AG: So Ann Charters and I went over some ideas this morning, attending a few texts that are not in our anthology, beginning with an early poem – [to Ann Charters] – maybe you can explain the.. beginning with, we’re going to do texts up to and around the Revolution, 1915, 1916,1917,1918, and then 1920..with (Vladimir) Mayakovsky intersect.. calling for, intersecting, and reacting to, the Revolution. So, beginning with what? “Cloud in Trousers“? – Pants? – “Cloud in Pants”, or “Cloud in Trousers”. [облако в штанах]
Ann Charters: Before I start, maybe I should say a word or two about who Mayakovsky was, and to point out that, if we were going by the pre-Revolutionary Russian calender (if we were, we’re not, but if this were the case), we would, today, be celebrating Mayakovsky’s eighty-eighth birthday.
Ann Charters: Today.
Ann Charters: He was born, according to the old pre-Revolutionary calender on July 7th (it is July 7th, isn’t it? – I often don’t know the dates!). Today, in the Russian calender, it’s the 19th – they moved it up twelve days, after the Revolution, but..
Ann Charters: Eighteen-nighty-three, July 7th on the old calender, which would make him 88 years today  – He could be in the room with us, it’s not inconceivable).
He was a modern poet, there’s no question about it. His suicide, however, ended his brief and tormented life, at the age of not-quite thirty-seven (he was 36 years old when he committed suicide, successfully), (that) was (on) April 14, 1930, so it was a few months before his thirty-seventh birthday. April 14 a very sad day and I think his suicide is probably..
Ann Charters: Nineteen-three-oh, yeah.. (and) was probably one of the most notable suicides, of any… of any (that) one’s heard about on this planet, because his death seemed to symbolize for many people, not only a personal death but a political death. In other words, any people who were thinking about the.. (thinking) of (the) Revolution in Russia (as) symbolizing some sort of new start, a true Revolution, can take Mayakovsky’s suicide as the failure of that Revolution to achieve its highest goal. Esenin’s suicide in 1925 (Esenin was a contemporary – (here’s a book you might want to look at (of Esenin’s poems), a tremendous translation by Geoffrey Thurley – 50 Poems by Sergei Esenin – the publisher (in case you want to look it up, it should be still in print), is C-A-R-C-A-N-E-T, Carcanet Press, it’s a small press..
AG: It’s England, isn’t it? Carcanet?
Ann Charters: It’s England.. Yeah, but I found this for three (dollars) fifty in a New York garage – “Confessions of A Hooligan – 50 Poems by Sergei Esenin” – “Esenin’s suicide in 1925 was the first personal tragedy, because he never welcomed the Revolution, he never wrote any poems celebrating the Revolution. He was never what we call the spokesman for the Revolution in Russia that Mayakovsky was. (But) Mayakovsky’s suicide, many people take to be a political act, Esenin’s was a personal tragedy. 1925 – Before we go on – last background, ok? – I want to give tribute to an English translator named Herbert Marshall, whose translations of Mayakovsky (one of the tattered remains you can see in this much-thumbed book owned by Allen Ginsberg). [Ann Charters displays Allen’s personal copy of Mayakovsky’s poems]
AG: Xeroxed, so it’s in the library. A xerox copy is in the library.
Ann Charters: I can see that it was puchased in 1963 in India for..well I don’t know, the equivalent of seventy cents, or something, published in Bombay, third and last edition in 1955. This is how Frank O’Hara and Allen Ginsberg encountered Mayakovsky in Herbert Marshall’s translations. This is also still around, not this particular edition, but Herbert Marshall’s translations. There are only really two books of Mayakovsky [currently in 1981] in English, in poetry, and one of them is still Herbert Marshall’s, and it’s not that bad, and the other is this one, the American edition..
AG: (reads out) “The Bedbug and Selected Poetry“. The translators are Max Haywood and George Reavey, edited by Patricia Blake, World Publishing Company
Ann Charters: Published by University of Nebraska or something. You can look in Books-In-Print and you’ll find it [editorial up-date – look now on Google!]
