[lit-ideas] Re: Mayakovsky

  • From: Mike Geary <jejunejesuit.geary2@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Wed, 16 Sep 2015 11:57:19 -0500

Thanks for sending that Lawrence. I've only read a few poems of
Mayakovsky, all in sampler format, in my younger days when I was still a
Commie. I'm just a tame little boy now, the wick of Revolution having gone
out -- extinguished itself -- not out of loss of conviction -- no, Sir --
but loss of resolve due to loss of interest due to loss of energy. Don't
smile smugly thinking that I've seen the error of my youthful themes (as
the god Dylan put it:"ah, but I was so much older then, I'm younger than
that now"). I'm not a convert, just an indifferenter. I remember being
impressed by some of Mayakovsky's poems -- perhaps only because I thought
it was daring to read and like Commie's poems -- however I don't know now
if I was impressed by Mayakovsky or by the translator. Was it Macleish who
said "a poem shouldn't mean, but be"? I agree whether 'twas he or not.
And a poem BE in it's saying, not in what is said -- the said is said in
the saying, but the poem is in the how and the now and the wow of the words

On Tue, Sep 15, 2015 at 7:47 AM, Lawrence Helm <lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>

Read in the 9-24-15 issue of the NYROB a review by Michael Scammell of
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

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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