Thursday, April 24, 2014

Expansive Poetics - 55 - (Mayakovsky and Tatiana)

[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 [1981] 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 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 любвиAnd 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". 

Картинка 65 из 9848

Tatiana Yakovleva du Plessix Liberman

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) 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Expansive Poetics 54 - (Mayakovsky - Public Poetry)

AG: What did we have? What is the next thing we were going to do? Because I have an idea.

Ann Charters; Well, I was going to talk (next) about his (Mayakovsky's) work for the Party. I mean, what does a poet do who's taken up by the Communist Party?

AG: Okay

Ann Charters: Yeah?

AG: That'd be interesting,  yeah.

Ann Charters: Interesting? No kidding! Very interesting! - I mean, before he kills himself, right?.  In 1926.. okay, I'm skipping over the part where Mayakovsky has his trip to America, because we're going to have a talk about that..

AG: At the library

Ann Charters: On Wednesday night at the library

AG: "Mayakovsky in America" 

Ann Charters: Yeah

AG: What he did here..

Ann Charters: And that comes in..

AG: Meeting William Carlos Williams, no less!

Student: Wow!

Ann Charters: But I skip over that and go on to 1926 (Remember, he commits suicide in 1930). The only way that Mayakovsky could survive, given his temperament and his genius was obviously to travel a lot. You know you just can't sit still in Moscow and work in an office turning out these poems. So he became a correspondent, after he'd done the work for ROSTA during the civil war


Ann Charters: The Russian telegraph agency, making the posters. And then he takes a job during the time of the New Economic Policy, Lenin's time of having a little bit more capitalism enter the country as it's slowly been starving to death -  he had a period called the New Economic Policy, which means you could could operate private businesses for a brief time - three years - And during this time, Mayakovsky takes a job as a publicist for the State Communist Store, the department store, because they have now competition for a few brief years after the Revolution... [tape ends here and continues] - There was a whole wall of advertisements that he did and the packaging (he was into packaging). This was before the generic brand, you know, things. He, for example, would package state bubble-gum, and he would say, "Chew our bubble-gum, the bubbles last longer and they..", you know,"give a greater high", something like that. And this is all printed as verse, it's all rhymed. I remember the one..what is it?..well, there used to be dirty lyrics too, but we won't do that right now (because, needless to say, the Futurists who had to do this kind of work were having fun with it privately as well, and there's some funny things).

AG: We read some of those slogans yesterday...

Ann Charters: Yes, but these are...

AG: poetry.

Ann Charters:  ..and these are not for slogans to exhort people to work harder and to accept fair increases, but these are, at this point, slogans to buy stuff, you know, for merchandise. Like you see big ad(vertisement)s all over. Okay.

He couldn't take that after a while, needless to say. It's a difficult job. And he then became a correspondent for various magazines, (which got him out of the country on travels). And when he was back in the country, he made his living as a reader, as I told you, giving these readings all over the Soviet Union - a grueling, grueling task. I mean, he was, like, traveling and giving readings, maybe a hundred, a hundred-and-fifty readings a year, and then traveling maybe on these primitive trains. You know, like..  and poor Mayakovsky was a bug on sanitation, so he had to boil his water everywhere. He was afraid he'd get typhoid fever. He was in very, very very primitive conditions.
So he really worked very hard and he loved his trips out of the country - to Germany, to Berlin or to Paris, and then finally, to South America, Mexico and America. He loved his trips - his ways to get.. well, some relief from the strain.

AG: The same thing's going on now [1981] with (Andrei) Voznesensky, …Voznesensky and (Yevgeny) Yevtushenko

Ann Charters: So

AG: To get out and take a vacation.

Ann Charters: Yes

AG: Take a breather, get laid

Ann Charters: But...

AG: Smoke some grass,then go back and go to work again

Ann Charters: But there was also, of course, hassle when he came back, Because he'd come back in beautiful European suits. Once he came back with a Renault car, you know, a very beautiful old 1927 car, which in its day was new, of course. And he had a chauffeur. He had lots of money from his readings and his.. he had a lot of attack

[Aleksandr Rodchenko - cover design for  Vladimir Mayakovsky's"Conversation with a Tax Collector About Poetry]