AG: (in) 1960
Ann Charters: Herbert Marshall was the first and he had actually spent time in the Soviet Union and was very very familiar with the whole scene and it’s a marvelous,. marvelous achievement – Mayakovsky and His Poetry – that was the title of it – So we give tribute today to Herbert Marshall, who turned many people on, including me, to Mayakovsky’s poetry.
AG: Oh you read him (Marshall) too?
Ann Charters: Of course! That was the beginning.
AG: I read Mayakovsky.. as a matter of fact, Frank O’Hara recommended him, particularly the “Cloud in Trousers”, which he quoted from – and you may know, I”ve forgot but.. which poem.. .”In the church of my heart, the choir’s on fire!'” – there’s that line – [У церковки сердца занимается клирос!]
[Frank O’Hara (1926-1966)]
Ann Charters: ..which you’ll hear
AG: You know that line? You know O”Hara ? – “In the church of my heart, the choir’s on fire!”. Is that familiar? – In the church of my heart, the choir’s on fire!’.” Well okay..
[“In the church of my heart, the choir’s on fire!” is used as the epilogue to (Frank) O’Hara’s poem – “Invincibility”]
Ann Charters: Well, ok, that tells you a little bit about how we (both) encountered Mayakovsky, in English, and who Mayakovsky was, and who Esenin was. Another difference between them was that Mayakovsky in… well, we won’t go (on about..) we’ll talk about texts, ok? ,
Mayakovsky was influenced by Walt Whitman (which you’ll hear about in a moment in a poem called “(A) Man”, an early poem from 1916), to carry on some of the themes you’ve been discussing here in this class.
But the poem which, I think, most presents him as a young, avant-garde, highly idealistic young Communist is a poem called “A Cloud in Pants”, which he wrote in 1915, after a series of very unhappy love-affairs. He had a very tempestuous private-life, always, and, at the age of twenty-two, he was fully coming into his own. Twenty-two years old, he’d fallen in love with a girl from Odessa on a reading-tour with a group of young poets, led by a man called (David) Burliuk, who was his best friend. They were doing a program that was titled, “A Slap in the Face of Public Taste”, and they were avant-garde, they were part of the whole Modernist tradition..
AG: And that’s the (Russian) Futurist Manifesto
Ann Charters: The Futurist Manifesto, which (David) Burliuk and (Vladimir) Mayakovsky drafted
AG: And (Velimir) Khlebnikov signed ?
Ann Charters: Yeah, yeah, a whole group of friends in Moscow. Privately, he was wooing a girl when he was in Odessa, when he was off the stage, called Maria, who turned him down and this private event gave the opportunity for Mayakovsky to write this early Futurist poem, which Allen wants to read....today – Do you all know what Futurists stood for? what this term means? This is important to understand. It was.. it’s probably as difficult to define as to define what a Beat poet was – what was a “Futurist” poet?, what was a “Beat” poet? – these terms are aggregates of ideas and associations, but when Burliuk and Khlebnikov and Mayakovsky and others met in Moscow around 1911 and formed a… they met at art school, they were art students, in their early twenties (Mayakovsky was about, at this point, nineteen, or twenty, years old, Burliuk was a little older, twenty-five maybe?. They met at the Moscow Institute as art students, both profundly bored by the conventional academic training they were being offered at this point. The international situation (this was of course just about the beginning of World War I) seemed to have no, no connection with what their professors were talking about, and they felt also totally bored about where Russian poetry was at the time (Mayakovsky was always writing poetry, poetry as well as painting). And they decided to form a new group, of idealists, shall we say, a poetic and artistic group called “the Futurists” (they modeled themselves and took the name from the Italian Futurists ( (F.T.) Marinetti had a school, even earlier, in Italy, propounding the idea that the past was only a dead weight and had no bearing to the future, and that men of the future (they were sexist, highly sexist, they wouldn’t say “people of the future”)…
AG: The Marinetti group was
Ann Charters: Both of them, sadly enough
AG: Was Marinetti’s.. manifestos were when?
