Mayakovski

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"The love boat has crashed against the everyday. You and I, we are quits, and there is no point in listing mutual pains, sorrows, and hurts."

 

Mayakovski was the leading poet of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and of the early Soviet period, one of the founders of Russian Futurism movement. Originally Mayakovski planned to become an artist. His early poems have strong painterly visions and sequences in many of his works recall film techniques. Mayakovsky was deeply concerned with the problem of death throughout his life, and in 1930, troubled by critics and disappointment in love, he shot himself with a revolver.

"The love boat has crashed against the everyday. You and I, we are quits, and there is no point in listing mutual pains, sorrows, and hurts." - (from Mayakovski's unfinished poem, and in suicide letter)

Vladimir Mayakovsky was born in Bagdadi, Kutais region (subsequently Mayakovski), Georgia. He was of Russian and Cossack descent on his father's side and Ukrainian on his mother's. At home the family spoke Russian and in school and with friends Mayakovky used Georgian. His father, who was a forest ranger, died in 1906, and left the family penniless.

Mayakovsky attended the gymnasium at Kutais (1902-06) and a school in Moskow (1906-08), where the family had moved. In 1908 Mayakovsky joined Moscow committee of the Russian Social Democratic Party (Boshevik faction) and began to read Marxist literature. In 1909 he was jailed for six moths for subversive activity - imprisonments followed also later. During his solitary confinement Mayakovsky started to write poetry. After release he joined the Russian Futurist group and became soon its spokesman. The group sought to free the arts from academic traditions.

In 1908-09 Mayakovsky studied at Stroganov School of Industrial Arts, where his sister Ludmila had started her studies a few years earlier. From 1911 to 1914 Mayakovsky studied at Moskow Institute of Painting and Sculpture and Architecture and edited Vzial and Novyi satirikon. Drawing lessons and anatomy lectures bored Mayakovsky, but luckily he encountered his first patron, David Burliuk. According to a story, upon hearing the young artist read one of his poems, Burliuk offered him fifty kopeks a day so that, in Mayakovsky's words, "I could write without starving."

In 1912 Mayakovsky moved to St. Petersburg. His arrival on the poetic scene of the city was marked by his participation in the manifesto 'A Slap in the Face of Public Taste' (1912). In it Burliuk and his friends advocated the ideas of Italian futurism and attacked on Pushkin, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoi. Mayakovsky started to wear a yellow tunic, Burliuk had a top hat, the futurists read poetry on street corners, threw tea at their audiences, and made their public appearances a great annoyance for the bourgeois art establishment. During these years Mayakovsky started to play with the images of suicide and immortality. In his play Vladimir Mayakovsky (1914) he wrote how he will lay down on a railroad track and "the wheel of a locomotive will embrace my neck."

Mayakovsky's association with the group led to his expulsion from the Institute. His first great long poem, Cloud in the Trousers, appeared in 1915. In the same year he met Lili Brik (1891-1978), wife of the critic Osip Brik, whom Mayakovsky had met through Maxim Gorky. He became a regular visitor at Briks and dedicated several of his lyrics to Lili, sometimes depressed: "I do not need you! / I do not want you!," as in 'The Backbone Flute.'

The crucial theme in Cloud in the Trousers is love. The first part is dominated by images of volcanic explosion, burning and death when Mariia tells to the hero that she is getting married. In the following parts the hero tries to find his role in the world, and he turns to revolution.

People sniff -
there's a smell of burnt flesh!
Here come some men.
All shining!
In helmets!
No heavy boots please!
Tell the firemen
to go gently when the heart's on fire.
(from Cloud in Trousers)

Mayakovski served at the Petrograd Military Automobile School as a draftsman from 1915 to August 1917. He was editor of Gazeta futuristov in 1918 and involved in the magazine Iskusstvo kommuna and Iskusstvo. Between the years 1919 and 1921 he designed posters and wrote short propaganda plays and texts for ROSTA, the Russian Telegraph Agency. He wrote political verses, poem-marches, children's poetry, and commercial jingles for state enterprises. Mayakovsky used in his texts slogans, mixed rhythm patterns, different typesetting styles, and neologism. In Mystery-Bouffe (1918), a religious mystery play which mocked religion, the poet described a struggle between two groups, the 'Unclean' working class and the 'Clean' upper class. The earth has been destroyed by a flood, the survivors seek refuge at the North Pole. The 'Unclean' defeat the 'Clean' and create a workers' paradise on Earth, where people "will live in warmth / and light, having hade electricity / move in waves." When Mayakovsky later tried to make a film of the play, the project was rejected by the Moscow Soviet because of its "incomprehensible language for the broad masses."

In the spring of 1919 Mayakovsky returned to Moscow, where the hectic atmosphere of Russian Revolution inspired him to write popular poems which supported the Bolsheviks. However, this separated Mayakovsky from a number of his friends, who emigrated or were silenced. Also Bolsheviks became intolerant about avant-garde movements. Tatlin's art studio was closed down on party orders and Kandinky and Chagall both returned to Europe.

Mayakovsky made in 1922 a trip to Berlin and Paris, where he visited the studios of Léger and Picasso. He quarreled with Lily Brik and worked with his lyric poem, entitled Pro Eto (1923), in which the central theme is the tension between the history, hopes for a new life, and personal love. Christ appears in it as a Komsomol member and the poem ends with the cry: "Resurrect me!"

Mayakovsky co-founded in 1923 with Osip Brik the Dadaistic journal LEF 1923, which published Pro Eto, and Novyi LEF in 1927 - both magazines did not live long. In 1924 Mayakovsky composed elegy on the death of Vladimir Lenin, which finally made him known all over Russia. He travelled in Europe, the United States, Mexico and Cuba, recording his impressions in My Discovery of America. From these journeys he brought suitcases filled with books, periodicals, reproductions of art works, posters, and distributed the materials to his friends, who thus had an immediate contact to the daily affairs of the Western art world.

Frustrated in love, alienated from Soviet reality, attacked by unsensitive critics in the press, and denied a visa to travel abroad, Mayakovsky committed suicide in Moscow on April 14, 1930. He had condemned a few years earlier the suicide of the poet Serge Yesenin in a poem, but in 1929 he had said to a friend at a poetry-reading in Dynamo Stadium: "To write an excellent poem and read it here - the one can die." In his suicide note Mayakovsky wrote:

"Mother, sisters, friends, forgive me - this is not the way (I do not recommend it to others), but there is no other way out for me.
Lily - love me."

Later Mayakovsky was eulogized by Stalin, who proclaimed indifference to his works a crime. Mayakovsky's plays, The Bedbug (1928) and The Bathhouse (1930), were banned temporarily because they dealt critically with the Soviet officials. In The Bathhouse a time machine is invented; it is suggested that it is used for speeding up boring political speeches. The Phosphorescent Woman, a delegate from the year 2030, arrives. She is disappointed. The opportunity to travel through time is turned to Pobedonosikov, a Soviet party official, who believes that Michelangelo was Armenian. However, this Philistine is rejected by the future and he asks: "Do you mean by any chance that communism does not need the likes of me?"

- from Kuusankosken