Expansive Poetics – (Mayakovsky and Lili Brik)

Vladimir Mayakovsky and Lili Brik

Lili, drawing by Mayakovsky, 1916

Lili Brik, drawn by her lover Vladimir Mayakovsky, 1916,one year after their meeting

Ann Charters: So about this, this is a long, long, poem, which, is in my feeling, one of his (Mayakovsky’s) masterpieces – to Lili (Brik – it’s a Surrealistic poem, (it’s a poem like the “Backbone Flute by the way, the poem about his suicide..)

AG: “Spine Flute” or “Backbone Flute” – weird title!

Ann Charters: Yeah, right – not “A Cloud in Trousers” but a “Backbone Flute”, the one we talked about..

AG: Uh-huh

Ann Charters: But the poem to Lili about this, in 1924, was interesting in our discussion of his work, because like the “Backbone Flute”, and like “Man”, he talks about his suicide – that because she doesn’t love him, he kills himself. And, as a man of the future, Mayakovsky looks to science (remember, we talked about the technological factories and marvels of  science?) to resurrect him in the thirtieth-century ( in the future -sic). And when he is resurrected, you know, “Chemists put new life in my veins”, he says. Everybody’s putting slabs in the morgue and he says, “Inject me with your magic serum so I can come back to earth..”

AG: Cryonics

Ann Charters: Yeah, he was reading in science about this also, the magic of science, and he says, “And what I want to do is, of course, to go back to my love”, but, rather than go back to the apartment house where she lives and meet her in bed, he decides (he’s a little more grown-up) he’d like to see her outside in the park. But how to be sure that she’ll come to see him? – “Ah”, Mayakovsky says about this, “If I get a job” (because every citizen should work), “If I get a job in the glorious future of our state in the thirtieth century, the job being in a zoo, raking the paths, then she’s sure to come, because she loves animals and she loves zoos and she’ll come visit the zoo and I’ll see her there, and we’ll be reunited” –

And the marvelous ending of the poem is the.. being reunited with his love, you know, at the zoo, in the thirtieth century – a little fantastic but, nevertheless, positive. (That image of resurrection will come back in his best play, “The Bedbug“, a year before his suicide).

And I want to.. I hope we have time to talk about this change in the image from a very positive one of resurrection to a much more complex political realization, a true blending of his private and public lives in that image of that zoo animal in “The Bedbug”. Well, we’ll come to that..

AG: Do you have any of that poem (“About This”) that you want to read?

Ann Charters: I’d rather say that it’s there, go find it.

AG: You got a couple of lines so (that) we can get some sense? ..”About This”, yeah, a poem, “About This”. Where is it available?
Ann Charters: Well, that’s the thing
AG: What texts are available?

Ann Charters: It’s almost… I don’t thnk it’s been translated in its completion.

AG: (Is it) in the big (Herbert) Marshall book?

Ann Charters: I think it might.. no, that’s not in that Marshall book

AG: Yeah
Ann Charters: It’s hard to find these texts [1981]. I’m using for this..the Progress Press, this is a Moscow book in English of Mayakovsky’s poems, which is sold in Moscow and Soviet Union bookstores for tourists who come, who want to read Mayakovsky in English.


Student: Wow!

Ann Charters: This is published by.. it’s a Dorian Rottenberg translation done many, many years ago, and it has the “Lenin” poem in its completion (in it), of course, and it also has “It” (it’s called “It” in this volume), which is..

AG: “It” – “About This” as “It”

Ann Charters: “About This” is “It” , which means love, the..

AG: Yeah

Ann Charters: …private situation. “It” – and it’s interesting. It questions.. It’s interesting for a lot of reasons, among which.

AG: How long is that?

Ann Charters: It’s a long poem. Again, it’s about..well, how many pages?..one-hundred.. and..it starts on page one-hundred-and-nineteen, and goes until one-hundred-and-seventy-six. It’s another sixty-page one. It’s like “Lenin”, a very long printed poem.

AG: Same year?

Ann Charters: Okay, yeah. Here it is. When he’s back in the zoo and he’s resurrected – “And then perhaps someday down pathways that I’ll sweep, she too loved beasts, she’ll come to see the zoo, smiling the same as on the photo that I’ll keep. They’ll bring her back to life, she’s nice enough, she’ll do. Your umpteenth century will leave them all behind, trifles that stung one’s heart in a buzzing storm” – (that’s the byt that we talked of, the everyday reality, the “trifles”) – “And then we’ll make up for these loveless times through countless midnights starry sweet and warm. Revive me, if for nothing else because I, poet, cast off daily trash to wait for you. Revive me, chemist, never mind under what clause..” (He’s saying (that) in the thirtieth century, the Communist world (it will all be a Communist world, he predicts, in the thirtieth century) will have a lot of bureaucracy, and the chemists will have to get the right kind of applications in order to pick that particular corpse to revivify) – “Revive me, chemist, never mind under what clause. Revive me really. Let me live my due, to love. With love no more a sorry servant of matrimony, lust, and daily bread” – (He doesn’t want to get married, he doesn’t want, you know, to be loving for sex, he doesn’t want to have to do the regular grind of supporting a family, he wants love. [Ann Charters quotes Mayakovsky’s poem] – “spreading out throughout the universe and further, forsaking sofas, cursing the boudoir and the bed..” – (What an idealist, huh?) – “No more to beg for one day as a dole, and then to age in endless sorrow, drown” – (That’s a private love, you know, you just fall in love when you’re twenty and then you get married and you have to make your living and you drown in sorrow) – [Ann Charters continues] – “But to see all the glow united in love. At the first call of “Comrade” turn in glad response around. No more a martyr to that hole one calls one’s hearth, but to call everybody sister, brother. To see your closest kin in all the earth. I, all the world, to be your father and your mother.” – So he ends it, in other words, not privately but publicly again – love, for him, is “the third Revolution”, “Love of Spirit”, and we’re all a family, one family. Well…

(Audio for the above is available here, starting at approximately thirty-eight-and-a-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately forty-four-and-three-quarter minutes in) 

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