Ann Charters: This was about 1912
AG 1912 1910. 1905 , you’re beginning to get some kind of break-through..
Ann Charters: It was the beginning, but he didn’t come to Russia and they didn’t read Italian
AG: Was there any literary activity at that time in 1905 in Italy?
Ann Charters: Oh yes, yes. And France, of course.
AG: And Russia too?
Ann Charters: Yes
AG: (Velimir) Khlebnikov..1907
Ann Charters: But there was a difference. These people were very young..
AG: So the formal name “Futurism” came in after 1910?
Ann Charters: Yes. And it came from the Italian.
The Russians had a little trouble because the word for “futurism” and the word for “football” is very close. (And) when they would come through provincial towns, on tour (as) young Russian poets (and) they would hire boys to run through town (they were too poor to get posters) – screaming, “The Futurists are coming! The Futurists are coming!”, you know, they’d think the football teams were coming! and they all..they all got very good audiences! – until they began to read! – But the idea was to wear bizarre clothes, it was to be as unconventional as possible, it was, really, literally..
AG: Early punk!
Ann Charters: Early punk! – exactly, exactly!
AG: And the introduction of the machine…
Ann Charters: Yeah, the idea was, of course, that they were welcoming the technicological age that was to come, this was an incredibly innocent period (I mean the Industrial Revolution had just really come into full force and the whole idea was that Russia would be a very backward nation and they would industrialize, and there was an enormous sense that a new future was going to beckon with some promise, promise.. and that machines and science and technology – this was incredibly naive, but at the same time it was not our times, we have to look back with different eyes (now) to try and understand the excitement
AG: Well, the French were doing it too. Same time. There’s (Guillaume) Apollinaire in France, (Pablo) Picasso, like, a whole new age…relative to.. the introduction of taxi-cabs and factories – and the word “taxi-cab” (used in the poem, and “factories”). In Marinetti, it was the image of “factories suspended from the sky by (the) thread of (their) smoke”, like, really taking the entire machine…. what year was that, Marinetti, Futurist..? when did that begin?
Ann Charters: 1906
[Giacomo Balla (1871-1958) – Abstract Speed + Sound (Velocità astratta + rumore), 1913–14. Oil on unvarnished millboard in artist’s painted frame, framed: 21 1/2 × 30 1/8 inches (54.5 × 76.5 cm). The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice]
AG (190)6 – so it’s that early? – and (Giacomo) Balla and the other painters?
Ann Charters: Balla would be..
Ann Charters: .. 1911
AG: Uh-huh, So the expression, the expression that we see, here in America, in the Museum of Modern Art, or in books on Futurism, familiarly, would be, painting, about 1910, 1911, and the first literary manifestations of these..1906. The Futurist Manifesto which speaks of “the factories suspended from the sky by the thread of their smoke”. What year is that, do you know?
Ann Charters: That (would be) 1906
AG: Yes. So that’s really early.
Ann Charters: Either 1905 or (19)06, I think.
AG: And in Russia you have Khlebnikov? Did they call it Futurism then?
Ann Charters: Oh yes.
AG: ..As early as 1906 –
[Allen to Student] – I’ve forgotten your name, I’m sorry – Student: My name is Esther]
AG: So Esther teaches at CU (Colorado University) Italian.? French?
Student: I don’t teach Italian.
Ann Charters: That naivete, I’m not talking about the art – No, no, no -or the poetic forms, (or)..
AG: The politics of..
Ann Charters: No, just the belief in science as a way to make a perfect societ.y
Student: That’s what I mean – the attack on science and technology, as being somehow our enemy, I think (that)..
AG: Well, but, yeah, their first approach to it was that, once we get control of the machines, we’ll..
Ann Charters: The only time that Mayakovsky (well, this is not the only time, but), the first time that Mayakovsky came to terms with the reality of scientific progress and tehnicological advance was in 1925 on his trip to America, and that’s.. I mean, because Russia was a backward land, and it was only living in New York City that made him aware that they had subways, (but the poets had to speak in the cars, so you’ve got to do something about the noise, about the dirt), but it wasn’t until then, you see, that he felt a little more..reasonable, shall we say, and less idealistic.
