|[Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893-1930)]|
July 7, 1981, Allen Ginsberg’s class on Expansive Poetics continues
AG: We were on (Robert) Duncan (“A Poem Beginning with a Line by Pindar”), and actually I read up to Duncan’s introduction of (Walt) Whitman, and I want to leave it there. Actually, when I first read that poem it was that particular cadenza – “I always see the under side turning,/ fumes that injure the tender landscape. From which up break/ lilac blossoms of courage in daily act/ striving to meet a natural measure” – I guess, the part two, the “litany of the Presidents”, the litany of the dreary Presidents who did not “bride-sweet break to the whole rapture” of love of nation (like Whitman’s imagination of (Abraham) Lincoln). Did you all, did you all, pick up on that? It was quite a tender passage, a tender, historical passage, and it’s sort of like a last blast of Whitmanic sentimentality about American promise. It’s not far from the old.. the heroic, nationalist, holy Russia projections of the nineteenth-century Russians, including (Nikolai) Gogol (who had a great “On The Road“ passage in Dead Souls, in which he said, “Where are you going, Oh Russia, in your troika?..Horses galloping up the dirt road leaving all the chickens squawking behind.. Where are you headed for? What kind of apocalypse? What kind of revolution? What kind of nationalist-devised denouement of all the strivings and hopings of the Petrashevsky Circle, and all the bomb-throwing Anarchists, and all the police vibes, where are you gonna wind up?” There was this famous passage in Gogol’s Dead Souls that I was just paraphrasing, which was a call to Mother Russia, to Russia, of Russia, personnification of Russia, asking where she was going, what her future was.
I’d like to jump back to Russia, 1915 would be the first text we’ll take up (not in our book) – Ann Charters is here. She’s written a personal biography of Mayakovsky’s love-life in relation to his poetry, called “I Love”, his relations with.. a great lady, great international letters..Lili Brik.
I would like to begin by playing a recording of Mayakovsky’s voice, which we have, which I got from (Yevgeny) Yevtushenko, in Moscow in 1965, and had reproduced last night.. The poem I don’t know what it is. Actually, it may be a later poem.. but I just want to get the sound of his voice, and maybe go back a little bit, and also (Sergei) Esenin’s voice (it’s a voice that might be a little bit familiar, deja vu, from heroic pronumciation..when I titled the course “heroic” or “expansive” poetry, I had Mayakovsky’s recitation in mind, and his recitation, the tradition of his recitation, is continued actually by (Andrei) Voznesensky and (Yevgeny) Yevtushenko, and, at moments, Joseph Brodsky – that is, public declamation – but loud declamation, so that it could be heard in an open-square, or in a factory, before the years of amplification. So, let’s hear the sound of his voice [there is some brief delay, Allen having some technical difficulties, making sure that the recording is switched on, before, eventually, Mayakovsky’s voice is heard ] -[afterwards] – could you understand anything? did it? anything?..apparently.. Ann thinks that it’s a poem on Lenin, big poem on Lenin
Student: (Where was it done?)
AG: Done in the studio?
Ann Charters: There’s one apocyraphal story.It’s a shame that he didn’t record more. This is all that exists of the poet’s voice. He died in 1930, and certainly there was ample opportunity for recording, in his time, but it just didn’t happen. And the story about his recording-session was that he read for a radio, the first time it was going to be broadcast (usually, it was always in public appearances that he gave his readings, first time that he was going to read, recorded and then sent out, you know, he was rather impressed by the whole technical procedure involved and he asked the recording-engineer in the studio, “How many people will listen to this?”, and the engineer said, “The whole world!”, and Mayakovsky is reported to have replied. “That’s enough”.
But it’s not a performance, there’s no audience..there no sound of wind..it’s inside.
AG: There’s one of Esenin I’d like to play if I can find it. Sergei Esenin coming up..
[Allen plays Esenin recording – actually, it is not Esenin, it is David Burliuk, his contemporary, reading Esenin] …Some Russians consider Esenin to be the greater of the poets.. both of them [he and Mayakovsky] committed suicide.. it’s interesting to be hearing their voices.
Audio for the above may be heard here, starting at the beginning and ending at approximately thirteen-and-three-quarter minutes in – the recording of Mayakovsky reading begins approximately five-and-a-quarter minutes in, that of Esenin, approximately eleven-and-three-quarter minutes in) – Audio also available here