And one of his most funny poems, which illustrates what it's like to work for the government as a poet, is a poem called "Conversation with a Tax Collector About Poetry" - "Conversation with a Tax Collector" - and this is in Patricia Blake's book - "Conversation with a Tax Collector About Poetry". In other words, he had been asked to pay his taxes, like every Soviet citizen, and there isn't any money. He spent it, or it's gone already, alright? - And he says ((in) "Conversation with a Tax Collector About Poetry") - "Citizen tax collector,/ forgive my bothering you./Thank you, /don't worry,/ I'll stand." ["Гражданин фининспектор!/Простите за беспокойство./Спасибо.../не тревожтесь.../я постою.."] - (He pretends that he's visiting the office. He's been called in by the IRS.) - "My business/ is of a delicate nature/ about the place/ of the poet/ in the workers' ranks" [ "У меня к вам/ дело деликатного свойства:/о месте/поэта/в рабочем строю"] - (Okay? - Not an intellectual, as we think of a poet, or a Bohemian poet - but a working poet, a worker poet. There's an attempt, of course, to make it a proletariat situation, because this is the proleteriat revolution, so how does a poet become a worker?) - "Along with/ owners of stores and property,/ I am made subject to/ taxes and penalties./ You demand I pay/ five hundred for the half year/ and twenty-five late-payment/ for failing to send in/ my returns./ Now my work/ is like any other work./ Look here, how much I've lost,/ what/ expenses/ I have in my production/ and how much I spend/ on materials./ You/ know of course/ about rhyme. /Suppose a line ends with the word "day"/and then, repeating/ the syllables/ in the third line/ we insert/ something like  "ta-ra-boom-di-ay!"/. In your idiom,/ rhyme is/ a bill/ of exchange to be honored/ in the third line/ - that's the rule./ And so you hunt/ for the small change of suffixes and flexations/ in the depleted cashbox/ of conjugations and declensions./ You start/ shoving/ a word into the line/ but it's a tight fit" [В ряду/имеющих/лабазы и угодья/и я обложен/и должен караться./Вы требуете/ с меня/пятьсот в полугодие/и двадцать пять/за неподачу деклараций./Труд мой/любому/труду/родствен./Взгляните —/сколько я потерял,/какие/издержки/в моем производстве/и сколько тратится/на материал./Вам,/конечно,/известно/явление «рифмы»./Скажем,/строчка/окончилась словом/«отца»,/и тогда/через строчку,/слога повторив, мы/ставим/какое-нибудь:/ламцадрица-ца́./Говоря по-вашему,/рифма —/вексель. Учесть через строчку! —/ вот распоряжение./И ищешь/мелочишку суффиксов и флексий в пустующей кассе/склонений/и спряжений./Начнешь это/слово/в строчку всовывать,/а оно не лезет"] — "You press and it breaks. Citizen tax collector,/ honestly,/ the poet spends a fortune on words./ In our idiom,/ rhyme is a keg -/ a keg of dynamite./ The line is a fuse,/ the light burns to the end/ and explodes/ and the town/ is blown sky-high/ in a strophe." - ["Гражданин фининспектор,/честное слово,/поэту/в копеечку влетают слова./Говоря по-нашему,/рифма —/бочка."]  - (You don't get the flavor of the rhyme because this is not a rhymed translation - oops! - That's one of the incongruities of reading Mayakovsky in English - every line was "ta-ra-boom-dee-ay" and "they" - in Mayakovsky, it was rhymed, you know. And he's saying (that) it's hard to do it - "Where can you find, and at what price, rhymes that take aim and kill on the spot?" [ Где найдешь,/на какой тариф,/рифмы,/чтоб враз убивали, нацелясь?- "] (In other words, rhyme and meaning and sense and sound) - "Suppose/ only a half-dozen/ unheard-of rhymes/ were left/, in, say, Venezuela./ So I'm/ drawn/ to the north and the south./ I rush around/ entangled in advances and loans" ["Может,/пяток/небывалых рифм/только и остался/что в Венецуэле./И тянет/меня/в холода и в зной./Бросаюсь,/опутан в авансы и в займы я."] 

AG: "I'm plunged in advances/ and loans./ So look at my transport expenses/ I must meet"

[опутан в авансы и в займы я./Гражданин,/учтите билет проездной!/— Поэзия/— вся! —"]

Ann Charters; Right

AG: He goes searching for a rhyme.

