Spontaneous Poetics – 102 (Mayakovsky)

[Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893-1930)]

AG: There’s another development, in the 20th Century, of social poetry, in Russia, with Mayakovsky – poetry that was meant to be read in communal circumstances, like in factories. In Russian, the rhythms and the rhymes are more obvious, and sometimes as strong as Vachel Lindsay particularly in Mayakovsky. There’s one poem (of his) called “At The Top Of My Voice”, which I’d like to read. This is (in) a translation by a fellow named Herbert Marshall. I’ve had it on the reserve shelf (in the library) and it’ll be there for the rest of the term. It’s a very good translation – and a rare translation. I first got the book from Frank O’Hara – or, I first saw the book in Frank O”Hara’s hands – and it was his source, this particular edition, for Mayakovsky. I found another copy of it in India. It was published by the Current Bookhouse, Bombay, 1955. It was one of the earliest volumes of Mayakovsky published. Marshall has done more translations. There have been other translations of Mayakovsky, but [1976] I never saw one that was (as) solid as this, I guess… Give me a moment to find my text… Vladimir Mayakovsky… (it’s) called: “Twenty Years – An Exhibition of the Life and Work of Mayakovsky”it was done, in 1930, in Moscow, and this was his lecture. He was being attacked politically, and so he was, naturally, reciting for his life. It was a self-justification, but it was to his Communist Party comrades, his Com-Party comrades. I’ll read you the end of his speech:

(Mayakovsky) : “I do not intend to give elaborate dissertations here today. I have only to say a few of these preparatory explanations so that the lads here can ask you questions, offer suggestions about my future work and any practical suggestions, etc, etc.. I’ll go on with the reading of my poetry – (He (Vladimir Mayakovsky) reads)… There was a break of two or three years in my work when I did not like poetry at all. I was busy with painting and drawing then. Only from the years of 1912-13, I started regularly publishing my (writings) and literature definitely became my profession. I’ve read you some of the things of 1912. I must say (that) these things are a bit complicated, and that they’ve often been criticized as incomprehensible. So the question of a clear meaning for everybody rose in front of me and I started to write more for the masses – (He reads)…I shall now read a few things, as you can’t judge by only one thing.My last word is about the exhibition as it totally explains and defines what I do (or what I am working (on) really). Very often, lately, those who are annoyed by my literary publisher’s work, say that I have forgotten how to write poetry and for that posterity will give it to me hot. I am a determined fellow. I want myself to speak with my descendants and not to wait and see what my critics in the future will tell them. Therefore, I address myself direct to posterity through my poem. (He reads – and the poem is titled here – “At The Top of My Voice” – “At The Top of My Voice, 1930, First Prelude to a Poem of the Five-Year-Plan” – and the footnote says, “a second Prelude, a love lyric, was incomplete when the author committed suicide on April 14, 1930, about three weeks from the date of this reading”)

I thought it was… As we began with communal poetics, I thought Mayakovsky was a kind of a funny, twentieth-century entry into the muse-ic sweepstakes.

[Audio for this above class is available, starting approximately sixteen minutes in, (the reading of “At The Top of My Voice” appears approximately twenty minutes in), through to approximately twenty-eight minutes) – here]

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