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by Joy Neumeyer at 22/07/2013 18:22

On July 19, Moscow marked the 120th anniversary of Vladimir Mayakovsky, the rebellious Futurist poet who rose from a childhood in Georgia to become the voice of the October Revolution. The commemorations came on the eve of the controversial renovation of Moscow’s Mayakovsky Museum, which some fear will remove its Futurist-inspired displays and put a 21st-century gloss on the Soviet icon.

As a member of a groundbreaking circle of poets that sprung up just before the Revolution, Mayakovsky believed in destroying Russia’s literary firmament and creating an entirely new type of art – a credo summarized in the Futurists’ 1912 manifesto, “A Slap in the Face of Public Taste.”

In the new Soviet Union, Mayakovsky co-founded the avant-garde LEF newspaper and composed countless agitation poems and slogans. Mayakovsky was both a hard-driving radical and a romantic bohemian, equally in love with the revolution and his muse Lilya Brik.

Dancers in Malevich costumes on Triumfalnaya Ploshchad

© RIA Novosti. / Sergei Kuznetsov

Dancers in Malevich costumes on Triumfalnaya Ploshchad

The anniversary festivities began at 11 a.m., with a ceremonial laying of flowers at Mayakovsky’s grave in Novodevichy Cemetery, and then continued at Triumphalnaya Ploshchad, the meeting place of nonconformist poets in the 1950s and ’60s. Recently reopened after spending several years closed off with fences, the square had a black-and-yellow reconstruction of the Russian letter “Ya,” in honor of Mayakovsky’s first poetry collection of the same name. A small crowd of journalists, stalwart Mayakovsky fans and excited teenagers assembled under gathering rain clouds.

The 77-year-old poet Yevgeny Rein, a mentor to Joseph Brodsky, began the ceremony with an unexpected remark.

“I agree with Comrade Stalin!” he bellowed in a deep, rattling bass not unlike Mayakovsky’s own. The crowd perked up. “Mayakovsky was and will remain the greatest, most talented poet of our era, and indifference to his memory is a crime!

“Now I will read two of my poems about Mayakovsky,” he concluded softly.

Speaking off to the side of the square after his reading, he said he invoked Stalin because the most significant words about the poet belonged to him. After literary figurehead Maxim Gorky, who took a vehement dislike to Mayakovsky, banned the poet’s works, Lilya Brik complained to Stalin, whose proclamation ensured that the poet was enshrined in Soviet culture. “As Pasternak said, this was both Mayakovsky’s blessing and his curse,” Rein said. “You can’t force [poetry on people].”

The coda to Rein’s reading was provided by a pair of dancers wearing avian-like costumes designed by Kazimir Malevich for the Futurist opera “Victory over the Sun.” The dancers leapt around to techno music before a series of high school students took the stage to proclaim some of Mayakovsky’s most famous lyrics – the reader of the romantic “Letter to Tatyana Yakoleva” as calm as if he were giving a science presentation, while another student writhed with poetic agony during his rendition of “A Cloud in Trousers.”

The festivities continued through the evening, with events including walking tours to significant spots around town connected to the poet, such as the yellow Taganskaya house where he resided with Brik and her husband, and Georgian polyphonic singing back at the Mayakovsky Museum. Mayakovsky grew up speaking Georgian at school in his birthplace of Baghdati, where his father was stationed as a forest ranger.

After the poet shot himself in his Lubyanka apartment in 1930 – a death some believe was caused by mounting pressure, while others say the state killed him – Mayakovsky’s memory was co-opted by the state into a monumental propaganda piece, with a massive statue erected on the Moscow square renamed in his honor. Generations of schoolchildren were compelled to memorize the poet’s verses extolling Lenin and the joy of having a Soviet passport.

