer. Passionate with silence
unable to see when he asked me,
I took the party card from his pocket.
And small and tired and without understanding
wandering in the flushed and smoking dark,
met up with refugees moving east
and somehow through the terribly flashing night
we travelled without a map, the priest
with his long grey hair and his rucksack,
and me and a sailor with a wounded arm.
Child crying. Horse whinnying.
And answered to with love and with courage
and white, white, the bell-towers rang out
speaking to Russia with a tocsin voice.
Wheatfields blackened round their villages.
In the woman’s coat I wore at the time.
I felt for the party card close to my heart.

My own series of poems written for and inspired by Russia, its history and its many people will be included in my poetry collection CORE, and individually in Sibling Rivalry Press’ Assaracus magazine, which will publish some of my work in 2013.

2 thoughts on “One of my Influences: Yevgeny Yevtushenko & his poem “Party Card”

    • You can find some online. Several years ago, ten or so, there used to be more available. To get all or most of them, I’ve found it was better to buy a copy of a good collection.

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