Mayakovsky: A Biography by Bengt Jangfeldt brings to life with intimate and not so intimate details the exploits and context of Vladimir Mayakovsky'Mayakovsky: A Biography by Bengt Jangfeldt brings to life with intimate and not so intimate details the exploits and context of Vladimir Mayakovsky's living, work and vision. Jangfeldt edited a previous book on Mayakovsky, "Love is the Heart of Everything: Correspondence Between Vladimir Mayakovsky and Lili Brik, 1915-1930," compiling love letters and other communication between Mayakovsky and the love of his live, Lily Brik. In his new biography, Jangfeldt reframes this central relationship at the heart of Mayakovsky's trials and tribulations, adding almost daily events in Mayakovsky's "marriage cartel" to Lily Brik and her husband Osip Brik.
Mayakovsky and his futurist ilk were ice-breaking ships. From the collective manifesto, A Slap in the Face of Public Taste to his work cohering Mayakovsky went on national and international tours to read and perform his poetry and engage in political and cultural discussions and dialogues with other like-minded bohemians, cultural workers, artists and other class conscious workers. Mayakovsky debated the issues of his day with poetry, at times making outrageous claims that over time were not so outrageous.
The Big Poet
Vladimir Mayakovsky was a big poet -- physically, poetically, political, literally -- who conjugated in his person and writing all the revolutionary explosives imaginable. Loved and hated almost equally by contemporaries, who in equal parts over-estimated and under-estimated his poetics and politics, unappreciated by the politics-alone acumen of the main world's communist, Lenin; loved(and introduced, according to Boris Pasternak, "like potatoes during the reign of Catherine the Great") by the most infamous Stalin who forced contemporary critics, writers and poets to revere Mayakovsky. Put the cheery of suicide on top and violá, Mayakovsky became a beautiful contradiction still willing to serve everyone's revolution, not just the October Revolution, on his own even in death.
A revolutionary and poet by turns, while still a teenager, Mayakovsky was a member of the Bolshevik wing of the Social Democratic Party (forerunner of the Russian and then Soviet Communist Party). For his organizing work, hounded by police agents, Mayakovsky was imprisoned, suffering solitary confinement. After being released from prison Mayakovsky pursued his original dream of becoming a painter. Mayakovsky did not last long in art school, not for lack of talent. He was expelled from art school for his politics as wells as for his artistic directions. Mayakovsky was also writing poems and met a fellow futurist who upon hearing him share a poem declared him a mighty world-class poet and from there on introduced him as Mayakovsky, poet.
The Russian futurists were only related to the Italian futurists (Marinetti, in particular) by their devotion to the new, the shiny machines -- or the idea of newfound speed of industrial dominant societies. The Russian futurists were arrogant and bold enough to want to throw overboard all previous cultural achievements in the arts and literature, which they linked to the disasters of emerging capitalism in Russia. ...more
Snap-review of "This Lamentable City: poems by Polina Barskova"
Because at one time I believed that the capitalist society I lived in could be transfoSnap-review of "This Lamentable City: poems by Polina Barskova"
Because at one time I believed that the capitalist society I lived in could be transformed with deep justice, self-less revolutionary organizing, I looked to other countries that had overthrown this system and looked to their poets to see how they saw and wrote about the the transformations and their attempts at revolutionary transformations. There was much to immerse myself in Spanish: Cuban, Salvadoran, Nicaraguan, Spanish, Portuguese, Argentinian, Chilean, Bolivian, Mexican, Ecuadorian, Columbian and other spanish-speaking lands.
There were many more poets also striking at the social and economic structures of oppression and liberation with new language, desired consciousness and cultural tanks of organizing to read, thanks to bilingual translators: Greek, French, Eastern Europe, the Philippines, Japanese, Chinese, India, multiple Indigenous poets -- some writing in English, too.
Poetry was a key link, poets the connectors of diverse realities, dreams and struggles.