Mayakovsky's daughter Patricia Thompson in her New York home, 1991

© RIA Novosti. / RIA Novosti

Mayakovsky’s daughter Patricia Thompson in her New York home, 1991

However, in the post-Soviet era, the poet has come under a reappraisal, with a new effort to read his verses without ideological baggage. He remains highly read; according to a survey conducted last week by the Levada Center, Mayakovsky is the second most popular Russian poet (behind his friend Sergei Yesenin).

The fight over Mayakovsky’s memory is at the center of the current controversy over the museum dedicated to the poet. Its singular design dates from the 1980s, featuring jagged Constructivist-like red shapes, photo collages and a litany of objects dangling from the ceiling.

Last fall, an announcement appeared on the city culture department’s website that the museum would close for “renovation and reconstruction” and reopen with a new format, leading to public outrage. City culture head Sergei Kapkov later backtracked, saying that the displays would retain their current form. An anonymous blogger who runs the site still alleges that the museum’s director intends to “demolish the exhibition” and calls on supporters to halt the city’s “barbaric plans” by writing to Mayor Sergei Sobyanin.

This past winter, the museum’s longtime head was replaced by Nadezhda Morozova, who previously worked at the Pushkin Museum. Her arrival has been interpreted by some as a sign that the spirit of the museum is undergoing a fundamental shift, and was protested by some staff.

The type of language Morozova uses to describe the poet – “we want to reboot this famous figure, like rebooting a computer” – presumably does little to assuage the doubts of her critics. “We want him to be seen not just as a propagandist, like in the Soviet era, but as a poet with tender, piercing lyrics, a figure of a new time – not of Soviet, but almost cosmic proportions,” she said.

But she rebuffs the notion that the museum will be significantly altered, saying that it is undergoing “structural renovations” to improve its plumbing, ventilation and communication systems and that the “the display itself won’t be touched.”

“These are the claims of very strange people who can’t listen to what they’re told,” she said. “I pity them. They’re trolls.”

The museum will continue to be open to visitors until September 16. It is expected to reopen in fall 2015.

Some say the poet shouldn’t be divorced from his Soviet context. “They want to remake Mayakovsky in order to suit those currently in power,” said Mikhail Shmatkov, a pensioner who came to Triumphalnaya Square waving a small Communist flag.

Shmatkov said he has been coming to mark Mayakovsky’s birthday on the square “since before [this reporter was] born.” He and a friend noted that this is the first year the birthday celebrations have ever featured a microphone, which was introduced by the museum’s new leadership. After the official ceremony subsided, Shmatkov walked up to the statue to perform his own readings, sans mike.  n

Mayakovsky in Manhattan

Vladimir Mayakovsky on the streets of New York, 1925

© RIA Novosti. / Ignatovich

Vladimir Mayakovsky on the streets of New York, 1925

In 1925, the voice of the Bolshevik revolution made a journey to the heart of capitalism – and embarked on a love affair whose result would remain a secret until the end of the century.

In late July of that year, Mayakovsky arrived in New York for an American tour. His visit was welcomed with a sneering article in The New York Times that said “the proletarian poet prefers to dress like a dandy and order his clothes from the finest tailors of Paris,” according to Mayakovsky biographer Bengt Jangfeldt. He embarked on a reading and lecture tour in cities including Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago, but he spent most of his stay in the heart of the Russian émigré community: New York.

Mayakovsky didn’t care for New Yorkers, whom he described to one interviewer as “intellectually very provincial,” nor was he taken with their skyscrapers, which he considered too ornamented (“it’s like slapping red bows on an escalator,” he wrote). However, some of the verses he composed during his stay there reveal the energy with which the metropolis infused the young poet: “Ya v vostorge/Ot Nyu-Yorka goroda” (I’m in a tizzy/Over New York City). He spent much of his time strolling down Broadway and Fifth Avenue, as well as frequenting billiard halls and Harlem cabarets.