AG: In Russia, the earliest manifestations are about the same time 1915 – (some of the poems in your Anthology, by Khlebnikov, sound poems, experiments with pure sound and weird noises, a new kind of poetry, are from 1908 – 1907, (1908) 1909 – I think the poem on laughter is from around that time, if you take a look at the Khlebnikov.
I wanted to go to Mayakovsky direct, starting with Khlebnikov (tho’ we did have Khlebnikov’s “Menagerie”) , and Ann is here, and (so) while Ann Charters is here, we might as well work with real information.
Ann Charters: Lets begin with “A Cloud in Trousers” to give you the idea, the tangible idea, with this poem, of what the Futurists stood for and how they felt toward society of their time, and how they welcomed change, especially revolutionary change. Do you want to talk (about this), Allen?
AG: In 1919.. I Myself , an autobiographical precis summary by Mayakovsky, says (that) “in 1917, travelled to Maxim Gorky – (Maxim Gorky, the great Russian novelist) -“read him parts of “..Cloud..” Gorky touched , wept on my shoulder. Poem affected him. I was a little proud”. And then, Gorky was the first writer to defend Mayakovsky in his journals. In his journal of April 15, he wrote -“Take, for example, Mayakovsky. He’s young, only twenty years old. He is vociferous, unbridled, but, undoubtedly, somewhere underneath talent is hidden. He needs to work, to study and he’ll write good genuine poetry. I have read his book of poems. Some of them arrested my attention. They are written with genuine words.” Then Mayakovsky called it a “tetraptych” (four parts) and he described it (what we were saying earlier) – “down with your love” – (down with social love, down with the accepted bourgeois view of love) – second part, “down with your art”, third part, “down with society”, fourth part, “down with your religion”. This is.. Marshall did the first translation, and I’ll read… the first part I’ll read is from Marshall, actually – “Your thoughts,/ dreaming on a softened brain/ like an over-fed lackey on a greasy settee,/with my heart’s bloody tatters, I’ll mock again,/impudent and caustic, I’ll jeer to superfluity..” [Вашу мысль/ мечтающую на размягченном мозгу,/как выжиревший лакей на засаленной кушетке, буду дразнить об окровавленный сердца лоскут:/досыта изъиздеваюсь, нахальный и едкий.]..“Of Grandfatherly gentleness I’m devoid,/there’s not a single grey hair in my soul!/Thundering the world with the might of my voice,/I go by – a handsome,twenty-two-year-old…” [У меня в душе ни одного седого волоса,/и старческой нежности нет в ней!/ Мир огромив мощью голоса,иду – красивый,/двадцатидвухлетний.]..“..not a man but a Cloud in Trousers!..” [..не мужчина, а — облако в штанах!..]
– So that’s his Introduction – then we made little selections from each section –
so, section two [Allen means section one, actually], which is the put-down of “your love”..and here’s a.. a little, a little piece of it –
“You swept in/ abruptly like take-it-or-leave it/mauling your suede gloves,/ you declared, “You know,/ I’m getting married”./ “Alright, marry then,/ so what?/ I can take it. /As you can see I’m calm, like a pulse of corpse./You ask when you used to talk/ Jack London,/ money, /love,/ but I saw only one thing/ you, La Giaconda had to be stolen/ and they stole you. In love I’ll gamble again with the arch of my brows ablaze/What of it?..” [Вошла ты,/резкая, как «нате!/муча перчатки замш,/казала:/Знаете/я выхожу замуж/Что ж, выходи́те./ Ничего./Покреплюсь./Видите — спокоен как!/Как пульс/покойника./ Помните?/Вы говорили:/Джек Лондон,/деньги,/любовь,/ страсть», —/а я одно видел:/вы — Джиоконда,/которую надо украсть!/И украли./Опять влюбленный выйду в игры,/огнем озаряя бровей за́гиб./Что же!..]…”have you seen that terror of terrors my face when/ I’m/ absolutely calm?” [“..а самое страшное/видели —/лицо мое,/когда/я/абсолютно спокоен?]..” Mama/ I can’t sing/In the church of my heart the choir-loft is on fire” -[Мама!/ Петь не могу./У церковки сердца занимается клирос!] – that’s what.. that line is what Frank O’Hara used to begin, I think, Second Avenue – Second Avenue – it was a little epigraphical quotation for “Second Avenue”, which was O’Hara’s big break-through poem, like a long improvisational thing, long, improvisational tour de force, and long lines, with the intention of writing anything that came to his mind with total sophistication and New York Museum of Modern Art brain.
