Expansive Poetics – (Mayakovsky – At The Top of My Voice)

Vladimir Mayakovsky

Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893-1930)

Ann Charters: So we’d like to do a few more things before we end, and the poem which you have in your anthology, “At The Top of My Voice“, which was written a few months before the suicide, in January 1930.

AG: Should we have that in Russian first?
Ann Charters:  Yeah
AG: You want me to read it in English first? – or do you want to do it in Russian first? Richard Poe has prepared the Russian.
Student (RP): Can I go first?
AG: Pardon me?
Student (RP): Can I go first?
AG: Want to come over here to do it? Standing. Want to sit down? Yeah..
Student (RP): I’ll stand
AG: Stand, better, you’ll get more breath.

[Student, Richard Poe, reads Mayakovsky‘s “At The Top of My Voice” in its entirety in Russian [“Vo ves’ galos”] ]

Ann Charters: Thank you.

AG: You were great

Ann Charters: You heard the incredible.. if you were following the English, the incredible skill in which the sound..

AG: Maybe hang on to the..
Ann Charters: ..and sense went together there

AG:… hang on to the text

Anne Charters: He was being very brutal, (in) a brutal meaning, The word had a very very guttural.. and when he wants to fly, and tell you what poetry can do, and.. he can be like. Alexander Pope (the comparison is not an idle one). He’s very very skillful. This is why Mayakovsky, even with the complications of his Party role is considered a genius by poets for what he can do. As a poet, he was an incredibly skillful and talented writer. That was very, very nice, thank you.

AG: I thought the reason for this (particular) course is “heroic” or “expansive” poetry, and the touchstone poems, or the highlight poems that I had in mind were – (Guillaume) Apollinaire’s “Zone”, (Federico Garcia) Lorca’s “Ode To Walt Whitman“, among others – and what else have we covered? – (Ezra) Pound’s  “Usura” Canto (which, I think, we went over), and this poem, “At The Top Of My Voice”, which is both tragic and heroic at the same time.

There is an account of his first reading of this poem in the (Herbert) Marshall book that I have – And he’s having an exhibition of twenty years of his work, and he’s giving a lecture and answering a lot of criticism, and so he says this was the first time it was ever read, and there was an account (or) some notes taken on the conversation at the meeting before he read the poem, and then the moment of reading the poem. And before he read it for the first time, unveiling it, (at the) premier performance, he said – “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 fully explains and defines what I do, what I am working really…Very often, lately, those who are annoyed by my literary-publicist work say that I have forgotten how to write poetry and for that posterity will give it to me hot. I’m a determined fellow. I want myself to speak with my descendents, and not to wait and see what my critics in the future will tell them. Therefore, I address myself direct to posterity in my poem, “At The Top of My Voice”

So the title is “At The Top Of My Voice”. So you’ve got to also dig it as not merely wanting to address postetrity as (Percy Bysshe) Shelley did (“Scatter my words, ashes and sparks, among mankind”), but also he’s got to speak over the heads of the political critics, and over the ring of iron that was beginning to slowly close around (him).

(Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately seventy-two-and-a-half minutes in and concluding at approximately eighty-one-and-three-quarter minutes in) 

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