Mayakovsky spoke no English; a hypochondriac, he carried an apology for not shaking anyone’s hand, which he kept written down on a crumpled note in his coat pocket. The silver-tongued author of “A Cloud in Trousers” felt continually stymied by his lack of fluency. In a series of essays he wrote about the trip, “My Discovery of America,” he described attending parties hosted by New York’s literati, who had been told that Mayakovsky was a genius. He would then arrive at the party, able only to utter “could you give me some tea, please” in a thick accent. “Ah, what a Russian, he never utters a word more than necessary!” they thought, in Mayakovsky’s imagination. “A thinker. Tolstoy. The North.”

It was perhaps in part his frustration over the language barrier that led to his relationship with Elly Jones. Born Yelizaveta in the Urals in 1904, she emigrated to the United States after the revolution by marrying an English aid worker, to whom she was still married when she met Mayakovsky. Fluent in both English and Russian, she became Mayakovsky’s guide to the city, as well as his lover. The poet summarized their relationship in a drawing that showed a cartoonish Jones setting a lightning-bolt gaze on a stricken Mayakovsky.

The two went to great lengths to hide their relationship, always addressing each other using name and patronymic. From the beginning, Mayakovsky made clear that he was bound to another woman (Lilya Brik, who was waiting back in Moscow). Mayakovsky was also afraid of the consequences if his liaison were to become public. During his trip, his friend Isaiah Khurgin, an early associate of Leon Trotsky’s, died in a suspicious boating accident in New York’s Long Lake. The death was widely believed to have been a hit ordered by Stalin. It was clear that the long arms of the Soviet intelligence services reached as far as New York’s outer boroughs.

After four months, Mayakovsky returned to Moscow. Jones wrote to him soon after informing him she was pregnant. The poet tried to arrange another official visit to the U.S., which was denied; unable to explain the true reason for his visit, he was unable to see his infant daughter for another two years.

Jones feared for her child’s life. After Mayakovsky’s death in 1930, she kept her daughter’s true parentage a secret, and she and George Jones raised the child as their own.

It was not until the early 1990s that Patricia Thompson revealed her lineage. A professor of feminism at the City University of New York, she shares her father’s strong jaw and deep-set eyes. She shares the belief that her father was murdered by the state.

In Russia, she is known as Yelena Vladimirovna Mayakovskaya, and is now officially recognized as his daughter. On her father’s birthday, she appeared in a televised interview from New York on Russian television channel Vesti.

“I remember his long legs,” she said in Russian, recalling her one meeting with her father in France as a toddler. “I’m sitting on his knees and playing with what I later realized were his diaries.”

She is currently assembling her family’s archives, which Mayakovsky Museum director Nadezhda Morozova said will be given to the museum.

“And Could You?” Vladimir Mayakovsky, 1913

I suddenly smeared the weekdaymap

splashing paint from a glass;

On a plate of aspic

I revealed

the ocean’s slanted cheek.

On the scales of a tin fish

I read the summons of new lips.

And you

could you perform

a nocturne on a drainpipe flute?

“A bloody morsel of heart”: essential Mayakovsky poems

“From Street to Street,” 1913

“Listen!” 1914

“A Cloud in Trousers,” 1915

“An Extraordinary Adventure,” 1920

“Vladimir Ilyich Lenin,” 1924

“The Poem of the Soviet Passport,” 1929

“At the Top of My Voice,” 1930


and see also Marjorie Perloff:

Over the Last Limit: Resurrecting Vladimir Mayakovsky by Marjorie Perloff

what a poet!
and the clear water is thick
with bloody blows on its head.
I embraced a cloud,
But when I soared
it rained.
—Frank O’Hara, “Mayakovsky” (1954)

In the summer of 1915, Vladimir Mayakovsky paid a call on Maxim Gorky and read him the first draft of his new long poem “A Cloud in Pants.” Its verses initially had been scribbled, so his friends reported, on cigarette boxes. As the Russian Formalist critic Viktor Shklovsky recalls, “Aleksey Maksimovich [Gorky] told me that he was stunned and that even a little gray bird hopping on the path ruffled its feathers, cocked its head and still could not bring itself to fly away.”