So the second part..
Student: (Was that by Marshall?)
AG: I was mixing, The prologue I read by (Herbert) Marshall, the others, (George) Reavey.
..and (now) part two, which is the “down with art” –
Ann Charters: This is not schematic. I mean, he.. this makes it sound as if he said, “Aha, now int part two, and I will write down..” – Mayakovsky never dictated what he was doing in his head, in his heart.. And in this early work, it’s association of images, there’s not a narrative flow that’s a coherent story. He gives you all the clues, you know, (that) you need to understand the situation, Maria, the rejection from his girl, but there isn’t, you know, “And then, what I did was closed the door and I went out and met so-and-so”. It doesn’t work that way. The “sun poem” that you have is a narrative poem and it goes chronologically. This is association, this is images (shall we say) – like a Chaghall, an early (Marc) Chaghall painting – …hearts on fire, fire engines coming.. not really taking it literally, so it’s Surrealist..
AG [resumes reading] “I spit on the fact that neither Homer or Ovid invented characters like us, pock-marked with soot/I know the sun would dim on seeing the gold fields of our souls!” – [Плевать, что нет/у Гомеров и Овидиев/людей, как мы;/от копоти в оспе./ Я знаю —/солнце померкло б, увидев/наших душ золотые россыпи!]….Have you seen/ a dog lick the hand that thrashed it?/ I/ mocked by my contempories/ like a prolonged dirty joke./ I perceive whom noone sees/ crossing the mountains of times..” [Видели,/как собака бьющую руку лижет?!/Я,/обсмеянный у сегодняшнего племени,/как длинный скабрезный анекдот,/вижу идущего через горы времени,/которого не видит никто.]….”I shall root up my soul/till it’s red with blood/I’ll trample it hard till it spread blood/ and I offer you this as a banner.” [вам я/ душу вытащу,/растопчу,/ чтоб большая! —/и окровавленную дам, как знамя].
Ann Charters: We should also say that Mayakovsky was involved in politics. He wasn’t only a lady’s man or a poet. He was imprisoned, actually, for politics, after his family moved from the country, from Georgia (southern Russia) to Moscow, after the death of his father. He was very young when his father died and his mother had to support the family. In Moscow, his mother took in lodgers in their big apartment and some of the lodgers were involved in (plotting) – this was 1908 or 1909… Mayakovsky was fifteen, sixteen, years old – and the police (it seems to be the Tsar’s police) got wind of the activities of some of these people, among others, and arrested Mayakovsky, even though he was a kid, he was sixteen. And in August of 1909, he was sent to prison, where, with his temperament, he absolutely could not make it. He was confined, for the first time in his life, and he became hysterical and so they put him in solitary, (which, of course, it made him.. it had a very profound effect on him) – and he was in solitary for three months at the age of sixteen. And that’s something to remember – not just your average city kid who’s falling in love with girls, in Odessa. And his mother pleaded his youth and inexperience and got him out in January of 1910. There was also, after prison, the threat of three-years exile, so he had to leave politics (that’s when he decided to go to art school – but he had been politically involved at a very early age, and remained to his death a committed Communist (at this point it was the Socialist (Party). So this was the Mayakovsky who is able to write about volcanos and fire-engines and revolution coming – and he gave the year 1916, (he was off a year, you know, but there was no certainty that, after the 1905 Revolution, there’d ever be another attempt, so we can give him credit for just being one year wrong).