After being introduced to Mayakovsky in the 1970s, I have always been intrigued by the digested Russian poetry brought to us by formidable translators, Herbert Marshall at the top of the icebreaker list. Mayakovsky's constellation-lines, his still alive viewings of dominant industrial society that purged nature from humans and vice versa and struggled to become human in spite of the inhumanity of the industrialized worlds, renewed my faith in meter, in rhyme, in desire and eros ("standing outside one's body). There are the Russian grandfather/grandmother poets: Velemir Khbelnikov, Marina Tsvetaeva, the myriad groups (Symbolists, Futurists, Acmeists, et. al.) who all lived and wrote trapped in the imagination of the experiment of transforming a country that believed it was socialist. All great social and political struggles and movements are accompanied by great poets and poetry; the tension always between poetic freedom and social compulsions, individualism and collectivizations, community and communes, voice and slogans.
Russian poetry (not alone) has since been caught up in that beautiful contradiction of linguistic and cultural innovation and industrialization, commercialization, neoliberalism, eastern/western-ization, destruction of Indigenous cultures and lands, multiplying attempts to define and envision as outcasts of the world according to capitalism.
So here joining these contradictions of development, nationality, language, gender, coercion, in the pleasures of experiencing the transitions from a bipolar to a unipolar world (that is the wetiko disease, what the Lakota concept for the illness of private property, a socially accepted bi-polar illness that has destroyed the natural world and humanity's place in her) is a small tome of poetry, "This Lamentable City" by Polina Barskova.
I immediately picked up and bought this 33 page book of poems because it was by a Russian poet. I wanted to understand how she plucked herself in the most 21st century of clumps of human settlements the city. I live in a city that was almost totally abandoned by private capital over a period of more than 35 years, Oakland - a truly lamentable city.
Poetry matters in my world. And my world includes every country, every land, every language, every poet who writes to understand her world, to influence her human surroundings and to transform and be transformed form the inside out in the relationships that unfold, blossom, and counter the lesser forces that want to drag us out of our poetic shells, stomp us, make us into clerks, data-shifters and put us in cubicle cells.
Polina Barskova puts herself out in this short poetry collection. She writes in the present tense, accompanying Nabakov's mother, a woman the heroine in Tolstoy's "War & Peace" big book, the grand Akmatova and her own personal desires that take the form of the daily tribulations of relationships. In a poem, one of whose lines provides the title to the collection, she contrasts the human spaces and bodies, the harsh realities she navigates:
Now you will forget what you desired. Now, Who you were. Now, this lamentable city Where we have lived together. Are you still frightened, girl? Already I am a bitter stranger. ("To A.K.")
The covers of the book declare that in Russia Barskova "is considered one of the most accomplished and wring of the younger poets." Like all poetry and poets that generate knowledge and culture in their work and words, Barskova does demand a deep knowledge of Russian poetry. Some of her insights, laughter, her eros, require prerequisite readings and traversing the contradictions of Russian- and non-Russian-ness. She provides many inputs and entry-points for anyone curious enough to want to get a taste of what is emerging in other parts of the world that is facing a similar nightmare and hope that we wield against the industrial-smokestack driven social-cultural formations created by capitalism. We share a past that provides direction and examples of how to be and not be,a s poets, as unordinary cultural workers and communty-based visionaries. Writing in the voice of the heroine in War & Peace," Barskova defends us against the official version of things, where the human "spirit" lives in everyone and everything:
...I will be a handful of smoke Over this, lost, Moscow.
I will console any man, I will sleep with any man, Beneath the army's traveling horse carriages.
These are lines that I wish I would have written to take Última out of "Bless Me Última" and make Última anew, walk out of her own confinements, become a healing woman's bodily force, when we need healers and curanderas and human spirit to infuse the problems and the relationships that are threatening ourselves out in this conundrum of industrialized humanity. Turn back the pages, turn back to previous eras and eros, there is something there for us to reconsider, "This Lamentable City" implies. The small things are what counts and they build up. Her daughter appears in her poems to show the depths of culture and the simplicity of relationships, like a true city living in a family caught in the daily routines that change everything.
*** Socially just, poetically sustainable, eros-driven, transformations are possible and taking place. Sometimes just an island at a time, sometimes just a community and place at a time -- and our poets are there taking notes and making their own proposals, utopian and universal, or just writing love poems to their belovéds. ...more