Gorky himself was to remember the incident rather differently. Shortly after Mayakovsky’s suicide in 1930, he wrote:

I liked his verses and he read very well: he even broke into sobs, like a woman, and this alarmed and disturbed me. He complained that a human being is ‘divided horizontally at the level of the diaphragm.’ When I told him that in my opinion he had a great but probably hard future, and that his talent called for a lot of work, he answered gloomily, ‘I want the future today,’ and again, ‘Without joy I don’t need any future, and I feel no joy.’ He behaved very nervously and was clearly deeply disturbed. He seemed to speak with two voices, in one voice he was a pure lyricist, in the other sharply satirical. It was clear that he was especially sensitive, very talented, and—unhappy.

The sensitive, talented, and unhappy poet was twenty-two years old when he wrote “A Cloud in Pants,” and already a veteran revolutionary. A high school dropout, Mayakovsky survived an eleven-month prison sentence for subversive political acitivities in 1908. Four years later, he helped to formulate the Futurist manifesto A Slap in the Face of Public Taste.

In his reminiscence Gorky emphasizes the personal, but the “disturbance” he refers to guardedly (writing, as he was, at the height of Stalinist repression) was political and cultural as well: it is the subject of one of the great essays written on Mayakovsky, or, for that matter, modernist poetry in general— “On a Generation that Squandered Its Poets,” by the critic Roman Jakobson. Composed by one of the poet’s close friends, who also happened to be the leading Formalist critic-in-exile in the wake of the Revolution, this elegiac essay tries to understand the tragedy that doomed the Russian avant-garde as a whole and Mayakovsky in particular.

Mayakovsky’s first collection of poems, Jakobson reminds us, “was entitled I. [He] is not only the hero of his first play, but his name is the title of that tragedy, as well as of his last collection of poems. The author dedicates his verse ‘to his beloved self.’” He wanted, desperately, to depict man in an all-encompassing way—after the Revolution, the new Soviet man. “But Mayakovsky could directly feel only himself.” And Jakobson echoes Trotsky’s judgment that “our poet . . . populates the squares, the streets, and the fields of the Revolution only with himself.” In the early work, and especially in the love poems to Lili Brik, culminating in Pro Eto (“About This,” 1923), this manic drive produced the most dazzling of images and metaphors, intricately structured in elaborately rhymed stanzas. “The ego of the poet,” says Jakobson paraphrasing Mayakovsky, “is a battering ram, thudding into a forbidden Future; it is a mighty will ‘hurled over the last limit’ toward the incarnation of the Future, toward an absolute fullness of being: ‘one must rip joy from the days yet to come.’”

But how does “I” become the emblem of the new order? And what stands in its way? “Opposed to this creative urge toward a transformed future,” writes Jakobson, “is the stabilizing force of an immutable present, overlaid, as this present is, by a stagnating slime, which stifles life in its tight, hard mold. The Russian name for this element is byt.” There is no corresponding word, Jakobson notes, in the West European languages, where opposition to the status quo was never quite what it was for the poets and artists of the October Revolution. Motionless byt” was Mayakovsky’s enemy: “Slits of byt are filled with fat and coagulate, quiet and wide”; “The swamp of byt is covered over with slime and weeds.” “They come and they come,” notes the poet, describing a Christmas Eve party in Pro Eto, “in timid infinity, / their beards with domestic cobwebs glinting. / Age upon age, / the same old sludge: unwhipped.”

Revolution, in other words, comes to be regarded as a permanent state of excitement, countering the boredom of everyday routine. In “A Cloud in Pants” (1915), freely translated for this new collection by Matvei Yankelevich, the poet promises that when the thorny crown of revolution (which Mayakovsky here places in the year 1916!) comes, bringing out the masses to meet their poet-savior:

I’ll drag out

my soul for you,

stomp it flat,
so that it’s giant!
and, blood-soaked, bestow it—a banner.

