[Tatiana Yacovieff du Plessix Liberman (1906-1991)]
Ann Charters: Well, again, with Mayakovsky, this his public declaration – “Conversation with a Tax Collector About Poetry“ [“Разговор с фининспектором о поэзии“] – was followed shortly on by another private experience that actually marks the end, or the beginning of the end, of his life. On a trip to Paris he fell in love with another lady, the first lady he truly loved after Lili Brik. And what this meant was not necessarily the end of Mayakovsky, except that the woman he chose to fall in love with.. (he always chose difficult women – he first chose a woman who was.. he always chose other people’s wives, or women who don’t want him – rejection is always in the picture there) .. but the woman he chose in Paris, on a trip to Paris, whose name is Tatiana (and she’s now  an American citizen, living in New York, and her daughter is Francine du Plessix Gray, who’s a woman novelist, a fine writer..)
AG: Tatiana hangs around with (Andrei) Voznesensky when he comes..to America.
Ann Charters: Her name is Tatiana Liberman and she has been here (in the US) for many years. But when she was eighteen years old, she was introduced to Mayakovsky in Paris and she was in exile from the Soviet Union (she was a White Russian, not a Red Russian, and she had left Russia to go to Paris, and Mayakovsky meets her and falls desperately in love with her, wants to marry her and bring her back to Russia).
AG: How old is then?
Ann Charters: At this point, in 1928, he would be, what? thirty-five?
AG: And she’s eighteen.
Ann Charters: And she’s eighteen. And that is a very romantic notion – number one, because she’s just got out of there (and that was not easy), and, number two, what happens if he, “the official poet” brings back a girl, you know, who has already left because she hasn’t accepted the government? Intolerable. It could not be done. How about Mayakovsky (think about all of the alternatives as a chess game), how about Mayakovsky then deciding to live forever in Paris with his great love, Tatiana? Impossible. Mayakovsky could only speak Russian. He never learned another language, and to write, as an exile, after his public work for the Communist Party, to wait for the third Revolution (of the Spirit) in Paris – it’s not possible (as you can clearly understand for yourself). So this caused a further darkening, as well as some wonderful love poetry written to Tatiana.
The one that I would recommend to you is a poem called “The Letter from Paris to Comrade Kostrov on the Nature of Love” [ Письмо товарищу Кострову из Парижа о сущности любви] And this is Mayakovsky, blind out of his mind with love for this new lady, and deciding that, as part of his quota of lines, as a correspondent for a Communist Youth magazine (you know, he had to go to Paris, to describe what it was like for the kids reading the Party magazine) he would write this Comrade Kostrov, who was the leader, no, the editor-in-chief, a poem about what it was like to fall in love in Paris, thinking, naively, that this Boys Life magazine would like to print such a thing, yeah? Well, it didn’t go over too well, And that was another aspect of his hassle..
AG: Is any fragment of that..
Ann Charters: ..being hassled and humiliated. Absolutely.
AG: A little fragment..
Ann Charters: A little fragment of this will get you an idea. My favorite part of it, this poem to Tatiana, it’s on the nature of love. Notice, it isn’t about how I love, but it’s “on love”, for everybody, “you know what, listen boys, this is what love is like, yeah? And so he tells you in this what love does. He defines it. Okay..wonderful. I’m going to start in this (in) the middle of the poem – “Love’s sense lies not/ in boiling hotter/ or in being burnt by live coals” [ Любовь/ не в том,/чтоб кипеть крутей,/не в том,/что жгут у́гольями,] – (In other words, the Romantic idea of suffering and rapture) – (he says) – “Love’s sense/ lies in what rises/ behind hilly breasts/, above the jungles of hair. [ в том,/ что встает за горами грудей/над/волосами-джунглями.”] “To love/ means this:/ to run/ into the depths of a yard/ and, till the rook-black night,” – (“the bird-black night”) – [ Любить —/это значит:/в глубь двора/ вбежать/ и до ночи грачьей,] “..chop wood/ with a shiny axe,/ giving full play /to one’s strength” [ блестя топором,/рубить дрова,/силой/своей/играючи./Любить”] – (Love that, love that, you know – a young guy, just oomph, with a shining axe)
AG: You go into the back yard at night…where it’s totally black and chop wood?
Ann Charters: That’s right, Just out of your mind, you know. Like, what do you do with this energy? – He says, “Love/ for us/ is no paradise of arbors -/to us/ love/ tells us, humming,/ that the stalled motor/ of the heart/ has started to work/ again.” – [“любовь/
не рай да кущи,/нам/ любовь/ гудит про то,/что опять/в работу пущен/сердца/выстывший мотор”](That’s a Futurist image – “that the stalled motor/ of the heart/ has started to work/ again.” Umm. Go on, you have to read that yourself, it’s a terrific, terrific poem.
Lili Brik heard this poem and she wept, the first (time) she’d ever responded negatively to a poem. She says, not only because he felt this for another lady, but because, “I realized the trouble he was soon going to find himself in”.
And trouble it was, because Mayakovsky planned with Tatiana to get married in Paris, and then, he said, “I’ll bring you back. After a nice honeymoon in Paris, we’ll go back to the Soviet Union and you can be my bride”. She sort of agreed to it, but, then again, she was eighteen, and it’s a pretty whirlwind time, you know. And she had other fellows too (which he didn’t know about that much, I suppose).
So he made plans to go back to Paris to marry her after he went back to the Soviet Union for a good stay, and after he read these poems and people were aware of what he planned to do, he, as always, applied to get back to Paris for a visa (you know, you can’t just go, you have to, even today, make very special preparations to travel). He was a lucky Russian, he had a passport. (there’s a great poem about his Soviet passport). Anyway, the point is that, for the first time, Mayakovsky’s visa to travel abroad was denied, and he was locked in the Soviet Union. For the first time he might have felt what Mandelstam and Akhmatova felt (they didn’t have passports, you know (to) so easily get in and out). He might have felt how powerful the government was – really powerful – and that was a few months before his suicide also.
Well, what did he do while he languished in Moscow? He wrote a play, and that play is “The Bedbug”, and that’s the play that I think is one of his greatest works. It’s in the book called The Bedbug and Selected Poetry. It’s in print, you know [in 1981]. You can buy it and read it. And this, as I told you, has an image of the future that completely goes beyond what his image of the positive victory of love was in the poem to Lili about the world of lovers in the Revolution. This is a vision of a very different world of the thirtieth [sic] century.
(Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately fifty-seven-and-a-half minutes in and concluding at approximately sixty-four-and-a-half minutes in)