BETWEEN 1967 AND 2005, 684 hour-long episodes of live-action Star Trek and 22 half-hour episodes of the animated series aired on TV. Allowing for commercial breaks, that gives us 521 hours of Star Trek, give or take. Add in the 13 movies, from 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture to Star Trek Beyond in 2016, and you wind up with more than 48 full days of Star Trek—not counting books and comics, which, if you want to argue about canonicity and amount of content, my DMs are open. (Not really.)
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And now the first real look at the long-delayed new show Star Trek: Discovery has finally frontiered. I’m gonna watch that show, too. All 15 hours of it, set to air on the subscription streaming service CBS All Access in the autumn. (When I showed my editor the new trailer, he said, “Sure, but who’s gonna get CBS All Access?” “Me,” I meeped. “For that.”) As a lifelong, devout Trekkie, I hear your concerns about the new show—why did they keep pushing the release? Why did showrunner Bryan Fuller bail for American Gods? What is up with that awful typeface on the intertitle cards?—but like Star Trek itself, I remain hopeful.
In fact, I am fuller of hope now than I have been about any of the movies since the whale one (which I liked). Because Trek’s serialized self, its television self? That’s Trek’s best self.
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The trailer’s visuals combine the shiny, lens-flaring, camera-tilting modes of the JJ Abrams and Justin Lin reboot movies. But that slickness is a sop to non-fans. Give me bulkheads that wobble and actors pretending to fall over when the camera shakes to simulate the loss of inertial dampers after a phaser takes the forward shields down to 30 percent. I mean, I get it: The structural rigidity of epic-sci-fi movies turns pretty much every Trek film (except the good ones) into a quest adventure with a third-act reveal and a finale of VFX and explosions. But audiences get enough of that these days from Star Wars and Marvel movies. A television show, with more time for story and presumably way less money in the budget, let Star Trek get back to its authentic guts.
An invitation to represent England at the 100th Anniversary of the Nobel Peace Prize in Norway was scary enough. But to share a stage with the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko at the same time: absolutely terrifying. I remember Yevtushenko from the 1960s when I was a Columbia student. He was the pop star of the intelligentsia in those days, everybody’s idea of a poet, passionate, young, courageous, glorious to look at. Women screamed and fainted at his performances.
The conference was to take place in Tromsø way high up above the Arctic Circle in the summer of 2001, a pretty town, an island city right out of a child’s toy chest. The theme was War and Peace—Tolstoy’s grandson as the guest of honor. The moderator of my session asked me if I minded speaking first.
“If you don’t,” he laughed, “you might not get a chance to speak at all.”
“It is a little, er, difficult to stop this poet once he gets going.”
But there was no Yevtushenko in the theater when the session started. A minute or two into my speech, a figure appeared in the front row. I’m no good at faces, but I was pretty sure I’d spotted him because he stared at me in that disconcerting, unblinking way that Russians do. When I finished, the moderator thanked me especially—and pointedly—for keeping to my 20-minute limit. A Dane spoke after me. When he finished, the moderator thanked him too—again pointedly—for keeping to the 20-minute limit.
Then Yevtushenko approached the podium. He was nearly 70, hair thin, face deeply lined, back no longer straight. Even so it was clear at once what all the fuss was about. This was a hell of a delivery. Maybe his English belonged in a farce, but no Western voice soars and swings like that. Up and down. Loud and soft. Face and body in motion too. He began with an unpublished poem and went on to something about a Russian nutcracker, Tchaikovsky’s swans and great big dinosaurs. But he could have been saying anything, anything at all. With a delivery like that, who cares?
And he’s a man who knew how to handle a moderator as well as an audience. After 40 minutes or so, he turned to the moderator—visibly restive by this time—and said, “Is all right? I can finish? You permit?” Then came questions. As soon as the first one started, Yevtushenko leaned across to me and said, “What is phrase seel-kee prose? What this mean?” In my speech, I’d described an American I knew as being master of the New Yorker’s “silky prose.” I explained as best I could. “Is good,” he said. “Is little bit ironic, yes?” I nodded. He leaned back in his chair, then forward again. “You sink?”
Sink? “I’m not sure what you mean,” I said cautiously,
“You sink?” he said louder.
Could he mean think? Could I have said something really stupid? I gave him a puzzled look.
He leaned back in his chair. “You have beautiful voice. All seel-kee.”
PG says the best poetry is meant to be spoken and heard. In a tradition going back a few centuries, poets generally wrote and performed their poetry because the sound and tempo of the words was crucial to full understanding of the poem. Poetry was a performance art. Unfortunately, poetry is primarily a subject for academic study today.
In the middle of the twentieth century, several poets were well-known for their performance abilities. Dylan Thomas performed his poems on the BBC during World War II and even wrote and performed a poem, A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London, commemorating a young victim of a German bombing attack.
Yevgeny Yevtushenko was an accomplished performer of his poetry as well, both in Russian and English.
Below are a couple of YouTube videos of Yevtushenko’s poetry performances, first in Russian, then in English.
The poem is Babi Yar. The first lines of the poem are:
No monument stands over Babi Yar.
A steep cliff only, like the rudest headstone.
I am afraid.
Today, I am as old
As the entire Jewish race itself.
Babi Yar is a deep ravine near Kiev where Einsatzgruppen (Nazi SS paramilitary squads who followed the German army to pacify and cleanse the civilian population in conquered territory) killed 34,000 Jews in two days, September 29-30, 1941. Later, additional Jews, gypsies, Communists and Soviet prisoners of war were slaughtered there.
Two years later, while retreating over the same ground, the SS tried to cover up any signs of this atrocity. The bodies were dug up, burnt, and all the evidence destroyed. Babi Yar is the grave of over 100,000 victims of the SS.
Following the war, the Soviet government refused requests to erect a monument at the site and it remained unmarked for over 30 years. An official memorial to Soviet citizens shot at Babi Yar was erected in 1976. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Ukrainian government allowed the establishment of a memorial specifically identifying the Jewish victims.
In 1962, Dmitri Shostakovich wrote his Symphony No. 13 in B-flat minor, subtitled Babi Yar. The first movement, Babi Yar: Adagio, includes choral settings for Yevtushenko’s poems including references to the Dreyfus affair, the Białystok pogrom and Anne Frank.
Following Yevtushenko is a recording of Thomas performing his wartime poem.