The blood-soaked banner echoes the “blood-soaked shred of the heart” in the poem’s opening stanza and relates, as is so often the case in Makayovsky’s poetry, the idea of revolution to death and bodily resurrection. The “infatuation with a wonderful future,” Jakobson observes, goes hand in hand with a “hatred for the evil continuum of specific tomorrows”—tomorrows that only prolong the byt of today. Hence, in a peculiar inversion of Romantic typology, Mayakovsky regards children with fear and suspicion, their very existence pointing to a future when they will be adults, thus challenging the poet’s own sense of himself as eternally young. “I love to watch children dying,” the speaker declares offensively in 1913’s “A Few Words about Myself.” “My reading room is in the streets— / there, so often I’ve leafed through coffin lids.” And, next thing we know, child-murder is transformed into a cosmic theme:

I scream at the bricks,
my frenzied words thrusting a dagger into
the sky’s swollen pulp:
My father!
You, at least have some pity! Don’t torture me so!
It is you who have spilled my blood, it runs toward the
That is my soul
tufts of a shredded cloud
in the burnt-out sky
over the rusty cross of the bell tower!

Gradually, child-murder is linked to suicide. “Mama!” shouts the poet of “Cloud in Pants,” “Tell my sisters, Lyuda and Olya, / That there’s no way out” (Jakobson’s translation). That motif—there’s no way out—occurs more and more frequently in the later writings, running squarely against the overtly progessivist notions of the Futurists and, in the early 1920s, the LEF (Left Art Front) groups. Increasingly, byt cannot be overcome by declarations of undying love or by grandiose theses on Communism.

In Mayakovsky and his Circle (1940), Shklovsky gives an understated—and therefore all the more terrifying—account of the gradual marginalization and rejection of Mayakovsky by the new literary leadership, despite the success of such propaganda poems as the long “Vladimir Ilyich Lenin” (1924). For the new Proletcultists, Shklovsky recalls, “The very concept of creative art was put between quotes.” And again, “Now, imagine for a moment the position of the poet. He is at the head of a journal [LEF], and this journal opposes poetry. There was no place for Mayakovsky.” In 1927 the Poets’ Union published a pamphlet that declared: “Mayakovsky’s rhymes are very bad. He is monotonous and writes for the Lumpenproletariat. His free verse is also no good, it offers no poetic opportunities and, besides, it has already been used by Pushkin and Blok.” Mayakovsky, still trying to catapult himself into a meaningful future, joined the Soviet Writers’ Union RAPP, so as to get closer to the workers. “He found himself in a stagnant bay, surrounded on all sides by prohibitions and quotations.” In lines later eliminated from the poem “Homewards” and published in the sixth issue of LEF (1928), Mayakovsky writes:

I want to be understood by my country,
and if I am not—
never mind,
I will pass
over my native land
as     a     slanted     rain     passes.

It is this passage, along with “A Cloud in Pants,” that Frank O’Hara alludes to in his acute poem on Mayakovsky. Here, for a brief moment, the Russian poet seems to have understood the futility of revolution. But a few days before his suicide on April 14, 1930, Mayakovsky was still trying to put a good face on Stalin’s recent “reforms.”

For Jakobson, himself one of the Futurist cenacle, Mayakovsky’s longing for the total revolution that would purge the world of byt represented the mood of an entire generation of avant-garde poets that included Sergei Esenin (a suicide in 1925) and Velimir Khlebnikov (who died of starvation in 1922):

We strained toward the future too impetuously and avidly to leave any past behind us. The connection of one period with another was broken. We lived too much for the future, thought about it, believed in it; the news of the day—sufficient unto itself—no longer existed for us. We lost sense of the present. We were the witnesses of and participants in great social, scientific, and other cataclysms. Byt fell behind us, just as in the young Mayakovsky’s splendid hyperbole: ‘One foot has not yet reached the next street.’


