Hear Russian Futurist Vladimir Mayakovsky Read His Strange & Visceral Poetry


You have to give the Russ­ian Futur­ists this: those guys did­n’t mince words. It was in their 1912 pub­li­ca­tion Пощёчина общественному вкусу, known in Eng­lish as A Slap in the Face of Pub­lic Taste, that poet, play­wright, artist, actor, and film­mak­er Vladimir Vladimirovich Mayakovsky (pic­tured above in the cen­ter of a group that includes Sergei Eisen­stein, Boris Paster­nak, and his muse Lilya Brik) made his lit­er­ary debut. As his sen­si­bil­i­ty devel­oped through­out the rest of that decade — a time which, of course, includ­ed the Russ­ian Rev­o­lu­tion — Mayakovsky made him­self into an almost anti-poet­ic poet, incor­po­rat­ing the most com­mon vari­eties of lan­guage, engag­ing straight-on with pol­i­tics, and pre­sent­ing him­self as any­thing but a lofty artis­tic fig­ure.

Here, cour­tesy of PennSound, you can hear Mayakovsky him­self read­ing “An Extra­or­di­nary Adven­ture Which Hap­pened to Me, Vladimir Mayakovsky, One Sum­mer in the Coun­try”:

You can read the Russ­ian here, or an Eng­lish trans­la­tion here, and even in the lat­ter ver­sion the poem’s final lines, which Mayakovsky speaks after hav­ing befriend­ed the sun itself, remain mem­o­rably invig­o­rat­ing:

Shine all the time,
for ever shine.
the last days’ depths to plumb,
to shine — !
spite every hell com­bined!
So runs my slo­gan -
and the sun’s!

PennSound also has Mayakovsky’s own read­ing of “And Could You?” [Russ­ian] [Eng­lish], a much short­er but no less strange­ly vis­cer­al work (1913), which runs, in its entire­ty, as fol­lows:

I sud­den­ly smeared the week­day map
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?

Mayakovsky, the com­plete col­lec­tion of whose trans­lat­ed poems you can down­load at Ubuweb, lived from 1893 until his sui­cide in 1930 — a span coeval with the devel­op­ment of the motion pic­ture. He took to that art form just as he took to oth­ers like the stage play and the pro­pa­gan­da poster, and it makes sense that the kind of real­i­ty-bend­ing visu­al mind revealed in his poet­ry would fall under the spell of that whol­ly new and dream­like medi­um. In his short life — all in 1918, in fact — Mayakovsky direct­ed and starred in three short films, It Can­not Be Bought for Mon­eyShack­led by Film, and The Young Lady and the Hooli­gan. Only the last of them sur­vives today, and you can watch it below. It’s also housed in our col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More. More poet­ry read by great poets can be found in our col­lec­tion of Free Audio Books.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Penn Sound: Fan­tas­tic Audio Archive of Mod­ern & Con­tem­po­rary Poets

“PoemTalk” Pod­cast, Where Impre­sario Al Fil­reis Hosts Live­ly Chats on Mod­ern Poet­ry

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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