Tonight I went to a reading of poetry by Russian playwright and poet Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893-1930). Along with several scholars, poets and actor Ethan Hawke, a slide show of black and white photographs flashed across a large screen at the theater of the Museum of Modern Art to a standing room only crowd. At first I had to refocus my energy and attention to the readers who took turns reading in Russian and English. For audience members who weren’t fluent in Russian, when it was read, we had a chance to sit back and reflect on sound. It was then my mind wandered slightly. Lucky for me, during the translations, it came back and with amazing visual imagery and reflection. One of the first poems read, and written by Mayakovsky at the tender age of twenty-two:
“A Cloud in Trousers”, 1915
dreaming on a softened brain,
like an over-fed lackey on a greasy settee,
with my heart’s bloody tatters I’ll mock again;
impudent and caustic, I’ll jeer to superfluity.
Of Grandfatherly gentleness I’m devoid,
there’s not a single grey hair in my soul!
Thundering the world with the might of my voice,
I go by — handsome,
Fabulous! Lyrical! Perceptive!
My interest was peaked, and I had a true New York moment as each reader walked to the microphone and read works by this great poet. Another exceptional excerpt…
As in the Dreadnought’s downfall
With chocking spasms
Men jumped into the hatch,
Before the ship died,
The crazed Burlyuk crawled on, passing
Through the screaming gaps of his eye.
Almost bloodying his eyelids,
He emerged on his knees,
Stood up and walked
And in the passionate mood,
With tenderness, unexpected from one so obese,
He simply said:
It’s good when from scrutiny a yellow sweater
Hides the soul!
It’s good when
On the gibbet, in face of terror,
“Drink Cocoa — Van Houten!”
Mayakovsky was a romantic who also inspired the futurist movement in Russia. He had strong political views and a passion for Marxist literature. Sadly, he took his own life at the age of 37 in a flurry of passion, love, words, and pain.
Tonight MoMA acted as a venue to spread knowledge and writings of this man who as many other poets & artists, tragically passed too soon.
Frank O’Hara was just one of the many poets (as well as Allen Ginsberg) heavily influenced by Mayakovsky who in wrote a response to one of his poems called “A True Account of Talking to the Sun on Fire Island” . Read tonight by Ron Padgett, I had chills and was reminded of the inspiration doled out to those who have throughout the years taken the time to feel, recognize, and reinterpret the world around us.
(collage courtesy of MoMA website)