Ann Charters: He says, "Consider my travelling expenses. Poetry, all of it,/is a journey to the unknown" ["учтите билет проездной!/— Поэзия/— вся! —/езда в незнаемое.."] - So he says, "Don't..don't tax me the rates you tax everybody else, because my travel expenses are not only to get to Paris, but also in my mind to travel out to the unknown." - (It's supposed to be a funny poem. You understand? He's trying to talk to a tax collector and teach him what poets go through in order to write poetry)- "Poetry/ is like mining radium/ - for every gram/ you work a year./ For the sake of a single word/ you waste/ a thousand tons/of verbal ore." [ Поэзия —/та же добыча радия./В грамм добыча,/в год труды./Изводишь/единого слова ради/тысячи тонн/ словесной руды. It's hard work.." (he says), "..But how incendiary the burning of these words compared with the smoldering of the raw material" - (In other words, (a) poet's work is just as valuable, if not more valuable, than people who.. iron, you know, mine for iron ore) - "These words will move millions of hearts for thousands of years" - (whereas you'll use something that's made out of iron and it will get old and have to be replaced). 

So then he puts down the other poets who do not do any work for the State, and then he says, "You've got to remember that my overhead expenses are real high, so I'd like you to knock off some of this tax". He says "Strike out a wheeling zero from the balance. Instead of one hundred cigarettes or rubles ninety, your form has a mass of questions - "Have you travelled on business or not?" [ Скиньте/ с обложенья/нуля колесо!/Рубль девяносто/сотня папирос,/рубль шестьдесят/столовая соль./В вашей анкете/вопросов масса:/— Были выезды?/Или выездов нет? —"] - (In other words, they have the same problems with the IRS  over there that we have over here, with tax-deductions, itemized expenses, and so forth. And he's saying a question is "Have you travelled on business or not?") - Mayakovsky - "But suppose/ I've ridden to death/ a hundred Pegusae/[horses]/ in the last fifteen years?/ What if I am simultaneously a leader and a servant of the people./ The working-class speaks through my mouth/ and we proletarians are drivers of the pen. ["А что, если я/ десяток пегасов/ загнал/за последние лет?!У вас —/в мое положение войдите —/ про слуг/и имущество/с этого угла."]
 "As the years go by/ you wear out/ the machinery of the soul./ People say/ a back-number/ - he's written-out,/ he's through. /What do you do about/ poets who are fashionable,/ and people say,/ "Ah, I've heard Mayakovsky read that poem/ a hundred times,/ I'm not going to/ pay money to/ hear him read it again"? - (Yeah, so he says you get old, and people say he's "a back number", "he's written-out, he's through".  Besides, there's a personal risk, he says, in getting old. "There's less and less love and less and less daring." - "Time is a battering-ram against my head" - (Mayakovsky did not want to grow old) - "And when the sun/ like a fattened hog/ rises on a future/ without beggars and cripples,/ I will be/ a petrified corpse/ under a fence/ together with a dozen/ of my colleagues," - (he says) - "I'm always in debt./ I'm not telling you a lie./ Our duty is/ to blare/ like brass-throated horns/ in the fogs/ of bourgeois vulgarity./ A poet/ is always indebted/ to the unniverse,. paying, alas, interest and fines./ I am indebted to /the lights of Broadway/ and to the skies of Baghdadi [Mayakovsky's birth-place],/ to the Red Army,/ to the Cherry Trees of Japan" - (he says) - [ в долгу/перед Бродвейской лампионией,/перед вами,/багдадские небеса,/перед Красной Армией,/перед вишнями Японии —/перед всем,/про что/не успел написать."] -  "You think I owe you money?,/ well, how do I owe?/, I owe my travels/ for the visions/ I've seen of Broadway,/ I owe for where I open my eyes/ in my native village of Baghdadi. Ah!.. - (he says)  - who needs all this stuff, who needs poetry anyway? "A poet's word/ is your resurrection and your immortality,/ Citizen official." - [Слово поэта —/ваше воскресение,/ваше бессмертие,/гражданин канцелярист./Через столетья] - (And here are the famous lines) - "Citizen sense, take a verse from its paper frame and bring back time. And this day with its tax collectors and aura of miracles and stench of ink will dawn again." [ гражданин канцелярист./Через столетья/260 в бумажной раме/возьми строку/и время верни!/И встанет/день этот/с фининспекторами,] - (he says) - in other words, (that) you have to remember that our words will last longer than your day-to-day Politburo thing. 

AG: The (Herbert) Marshall translation. 

