Yevgeny Alexandrovich Yevtushenko--"Cowboy Poet"

By Paul Zarzyski

“A poet’s autobiography is his poetry. Anything else can only be a footnote.”

In January 1995, the distinguished Russian poet, Yevgeny Alexandrovich Yevtushenko honored us with his spirited, yet humble, presence at the eleventh annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, thanks in large part to a dear friend of the Gathering, poet-critic Scott Preston, who extended the invitation to Mr. Yevtushenko. My best recollection is that few of us knew much, if anything at all, about the Russian writer’s work or life. It was our way, however, to delve into his poetry the instant we caught wind that he’d be joining us, and the admiration for his sensibilities was instantaneous; dare I quip that we rolled out the “red” carpet of western hospitality for this literary figure as we had never done before? I only wish I could relay here the many personal recollections of those who also shared the stages, as well as attended the behind-the-scenes jam sessions, private corner-table saloon conversations, and, yes, even a wedding ceremony, with Yevgeny as celebrity witness and Russian-proverb messenger.*** Moreover, I wish I could relay the responses of those hundreds in the audiences, who sat in musical awe of his words delivered with fervor in both English and Russian—especially “our” western women (and certain western men?), who swooned over the tall, lithe beautiful poet-god with his Cossack charisma and charm. What I wish most, however, is that I had a $5.00 poker chip for each captivated (and capsized) woman I witnessed peering into the deep alluring pools of Yevtushenko’s eyes. To this day I still grin when I think about all those tough cowboys kissing good-bye for good the wife or girlfriend, who they thought they knew inside and out, never again being quite the same gal with whom they arrived in Elko!

You bet, we presented, interwoven into our lighter-hearted work, our most "serious,” heart-wrenching, soul-searching sensibilities from the Elko stages (In reflection of Yevgeny’s haunting masterpiece, “Babi Yar,” I read my Holocaust Museum poem, “Shoes.”), after which the oftentimes solemn overall mood magically transitioned to levity in Yevtushenko’s presence. We drank together, we laughed together, we danced together—as if to prove aloud and out in the wide open spaces of the Cowboy West that the crucial human counterpoise/anodyne/antidote to the evil and toxicity of human torment and suffering is indeed poetry, with its aftermath of wisdom and hope and, at times, you bet, redemption and joy.

“together / we extol what the soul knows /
once solaced by poetry—it knows it wants more / poetry!”

Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s death in Tulsa, Oklahoma on Saturday, April 1, 2017, set into domino-effect motion for me a power-grid overload of Cowboy Poetry Gathering reminiscences, not only of our 1995 event, but of 33 year’s worth of close encounters of the ars poetica otherworldly kind coaxed out from behind the humankind / animal-kind / plant-kind / cosmic-kind scrims in Elko. For whatever mysterious reasons, year-after-year, the sacred open range of the west, before the stringing of barbed wire, becomes, for thousands of us in attendance, the open range of the heart and soul and mind rising up out of the creative journey, out of storyline and/or song line, out of imagination, to the wildest Elko Gathering heights. I choose to believe that Yevtushenko felt the presence of this power, and in its midst, embraced his fellow travelers into the passionate and compassionate realms of universal language.  Whatever the catalyst responsible for our coming together so munificently in that minuscule space and time, his presence—his grace, wisdom, humility and wit—narrowed further the finest of spiritual lines between us, and reminded us that we were not, first and foremost, Cowboy Poets of the American west, but rather Human Being poets of the Planet, Earth.

Amen, and R.I.P., Brother Yevgeny.

 

Yevgeny Alexandrovich Yevtushenko--Cowboy Poet

Purring growl of your Russian tongue makes love
to our women, suddenly erumpent and churning
erotic in public. Once they were sweet
cream butter melting to our Dutch oven touch
under slow even-burning coals of mesquite,
ashwood, piñon fires, but now they burn
hot in the flames of pitchwood pine--they sizzle,
smoke, scorch and ruin the cobbler
because of you, Yevgeny. The cold war over
does not mean the heat-seeking
Yevtushenko must strike, but you have
struck Elko like a Cossack Slim Pickins
forking the bomb to earth
in a switch-a-Roosky take on our movie,

Dr. Strangelove. Stalking Siberian tiger,
you prowl the aisles, all perimeter seats
manned by women anxious to be anointed,
transfigured by one droplet of your love-
potion ambrosian spit. I must believe
they adore you merely because
you do not slobber them with Red Man
Tobacco juice, with granules of Copenhagen snuff,
Brown Mule or Skoal. In your baggy corduroy britches
tucked inside reptile-hide boots
like some tinhorn Texan, you capriole from podium,
glide, prance, pivot, swoop, whirl, as if the room
effervesces with pinkish iridescent bubble-
bath bubbles shaped like Cupid hearts
popping to the hot soft guttural
touch of your phonics, of your skinny fingers
sculpting and scripting into sexy metaphor
the palpable air of our women's longing. You tempt them
away from our horse lather and leather pheromones
into the surrealistic--lure
them with your somniloquous lips. How dare you kiss
their thinnest skin, their rice-paper cheeks,
the silken backs of their hands gone limp
to your line's feminine, feline endings
gently penetrating their capillary
yearnings? How dare you
mesmerize us men into applauding
your pilferage? I have caught you red-handed,
Yevgeny! But, how do I indict a fellow knight-
errant from the ivory tower's round table
when so few of us make this crusade? The Cowboy
Coliseum exults and salutes you the Czar-
zyski of Cossack Poetry, while boasting me
The Elko Yevtushenko. My Slavic compadre,
my comrade, my partner-in-rhyme, together
we extol what the soul knows
once solaced by poetry--it knows it wants more
poetry! But it is you who has exposed the sword
as impotent twig in your forest
of Dwarf Birches. You who has led the brigadier
charge of words into battle for all those still
kept silent. Yes! Yevgeny, I shout Yes!
yes, the way to mankind's peace-filled helix
is through the chromosomal Y, its remnant
exiled within all men. Bring it on home,
Yevtushenko--bring us back to the mother world
where your poetry throws open the gates
rolls and buries the barbed wire, bulldozes
the hormonal walls into rubble,
and hoists the white flag that allows us all,
unconditionally, to swoon for you.

(From I Am Not A Cowboy—Dry Crik Press, 1995)