Canada's Greatest Poet

The 1972 Summit Series introduced many tongue-twisting Russian names to Canadians. Yevgeny Yevtushenko was one that is probably the least remembered.

Yevtushenko was not at all affiliated with the Soviet hockey team. He was one of the greatest writers and poets of the 20th century  in the Soviet Union although his views often clashed with the Communist governments' ideals. Yevtushenko wouldn't back down from Soviet oppression, and as a result became a controversial leader of youth and reform.

So now that you know who he is, what did he have to do with the 1972 Summit Series?

Yevtushenko, obviously a fan of the game on ice, made headlines across Canada when he suggested that Phil Esposito, Team Canada's charismatic brute of a scoring star, was Canada's greatest poet.

In a December 6, 1973 Globe and Mail article, John Fraser ran the following Yevtushenko quote:

"I say the best Canadian poet is Phil Esposito, and that is not completely a joke. I would like to read a Canadian poet who connects in his own self image the tenderness of a mother and the aggressiveness of Phil Esposito."

For one of the great men of culture to make this suggestion makes for a beautiful paradox seemingly. How can the wildly animated and physically punishing hockey player be compared to Margaret Atwood, Leonard Cohen or Al Purdy?

How can hockey, with all it's physical brutality and random violence, be compared to the such intellectual culture as arts and literature ?

Yet, as Yevtushenko realized, hockey too is culture and isn't automatically snubbed by those who enjoy "the finer things." It might not be quite as refined as a symphony, a play, a poem or a short story, but it is every bit as beautiful.

Hockey is the defining culture of Canada and the same can be accurately said about Russia too. The rinks are our cathedrals, the unfolding game is our theatre and the players are the artists. So with all due respect to Canada's literary greats, maybe a hockey player really is our greatest "poet."

A Great Hockey Poem

The following is a great Bauer hockey equipment commercial featuring a wonderful poem which compares an artist's blank canvas to a freshly resurfaced sheet of hockey ice.

If I give you a clean sheet, what will you write?
Will your words be long and graceful or short and sweet?
Will it be poetry or brute instinct?
If you have something to say, best say it now.
For soon, always, too soon.
My sheet will be filled.
And this chapter will end.
As sure as the next will begin.
With a clean sheet, new authors, and a million possibilities