Ann Charters: Hmm

AG: "The word of a poet/ is your resurrection, your immortality,/ Citizen clerk./ From its paper frame/ in a hundred years/ pick out a stanza/ and bring back time extinct./ And this day,/ with the tax inspector,/ it will reappear/ with a lustre of wonder/ and the stink of ink."

Ann Charters: Yeah.  You're going to get this much better said, actually in "At The Top of My Voice"

AG: Yeah

Ann Charters: You have it in your book

AG:  Yes

Ann Charters: Later on, the last poem..

I'll just finish the last lines to this poem to the tax collector, which is, of course, the ultimate challenge that any poet can lay down to anybody who questions what he does and the worth of what he does. And that is, "if", tax collector,  "if/ you think/ that all I have to do/ is to profit/ by people's words,/ then Comrade,/ here's my pen, /take a crack at it yourselves."

["А если/вам кажется,/ что всего дело́в —/это пользоваться/чужими словесами,/то вот вам,/товарищи,/мое стило́,/и можете/писать/сами!"]

(Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately forty-four-and-three-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately fifty-seven-and-a-half minutes) 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Expansive Poetics - 53 - (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? 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) 

 [The voice of Lili Brik reading Vladmir Mayakovsky]

Monday, April 21, 2014

Expansive Poetics - 52 (Mayakovsky and Mandelstam)

File:Lenin CL.jpg

[Vladimir Ilych Lenin (1870-1924)]

transcription from Allen Ginsberg's "Expansive Poetics" Naropa Class continues

Ann Charters:  So okay. And with this poem of “Lenin”,  Mayakovsky (this is first read on October 18th, 1924) pledges his loyalty to the Bolsheviks with this poem eulogizing a great man – and Lenin was a great man. I mean, the camps hadn’t yet begun, and so forth. And he decided, or he said to the world in this poem,”Lenin”, that he was turning away from personal lyricism – you remember that line in “ At the Top of My Voice”..

AG: Yeah

Ann Charters: ..”Putting your foot on your own throat” - ["But I/ subdued/ myself/ setting my heel/ on the throat/ of my own song"]  -  (his) turning away, and his role as a poet was to infuse – I’m quoting now “ I  want to infuse/New glitter/ Into the most glorious word,/ “Party”” – whoops!  There’s a problem there. And he dedicated the poem..

AG: That’s two years after (Anna) Akhmatova’s husband (or ex-husband) (Nikoly) Gumilev, 1923, had been shot already.

Ann Charters: Sure, yeah, Mayakovsky

AG: Nineteen twenty-three!

Ann Charters: …Mayakovsky was, as I said,  very slow to learn in that sense, yeah.   Anyway, he dedicates the poem to the Russian Communist Party and he uses a lot of Lenin’s speeches when he makes up the poem, which is another reason why it became so popular – because, just as poets echoing other poets are a tradition in poetry, so in political poetry you try to echo the words of the politicians that you are eulogizing. And so seventy-five printed pages of this poem – it’s a long, long, long…

Student: Wow!

Ann Charters:  ..poem. You brought a lunch, kind of, if you wanted to hear it. Seventy-five printed pages later, it ends: “Long live the Revolution, joyful and fast./This is the only great war of all that history has known.” Yeah. Okay.
So, you say, how can he reconcile his feelings as a poet  or his feelings as a private person with his public role? His argument would run, I think, that at the time these finer points about freedom, the word having power over, you know, humankind or whatever are futile. What we have to do is all get together in one concerted group and we will, you know, have.. get ahead. He says, for example…

AG: These are from the poems, then?

Ann Charters: Yeah, this is from “Lenin”

AG: How long is the whole thing?

Ann Charters: Seventy-five printed pages. I don’t know how many lines. Thousands, you know.

AG: And he read it aloud as a performance piece?

Ann Charters: As a performance. Yeah. “Could in such a time, the word “democrat” ever enter a stupid head” (in his troubled times). “If one should hit then hit so that the sidewalk gets wet”. “The clue to victory is in iron dictatorship” – It’s words like this that made people like (Aleksandr) Solzhenitsyn (who) quote(s) him in The Gulag Archipelago, despise Mayakovsky. Remember, this is 1924, and the Gulag hadn’t… but it was beginning. He just wasn’t too swift. Yeah.