You will find no part of Jakobson’s essay and only some fairly minor quotes from Shklovsky’s brilliant and short book in Night Wraps the Sky, a medley of writings by and about Mayakovsky. The book’s principle of selection is a mystery to me. The editor, the well-known filmmaker Michael Almereyda, explains it this way in his introduction:

As few English translations of Mayakovsky are currently in print, the chief aim here is to reintroduce the poet to English-speaking readers, stitching together a suitable patchwork of documents, photographs, posters, and other imagery, foregrounding new translations of seminal work. A good many primary sources are extracted from Wiktor Woroszylski’s lovingly researched, definitive choral biography, The Life of Mayakovsky, first published in 1966 and long out of print. (Interested readers are urged to rummage and exhume a copy of this epic work.)

Surely this is the oddest of editorial comments. First, it would be helpful to know something about those Mayakovky translations that are in print: I checked out Patricia Blake’s edition of The Bedbug and Selected Poetry on and found that it is available for $14.95 with next-day delivery. Almereyda obviously knows this since he uses four extracts from Blake’s commentary in Night Wraps the Sky. Indeed, Almereyda’s use of her expository statements—statements not particularly telling—makes the whole situation even odder, as does his inclusion of John Berger’s not especially distinctive essay, “Mayakovsky: His Language and His Death” and Peter Conrad’s short comment on the poet’s second play Mystery-Bouffe. The little description ofMayakovsky: A Tragedy, in my own book, The Futurist Moment (1986), is here reprinted on a single page containing two short paragraphs, the second with a major misprint (three words are omitted) so that it makes no sense.

Even more puzzling is the reference to Woroszylski’s “definitive” biography. If this volume is so important, why not put it back into print, or at least present extracts here, rather than urging readers to exhume it somewhere? Or again, why was Christopher Edgar chosen to write the essay on Mayakovsky’s travels to North America in the mid-twenties? Is Edgar, identified in the acknowledgments as a “gifted writer,” a scholar of Russian? Was this essay written for this collection? Similar questions are raised by Rachel Cohen’s “Some Stage Sets for Mayakovsky” and any number of the other pieces. More importantly, since the book contains only a small selection of the lyric poetry, why these poems and not others? Why extracts from the autobiography I, Myself (1922) but not from The Bedbug?

Indeed, Night Wraps the Sky seems barely edited at all, much less copyedited or proofread. Did no one notice that the extract on page 151 called “The Red Flag and the Red Mask,” taken from Blake’s introduction to Selected Poetry (1960), is dated 1999, or that the first sentence, “Mayakovsky usually managed to retain his originality . . .” is missing its opening qualifier, “In this liberal atmosphere”?

But all is not lost. Night Wraps the Sky is redeemed by three things. First, it offers rare coverage of Mayakovsky’s film work, including the poster for his now-lost 1918 film Not for Money Born in which the poet brandishes the gun with which he later shot himself. Almereyda’s commentary on the role of film in the poet’s career is helpful. Second, the book boasts forty magnificent photographs (among them, some of Alexander Rodchenko’s iconic images) and other illustrations, many of them, like the image of the fourteen-year-old poet’s 1908 registration card in the files of the Okhrana (Secret Police), from the Mayakovsky State Museum in Moscow. Although again poorly documented, the photographs and reproductions make Almereyda’s book worth the price.

Third, and most important, although Night Wraps the Sky includes a disappointingly small selection of poems, it does include new translations by three talented young Russian-Americans now active on the New York poetry scene: Matvei Yankelevich, Val Vinokur, and Katya Apekina. I have already cited Apekina’s “A Few Words About Myself”; her rendition of the propaganda poem “150 Million” and Val Vinokur’s “Ballad of Reading Gaol” (Part II of Pro Eto) create startling verbal effects, given the difficulty of matching Mayakovsky’s sound structures. Vinokur has a racy, idiomatic translation of the famous “An Extraordinary Adventure that Happened to Vladimir Mayakovsky One Summer at a Dacha” (1920), the poem O’Hara recreated so wittily in his “A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island,” which is reprinted at the back of Night Wraps the Sky.

