AG: “First Prelude to A Poem of the Five-Year Plan” – [Allen prepares to read
And what I’ll do is, there’s certain rhythms in here, which are interesting in English, (but) which are perfect and exact in Russian, so maybe I can stop occasionally, like (when I was reading) that (poem) for Tatiana – that Mitraikies and Kudraikies section [кудреватые Митрейки,/мудреватые Кудрейки] — at the beginning. You can follow that? – And “Mary, Mary, quite contrary..” just right before that. And there’s one section in the beginning where he parodies the tinkle of rhymed verse of his contemporaries – [Allen begins reading (from the entire “At The Top of My Voice” and in the Herbert Marshall translation)] –
“At the Top of My Voice – “Most respected/comrades, heirs and descendants..” [Уважаемые/товарищи потомки!] – Excavating our contemporary petrified muck..” -[Роясь/в сегодняшнем/ окаменевшем говне..]….”..from the seigniorial horticulture/of poetry/a most capricious dame,/precious Muse that grows, like Mary, roses/ round a bungalow..” – [Allen breaks off at this point] – “Mary, Mary, quite contrary/how does your garden grow?” – Say that in Russian? – like Mary..roses..roundabout.. yeah.. in Russian?..
Student: (Well, it’s not really… so..) “..бабы капризной./Засадила садик мило,/дочка,/дачка,/водь/и гладь —/сама садик я садила,/ сама буду поливать.”
AG (continues) “Some pour verses from a sprinkler,/ some just splutter from their lips” – “curly-headed Mitraikies”, (that’s the next passage), “muddle-headed Kudraikies” (these are local would-be-poet whose names are forgotten, according to Marshall’s (footnotes) – (now) how does that Mitraikies and Kudraikies rhyme go?
Student: “кудреватые Митрейки,/ мудреватые Кудрейки”
AG (continues) ; “.. who the devil knows which one from which/No quarantine will take them in / and those mandelins again! /”Tapa-tina tapa-tina /Teeen..” – And of course those mandolins again..?
Student: “мандолинят из-под стен:/Тара-тина, тара-тина,/т-эн-н…”
AG: “Not much of an honor/ but from such roses /my very own statue will rise over squares with gobs of tuberculosis/where whores, hooligans/ and syphilis/I’m fed up to the teeth/ with agit-prop” (agitation propaganda) [агитпроп]/ I’d like to scribble for you love ballads/ which are charming/ and pay quite a lot/but I/ mastered myself/ and crushed underfoot/ the throat of my very own songs [Но я/себя/смирял,/становясь/на горло/собственной песне] …”My verse will reach across the peaks of eras/ far over the heads of/ poets and of governments” [“Мой стих дойдёт/через хребты веков/и через головы/поэтов и правительств”]..”My verse will come/but come not ornate/not like an arrow’s lyrical love flight from Eros,/ not like a worn-out coin comes to the numismatist/ and not like the light of a long-dead stars arrives/ My verse/ with labor/ thrusts through weighted years/ emerging/ ponderous/ rock-rough,/ age-grim,/ as when today/ an aqueduct appears/ firm-grounded once by/ the branded slaves of Rome.” – I wonder what that’s like in Russian. The piece that begins, “…”My verse will reach across the peaks of eras/ far over the heads of/ poets and of governments”, because that’s one of the most powerful heroic statements in the twentieth century as prophecy. “My verse will reach… “It’s not like.. [to Student] – “It’s right after (the lines about) Esenin..
Student: Мой стих дойдёт,/но он дойдёт не так, —/не как стрела/в амурно-лировой охоте,/не как доходит/к нумизмату стёршийся пятак/и не как свет умерших звёзд доходит./Мой стих/трудом/громаду лет прорвёт/и явится/весомо,/грубо,/зримо,/как в наши дни/вошёл водопровод,/сработанный/ещё рабами Рима.
AG (continues, reading Mayakovsky’s “At The Top of My Voice”, triumphantly, through to the end of the poem): “You’ll accidentally find/ in barrows of books” – [I guess the wheelbarrows of books that are on second-hand sale] – [В курганах книг], “wrought-iron lines/ of long-buried poems,/ handle them with the care that respects/ ancient but terrible weapons/My words are not used to caressing ears; nor titillate with semi-obscenities maiden ears hidden in hair so innocent..[“с уважением/ощупывайте их,/как старое,/но грозное оружие./Я/ухо/словом/не привык ласкать;/ушку девическому/в завиточках волоска/с полупохабщины/ не разалеться тронуту”]” .…..”..Come Comrade Life:/, lets step hard on the throttle/ and roar out the Five Year Plan’s remnant days./I haven’t got a rouble left from my verse/the cabinet-makers didn’t send my furniture home/ but my only need’s a clean-laundered shirt/For the rest, I honestly don’t give a damn..” [“Товарищ жизнь,/давай быстрей протопаем,/протопаем/по пятилетке/дней остаток/.Мне/и рубля/не накопили строчки,/краснодеревщики/не слали мебель на́ дом./И кроме/свежевымытой сорочки,/скажу по совести,/мне ничего не надо”].…”I’ll lift up high, like a Bolshevik party-card, all the hundred books of my Comm(unist) Party poems!” [“я подыму,/как большевистский партбилет,/все сто томов/моих/ партийных книжек”].