Okay, Mayakovsky justified everything that he’d done in the seven years since 1917 – all of the wars, all of the suffering, the beginnings of persecution – by his vision of the new society that was being created. Despite his own difficulties, he should have known about (Nikolay) Gumilev, because he himself had been under attack by Party officials for not towing the line. He himself had been individual, buthe asserts in the “Lenin” poem that the individual is of no importance to the future. And he says, “An individual, Who needs him?!/ The voice of an individual is thinner than a chirp./ Who’ll hear it? - the wife perhaps!/ And only if she’s around, and not out shopping.” Various..various contemptual (sic) dismissals of the private person in the poem are very difficult to understand, because Mayakovsky himself is an individualist, as we shall soon see.

A year after this poem, he starts one of his private poems again. There is this spirit in him, you know. He says something in one poem and he’s.. well, like what’s that lady’s name Sandy O’Connor, who’s now the woman.. first woman Chief Justice. And when she’s doing her legal work in Arizona she’s for abortion, and when she has a little talk with (President Ronald) Reagan, “Would you like to be on the Supreme Court?”, and she says, “Absolutely. Abortion is abhorrent to me”.

AG: There’s a good..

Ann Charters:  You know, like which way is the wind blowing? People who are in public life and who are ambitious and so forth. And this is the same kind of situation, if you want to look at it that way...

AG: What’s his line about the individual there again?

Ann Charters: , “An individual!, Who needs him?!/ The voice of an individual is thinner than a chirp./ Who’ll hear it? - the  wife perhaps!/  And only if she’s around, and not out shopping.”

AG: Okay, so in contrast with that is (Osip) Mandelstam, who was constantly shut up and persecuted, (and) directly persecuted by Stalin, keeping track of him, having police follow him around, and, whenever he moved, having a policeman go live next door, and even, policemen would come into his house and say, "Well, what are you writing these days?". You "can't tell the difference between a turkey and a provocateur" in that situation. 

Ann Charters: There's a..

AG:  In 1936, 1937, a quatrain by Mandelstam - "Hillocks of human heads into the horizon,/and I am diminished - they won't notice me,/(but I'll come back) resurrected in tender books and/children's games, saying, "See? The sun is shining" - or, alternative translation - "Into the distance go the mounds of people's heads./ I am growing smaller here - no one notices me any more" - (just as Mayakovsky said) -  "I am growing smaller here - no one notices me any more/but in caressing books and children's games/I will rise from the dead to say the sun is shining." - but that "Hillocks of human heads into the horizon"!

Ann Charters: Right. The hillocks and the image of the sun there, and then the image of the sun, which is poetry, (out)lasting wars, (out)lasting revolutions. In other words, he still felt that the word was the Central Committee - that's Mandelstam.

Osip Mandelstam Monument to Appear in Voronezh
[Osip Mandelstam (1891-1938)]

AG: A little bit more of Mandelstam on..

Ann Charters: Whatever you say.

AG: ..on this, right on this, to contrast it.

Student: Can I say something?

AG: Yeah.

Student: Yeah, I think the main problem (is the problem) we all have anyway, everywhere, is this sort of thing (which is) individual identity and the...

AG: Except that, in the case of both the Buddhists...the Christians, and the Communists (or the Bolsheviks), there is this tendency toward internalization of the attack on the individual ego… and so, in a misunderstanding… (at least amongst the Buddhists), very often a misunderstanding (or among the American Freudians or Marxists, as well as the upper-middle-class American problem of self-depreciation), a misunderstanding of the role of the individual, or the individual ego, and an attempt, after (Arthur) Rimbaud particularly, to take the ego and wring its neck, by violence, or force, or suicide, or submergence into the sea of mass culture, or submission to the Central Committee of the Communist Party diktat on what the actual accurate Party line on reality is, to submit to the central authority's conception of what reality itself is.

Student: Well, I see what the problem is.

AG: Everybody's got that..

Student: I don't see how we're going to work it out. That's..

Ann Charters: Well..

AG: But in this case, however, with Mayakovsky's statement, it's an outright statement that the individual has absolutely no..role, except a single chirp of a cricket to be heard by his wife, and is actually of no social importance. Whereas in Mandelstam, there's a realization that the whisper of the individual's voice is louder and more powerful than the hallucinatory publicist('s) voice of Mayakovsky and the entire television network of Russia or America roaring all at once in its Tower of Babel,  that the perception of the individual that the whole thing is a hallucinatory Tower of Babel, which will fall, is more accurate as an estimation of reality than all the trumpets of the brass bands of the Pentagon.

Student: Well, it depends on who's doing the roaring, you know.