Yankelevich, whose excellent edition of Daniil Kharms’s writings was published in 2007, gives us a free-wheeling, up-to-date translation of “Cloud in Pants.” Compare the passage from “Cloud,” already mentioned above, to Max Hayward and George Reavey’s earlier version, used in Blake:

Who’s speaking?
Your son is gloriously ill!
His heart is on fire.
Tell his sisters Lyuda and Olya
he has no nook to hide in.
(Hayward and Reavey)
Who is it?
Your son is wonderfully ill!
His heart’s on fire.
Tell my sisters, Lyuda and Olya—
he’s done for.

Yankelevich’s edgy, contemporary street slang is offset by his attention to Mayakovsky’s sound patterns, difficult to simulate in English. Here, for example, is the rendition of fellow Futurist David Burliuk’s poetic credo in Part III of “Cloud”:

How dare you call yourself Poet,
and chirp like a grouse—so dull!
with brass knuckles
you’ve got to
cut open the world in your skull.

which preserves the rhyme lost in Hayward, where line two is “And twitter grayly like a quail.”

All in all, then, this odd Mayakovsky medley does provide new readers with an entry into the world of one of the great twentieth-century poets. There is enough tantalizing material here to make anyone interested in modernist poetry wish for more. Surely a “Collected Poems” is overdue. Akhmatova, Mandelstam: these have been well served by American publishers, and even the difficult zaum poet Khlebnikov has a three-volume Collected Works, translated by Paul Schmidt.

In the meantime, the best way to get at Mayakovsky may well be through the art book facsimiles that have been published. A gorgeous one is the Berlin Ars Nicolai facsimile (1994) of the 1923Pro Eto (here called “It” but usually translated as “About That”—I would say “This n’ that”). Part recapitulation of his passion for Lili, with whom he had recently split up, part satire on family values as well as the new Soviet bureaucracy, Pro Eto is illustrated by eight Rodchenko photomontages—montages that perfectly capture the spirit of Mayakovsky’s “Ballad of Reading Gaol” and the later sections. In the facsimile, the Russian text is followed by excellent translations into both German and English by Hugo Huppert and Dorian Rottenberg respectively.

A second remarkable artist book is the British Library/MIT Press 2000 three-volume boxed set,For The Voice (Dlia golosa), a reproduction in both Russian and English of El Lissitzky’s brilliantly designed red-and-black thumb-indexed text of Mayakovsky’s 1923 collection of thirteen poems. The third volume, edited by Patricia Railing, features essays and bio-bibliographical materials on both the poetry and Lissitzky’s typography and art work. As Railing’s bibliography makes clear, art historians have long appreciated the importance of the collaboration between poet and painter, but, because of the translation problem, literary interest in this modernist classic has lagged behind. It is high time for a change. In the words of Mayakovsky’s “Listen!”:

Well, if stars
are lit
Doesn’t it mean—there is someone who needs that?


mayakovsky book

On Viktor Shklovsky’s book:

menage a trois

On the never-ending romantic legacy:

and if you can get it, get it: Cesar Vallejo’s excellent critical autopsy: The Mayakovsky Case


“Guten Morgen, Mayakovsky You should not have a hole in my chest so Guten Morgen, Mayakovsky To come away Guten Morgen, Mayakovsky remember seeing in my dreams Guten Morgen, Mayakovsky Cloud in Trousers Guten Morgen, Mayakovsky in 31 minutes does not have time to Guten Morgen, Mayakovsky’s to you Guten Morgen finish singing, Mayakovsky not found niches Guten Morgen, Mayakovsky Where do you fly? … Guten Morgen, Mayakovsky bye Lilya Brik Guten Morgen, Mayakovsky swallowed his cry”

July 2013