Student: (When was that poem?)
Ann Charters: The one that Allen read is written in..
Ann Charters: .. when he was twenty-two years old
AG: As he says of himself, “Handsome twenty-two years old”
Student: (What occasioned his suicide?)
AG: Oh,we’ll get on to that later on. That’s a long.. ten years later… conflict with the Party, conflict with the bureaucracy
Ann Charters: Let me read you a little bit, ok, from a poem about his suicide (he never wrote about this, he never talked about it). I asked his love, Lili Brik, to tell me what he said about this period in his life, at sixteen, when he was put into prison, and he said nothing (really), he didn’t want to talk about it, it was a traumatic experience, but he did write about it in one poem later on. He says “Youths have a lot of cramming to do./We teach grammar to every big fool/But I was kicked out of the Fifth Class and was thrown around the Moscow jails..”… “Those who look at the sun every day, shrug,/ “What’s so special about those ordinary sunbeams/But I, for a yellow jumping speck of sunshine on the wall/ would give now – everything in the world.”
AG: Where’s that from?
Ann Charters: That’s from a later poem. I’ll find the title.. (written) ten years after..
AG: A little bit like Andy Clausen..if any of you remember Andy Clausen from last term.. (a rebel)
Ann Charters: Oh yes, definitely.Why don’t you go on to..
AG: Well, I’ll go on to part three, which is “down with society”. A little, (just) a couple of fragments from the longer poem, “Cloud in Trousers”, (long, meaning thirty pages) –
“From you/ steeped in love,/ who watered/ the centuries with tears,/I’ll turn my back, fixing/ the sun like a monocle/ into my gaping eye…”… [От вас,/которые влюбленностью мокли,/от которых/в столетия слеза лилась,/уйду я,/солнце моноклем/вставлю в широко растопыренный глаз.]…Night will arrive, bite into and gobble you up! – [Ночь придет,/перекусит/и съест]
So it’s like – I think – punk! – very much like punk – “down with…” – down with everything! . And it.. so that the notion of punk, or the notion of rebellion in punk, the tones, the outrageousness, actually is a twentieth-century style, probably earlier, but certainly charateristic of wave after wave of twentieth-century literary movement, like the overwhelming, crushing weight of machinery on everybody’s head and then a, like, complete “ecrasez l’infame”– wipe it all out – and begin all over again and bomb it all down..actually, it’s the easy way.. (it’s) very much a traditional Futurist.. – except that she doesn’t have the history that. .this guy did it and then had to commit suicide when he got his revolution, you know, when everything he prophesized came true, then the revolutionaries all turned their guns on him, or their words and bullets, on him.
So, then, the last part is “down with your religion”, which is the most outrageous of all – “Listen, Mr God!/, Isn’t it tedious/ to dig your puffy-eyes/ every day into a jelly of cloud? – — [Послушайте, господин бог!/ Как вам не скушно/в облачный кисель/ ежедневно обмакивать раздобревшие глаза?] “…..that even frowning (Apostle) Peter will want to step out into the ki-ka-pou” – [чтоб захотелось пройтись в ки-ка-пу/ хмурому Петру Апостолу.] – [ki-ka-pou – I don’t know what the ki-ka-pou is – ki-ka-pou?]
Student: Why, it’s a dance.
AG: A dance, a dance, ok.. [Allen continues reading] – “In Eden again we’ll lodge our little Eves… [А в рае опять поселим Евочек…]…”The universe sleeps, it’s huge paw curled upon a star-infested ear.” [ Вселенная спит,/положив на лапу/с клещами звезд огромное ухо.] – It’s 1914-15
Student: That was the ending of the poem?
Ann Charters: That was the end of the poem. And that note will come again about the universe sleeping – the cosmic orientation – the poem comes from the inside of (the) heart (in) the world to God and then beyond. That’s the way of Mayakovsky’s poems..