AG: Yeah, that's the point. The roaring.... that's what it's saying. The roaring is being done by the Pentagon. The whisper is being done by the individual. And the individual's voice, in the long run, lasts longer (Sappho's voice)

Student: No, it's..

AG:  ...and cadences last longer than the structure of the Pyramids and the entire city of Rome.

Student: Oh, I don't think it's the Pentagon versus the individual voice or anything.

AG: No, in this case, it was the Central Committee of the Commnist Party versus the individual voice.

Student: Well, it was...

AG: No, no, this is what he's saying..

Student: Yeah

AG: .. that the Central Committee of the Communist Party is more important than the individual's voice. And what Mandelstam is saying is that the individual voice is going to outlast and is more important. It's just as simple as that. They're talking about the Central Committee of The Communist Party, nothing else, nothing else, right at this point. Mandelstam's further argument on that is, "I'm not dead, I'm not alone/ While I'm still happy with my beggar-girl delighting/ in these great plains/ in twilight-shadow, in hunger.." - (delighting in hunger!) - "and snowstorms./ I live alone in beautiful poverty, in sumptuous/misery - peaceful, consoled,/ blessed day, blessed nights/and sinless sweet-singing labor"/ Whoever's frightened by barking and by his shadows, who's mowed/ by the wind - he's really unlucky, /Whoever's half-alive and begging/alms from shadows - he's really poor" - This is from Voronezh, January 1937, where he had been banished into exile by Stalin, from which he was then arrested. This is where the turnkey came in to sit down at his table and say, "What are you writing?". He got visited every day, and that's when he got taken away. And then he disappeared into the camps and wasn't heard from. Presumably died by 1940.

File:NKVD Mandelstam.jpg
[Osip Mandelstam - Photograph made by the NKVD in 1938, after his arrest]

Ann Charters: Now you can ask how a poet as great as Mayakovsky was (I mean, he was a great poet, there's no question about it) could serve the Party so faithfully? I mean, what would motivate him?
We talked before in the other class about Mayakovsky's belief that the 1917 Revolution was not the final revolution - that he wanted another one to come, which he called the "revolution of the spirit" [from the 1922 fragment, "The Fourth Internationale" - "another revolution/Rising in the ages/That would shake heads in an explosion of ideas,/That would let loose the artillery of hearts/The third revolution of the spirit"]. And he really felt, as a poet, that he could move the people by his verses closer and closer to this third Revolution. And he felt his role was to write political poems at the time and he took upon himself the writing of these poems as a duty - Yeah? - That's what he said.

And here's the poem..the section of "Lenin" that explains that. He says, "I'm anxious lest processions in mausoleums, the established statue of worship, should drown in oily unction Lenin's simplicity" - "oily unction" should destroy Lenin's simplicity - And he goes on -  (this is) Mayakovsky - "I shudder for him as for the apple of my eye lest he be falsified by tinselled beauty./My heart votes. I am compelled to write by the mandate of duty". "Duty" - (that's what makes him write these poems, the duty to, as I've said, move the people along).

Lilya Brik

[Lili Brik ( 1891-1978)]

But, as you know, as all of you know, even (from) the basic study of Freud, when you are forced to do something (a sense of duty, not coming out of free will always), there are bound to be psychological repercussions. And always with Mayakovsky, when he wrote one of these great public poems, a month or so later he started writing (and, sometimes, simultaneously, he was writing almost as if with two different hands), a private poem, a poem about his loves. And this is true with the case with "Lenin" also. The parallel poem, (to compare the Mayakovsky poems, very often, to show this operating in his work), was a poem to Lili Brik, called "About This" - and what "this" was was his love for this lady, because, somewhere deep inside him, never really imagined.. Mayakovsky was aware that the way to the third Revolution was probably through individual relationships, and if they weren't good, the third Revolution would never be good. In other words, if people couldn't love each other on a one-to-one basis even, how could we all love each other?
And the test, of course, is his love-affairs, and his love for women in his life. And Lili Brik was this main love of his life, and he wrote a poem about the difficulties of this love,  the difficulties, as he would put it, of starting a family. He said, "To make a revolution is easy", He said.. (Mayakovsky wrote this to a friend) - He said, "To make a revolution is easy. What is difficult afterwards is to make a family". And he never quite saw that happen either.  

(Audio for the above can be heard here, starting at approximately twenty-four-and-a-half minutes in and concluding at approximately thirty-eight-and-a-quarter minutes in)