“The poem was well-received”, Mayakovsky continues, “I read to you the last and most difficult of my poetry, made most conscientiously, and the fact that it reached you is very very interesting. It means that without lowering the standard of our technique, we must concentrate on working only for reader of the working-classes.
Chairman: Mayakovsky is very tired and ought to rest we should go on with the discussions. There follows discussions and questions to which Mayakovsky rose to reply. “Comrades” (this is Mayakovsky), there are many notes here but comparitively few questions, simply many notes repeat themselves. Very often a request to read a certain piece of poetry. Then a number of questions as to why I use “dirty words”. A comrade says here that you cannot built socialism in using rude words in writing if you don’t use them in life. It’s naive to think that I wanted to build something on these words. The comrade is right – we can’t build socialism on any words. I do not use those words for that. I love it when a poet closing his eyes to all reality sweetly sings his sounds, but supposing one took him like a puppy and pushed his nose right into life – solely as a poetical technique. I’ve also been told off for using the word svoloch (meaning “scum”) . I use that word because it’s often used in life. As long as that word exists, I shall use it in verse . You can’t annihilate the word “svoloch” for aesthetic reasons, and so I use it in its fullest sense”. Mayakovsky then read more of his verse and finished by saying, “Maybe we’d better end on this.”..
…My throat refuses to go on..
Ann Charters: Let me quickly say that when Mayakovsky gave his readings, he invited questions and comments from the audience, and people would pass out little slips of paper, and he would be then handed these questions from the audience, and he would reply to whatever comment the listener had, and they would often attack him in the questions, they were not praising him, they were always asking him, in low vulgar language, once they asked him why he wore a gold ring?. They said, “You’re such you’re a proletarian worker poet, you shouldn’t have gold”. And he said, “Ok, I’ll wear it in my nose then, if that makes you happier!”. So he took it off and never wore (his gold ring) again . But he was also, in other words, answering questions from people, on this magnificent poem, who were criticizing the words, that they were too common, that poets should have elevated words. They actually gave him trouble at every point… The exhibition which was referred to also was something else that you might know about, because it was a collection of (about) twenty years of his work . He himself prepared the exhibition without any official help or..
AG: A sort of self-defense shot?
Ann Charters: A sort of self-defense. He would show the government that he had indeed spent twenty years writing and working for the progress of the Revolution. And one of the things.. (they resurrected this exhibition in Moscow, and I saw it in 1977, and one of the things was a whole bulletin board , like that,filled with the slips of paper that had come from the audience that had listened to Mayakovsky, all the questions (he kept them! he didn’t throw away a scrap! – Lily kept them actually), and they resurrected them and put all the people’s comments from the time on the poetry on the big bulletin board. Now Mayakovsky’s point was there was a lot of public response. I mean, he kept these papers to show the government that people listened to him, you know, and that’s interesting.
The last thing I’ll say before I leave is, because we’re running out of time, is that, getting back to what we said at the beginning of the importance of Mayakovsky as the spokesman, or the heroic figure, of the Revolution, and how it is often thought that his suicide marked the end of an era. Well, there’s a painting in Washington DC , if you ever go, by Larry Rivers, who, like many people, (Peter) Orlovsky, Allen Ginsberg and Frank O”Hara, was profoundly moved by the poetry of Mayakovsky, and this painting by Larry Rivers is called “The History of the Russian Revolution From Marx to Mayakovsky”. It hangs in the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington and it’s a mixed-media work done in 1965. It consists of planks, painting, machine-gun parts, photographs, pipes, plumbing, starting with Bismarck, Marx, Engels and ends on (Vladimir Mayakovsky).
(Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately eighty-one-and-three-quarter minutes in and concluding at the end of the tape)
http://cdm16621.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/p16621coll1/id/1016/rec/1 (concluding at approximately twenty-two minutes in)
& on next tape: http://cdm16621.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/p16621coll1/id/1024/rec/5