5 reasons why Yevtushenko deserved a Nobel Prize

In recent years, Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko tended to be evasive when asked which Russian poet long deserved to be awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature. The answer must have been obvious, and his self-confidence was not unfounded.
Yevgeny Yevtushenko
Yevgeny Yevtushenko. Source: Pavel Smertin/TASS

1. A poet in Russia is more than a poet

Yevtushenko is one of those rare poets whose lines have become part of the fabric of a living language, and have turned into popular sayings: “A poet in Russia is more than a poet;” "Do Russians want war;" "Over Babi Yar there are no memorials;" "This is what's happening to me: My old friend doesn't visit me." Native speakers of Russian utter these phrases without thinking where they come from, but they all have one author – Yevgeny Yevtushenko.

2. He was known both in artistic and academic circles

At the same time, Yevtushenko is well known abroad, which is quite rare for speakers of a great (in terms of the number of people who consider it native) but not globally widespread language. Since the 1960s, Yevtushenko travelled the world, performing in huge halls (on one such occasion he was seen by Pasolini, who immediately invited Yevtushenko to play Christ in his "The Gospel according to St. Matthew" – so impressed he was by how the blue-eyed young man from Siberia captivated the audience. Starting in 1991, Yevtushenko's personal and professional circumstances were such that he spent almost the whole academic year, from September to May, in the U.S., at the University of Tulsa. This made him more recognizable not only in artistic, but also in academic circles, from where nominations for the Nobel Prize usually come.

3. Yevtushenko completed several poetry anthologies

Despite a certain jealousy, which is inevitable in artistic circles, even the most vociferous detractors of Yevtushenko's poetics and personality admitted that he was truly passionate about Russian poetry. He knew by heart a huge number of poems (not only by his friends, but also by people who were not close to him either personally and artistically), and he had devoted his whole life to the promotion of Russian poetry and even to its propaganda. Yevtushenko's monumental anthology, Verses of the Century (1995), for the first time brought back to life poems by many emigrants who had been banned and therefore forgotten in the USSR. More recently, Yevtushenko completed an even more monumental five-volume collection called Ten Centuries of Russian Poetry (2013).

4. He packed stadiums with poetry lovers 

Poet Yevtushenko performing. Source: Yury Pilipenko/Global Look PressPoet Yevtushenko performing. Source: Yury Pilipenko/Global Look Press

The Nobel Prize in Literature is awarded not for a specific work, although sometimes that is implied (as was the case with Pasternak and Doctor Zhivago) but "on the basis of merit and achievement." Yevtushenko's merit is indisputable: Long before Bob Dylan he brought lovers of poetry back to the stadiums during live orations in front of huge crowds, showing that making and, most importantly, understanding poetry is open not only to highbrow residents of university campuses and regulars at small artistic cafes, but also to masses.

5. The last poet of the 1960s generation

At the same time, Yevtushenko is not a loner, not a random fluctuation, but a representative of a vast and fruitful literary trend, like Akhmatova ("The Silver Age") or V.S. Naipaul ("postcolonial literature"). A Nobel Prize to Yevtushenko would have been a Nobel Prize to all Soviet poets of the 1960s generation: Voznesensky, Rozhdestvensky, Akhmadulina; just as a Nobel Prize to Akhmatova would have been also a Nobel Prize for Tsvetaeva, Mandelstam, Gumilev... In the 2010s, when Yevtushenko remained the last outstanding representative of his generation of poets, that became obvious. But all that time the Nobel Committee thought differently. And now that is final.

Mikhail Viesel is the editor in chief of the Year of Literature portal.

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