[lit-ideas] Mayakovsky

  • From: Lawrence Helm <lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: Lit-Ideas <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Tue, 15 Sep 2015 05:47:45 -0700

Read in the 9-24-15 issue of the NYROB a review by Michael Scammell of /Mayakovsky, a biography/ by Bengt Jangfeldt, 2014. So I bought it as well as /Vladimir Mayakovsky, Selected Poems, /translated from the Russian by James H. McGavran III, 2013. At one time Mayakovsky was considered the greatest Russian poet, but he supported Communism with his writing and so when Russia abandoned Communism, they abandoned Mayakovsky as well. Jangfeldt thinks that was unjust and that Mayakovsky wrote a lot that didn't support Communism. Furthermore, toward the last (Mayakovsky committed suicide at age 37) he no longer supported Communism. Furthermore, thinks Jangfeldt, Mayakovsky /is a great poet./

/Selected Poems /begins with little prose bits. Mayakovsky spent a lot of time in and out of prison for being a socialist. Here is part of "Eleven Months in Butyrki": "A very important time for me. After three years of theory and practice, I plunged into literature.
Read all the latest stuff. The Symbolists -- Bely, Balmont. I was floored by the formal innovation. But it was alien to me. The themess and images weren't from my life. I tried to write just as well, but about other things. As it turned out, to write /the same about other things /was impossible. It came out stilted and snivelutionary. Something like:

The forests were draped in gold and purple;
On the domes of cathedrals sunlight played.
I waited, but days became lost in months,
Hundreds of wearisome days.

I filled a whole notebook with this stuff. My thanks to the guards -- they confiscated it from me when I left. Otherwise I might have published it!"

And the bit, "The Next Night": "During the day, a poem came out of me. Or rather, pieces of a poem. Bad ones. Unpublished. Night came. Sretensky Boulevard. I read the lines to Burliuk. Said a friend of a friend had written them. David stopped. Looked me up and down. Then bellowed: 'You wrote that yourself! And you, why, you're a brilliant poet!' The use of such a grandiose and undeserved epithet in reference to me made me happy. I crossed over to poetry for good. That evening, completely unexpectedly, I became a poet."

And the bit, "Drafted": "Got called up. By this point I didn't want to go to the front. Pretended to be a draftsman. Spent my nights with an engineer, learning to draw blueprints of automobiles. It became even harder to get published. Soldiers weren't allowed. Only Osip Brik helped me out. Bought all my poetry for fifty kopecks a line. Printed 'The Backbone Flute' and 'The Cloud.' The cloud came out rather wispy. The censors had huffed and puffed on it. Six whole pages of dots.
Ever since then I've hated periods. Commas too."

I've begun reading "The Cloud in Pants." Here is a stanza indicating that Mayakovsky didn't just write propaganda:

the way you used to talk?
'Jack London,
But I saw only one thing:
you were a Gioconda
who needed to be stolen!
And you were stolen

And further into the poem:

What do I care for Faust
on his fairy-tale rockets
sliding with Mephistopheles across the heavenly parquet!
I know it well
the nail lodged in my boot
is more of a nightmare than all Goethe's fantasy!

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