Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Expansive Poetics - 58 (Mayakovsky - Conclusion)

[History of the Russian Revolution - From Marx to Mayakovsky (1965) - by Larry Rivers (1925-2002)  - wood, oil, charcoal, serigraphs, and photo-mechanical reproduction on canvas, wood, paper, metal, plexiglass, glass and fiber-board, 169 1/2 x 399 1/4 inches]

AG: "First Prelude to A Poem of the Five-Year Plan" - [Allen prepares to read 
Mayakovsky's famous poem, ["ВО ВЕСЬ ГОЛОС"]  "At the Top of My Voice"
And what I'll do is, there's certain rhythms in here, which are interesting in English, (but) which are perfect and exact in Russian, so maybe I can stop occasionally, like (when I was reading) that (poem) for Tatiana - that Mitraikies and Kudraikies section [кудреватые Митрейки,/мудреватые Кудрейки] — at the beginning. You can follow that? - And "Mary, Mary, quite contrary.." just right before that. And there's one section in the beginning where he parodies the tinkle of rhymed verse of his contemporaries - [Allen begins reading (from the entire "At The Top of My Voice" and in the Herbert Marshall translation)] -

"At the Top of My Voice - "Most respected/comrades, heirs and descendants.." [Уважаемые/товарищи потомки!] - Excavating our contemporary petrified muck.." -[Роясь/
в сегодняшнем/ окаменевшем говне..]…."..from the seigniorial horticulture/of poetry/a most capricious dame,/precious Muse that grows, like Mary, roses/ round a bungalow.." - [Allen breaks off at this point] - "Mary, Mary, quite contrary/how does your garden grow?" - Say that in Russian?  - like Mary..roses..roundabout.. yeah.. in Russian?..

Student: (Well, it's not really… so..) "..бабы капризной./Засадила садик мило,/дочка,/дачка,/водь/и гладь —/сама садик я садила,/ сама буду поливать."

AG (continues)  "Some pour verses from a sprinkler,/ some just splutter from their lips" - "curly-headed Mitraikies", (that's the next passage), "muddle-headed Kudraikies"  (these are local would-be-poet whose names are forgotten, according to Marshall's (footnotes) - (now) how does that Mitraikies and Kudraikies rhyme go?

Student: "кудреватые Митрейки,/ мудреватые Кудрейки"

AG (continues) ; ".. who the devil knows which one from which/No quarantine will take them in / and those mandelins again! /"Tapa-tina tapa-tina /Teeen.." -  And of course those mandolins again..?

Student: "мандолинят из-под стен:/Тара-тина, тара-тина,/т-эн-н…"

AG: "Not much of an honor/ but from such roses /my very own statue will rise over    squares with gobs of tuberculosis/where whores, hooligans/ and syphilis/I'm fed up to the teeth/ with agit-prop" (agitation propaganda) [агитпроп]/ I'd like to scribble for you love ballads/ which are charming/ and pay quite a lot/but I/ mastered myself/ and crushed underfoot/ the throat of my very own songs [Но я/себя/смирял,/становясь/на горло/собственной песне]  …"My verse will reach across the peaks of eras/ far over the heads of/ poets and of governments" ["Мой стих дойдёт/через хребты веков/и через головы/поэтов и правительств"].."My verse will come/but come not ornate/not like an arrow's lyrical love flight from Eros,/ not like a worn-out coin comes to the numismatist/ and not like the light of a long-dead stars arrives/ My verse/ with labor/ thrusts through weighted years/ emerging/ ponderous/ rock-rough,/ age-grim,/ as when today/ an aqueduct appears/ firm-grounded once by/ the branded slaves of Rome." - I wonder what that's like in Russian. The piece that begins, "…"My verse will reach across the peaks of eras/ far over the heads of/ poets and of governments", because that's one of the most powerful heroic statements in the twentieth century as prophecy. "My verse will reach... "It's not like.. [to Student] - "It's right after (the lines about) Esenin..  

Student: Мой стих дойдёт,/но он дойдёт не так, —/не как стрела/в амурно-лировой охоте,/не как доходит/к нумизмату стёршийся пятак/и не как свет умерших звёзд доходит./Мой стих/трудом/громаду лет прорвёт/и явится/весомо,/грубо,/зримо,/как в наши дни/вошёл водопровод,/сработанный/ещё рабами Рима.

AG (continues, reading Mayakovsky's "At The Top of My Voice", triumphantly, through to the end of the poem): "You'll accidentally find/ in barrows of books" - [I guess the wheelbarrows of books that are on second-hand sale] - [В курганах книг], "wrought-iron lines/ of  long-buried poems,/ handle them with the care that respects/ ancient but terrible weapons/My words are not used to caressing ears; nor titillate with semi-obscenities maiden ears hidden in hair so innocent..["с уважением/ощупывайте их,/как старое,/но грозное оружие./Я/ухо/словом/не привык ласкать;/ушку девическому/в завиточках волоска/с полупохабщины/ не разалеться тронуту"]" .….."..Come Comrade Life:/, lets step hard on the throttle/ and roar out the Five Year Plan's remnant days./I haven't got a rouble left from my verse/the cabinet-makers didn't send my furniture home/ but my only need's a clean-laundered shirt/For the rest, I honestly don't give a damn.." ["Товарищ жизнь,/давай быстрей протопаем,/протопаем/по пятилетке/дней остаток/.Мне/и рубля/не накопили строчки,/краснодеревщики/не слали мебель на́ дом./И кроме/свежевымытой сорочки,/скажу по совести,/мне ничего не надо"].…"I'll lift up high, like a Bolshevik party-card, all the hundred books of my Comm(unist) Party poems!" ["я подыму,/как большевистский партбилет,/все сто томов/моих/ партийных книжек"].

"The poem was well-received", Mayakovsky continues, "I read to you the last and most difficult of my poetry, made most conscientiously, and the fact that it reached you is very very interesting. It means that without lowering the standard of our technique, we must concentrate on working only for reader of the working-classes.
Chairman: Mayakovsky is very tired and ought to rest we should go on with the discussions. There follows discussions and questions to which Mayakovsky rose to reply. "Comrades" (this is Mayakovsky), there are many notes here but comparitively  few questions, simply many notes repeat themselves. Very often a request to read a certain piece of poetry. Then a number of questions as to why I use "dirty words". A comrade says here that you cannot built socialism in using rude words in writing if you don't use them in life. It's naive to think that I wanted to build something on these words. The comrade is right - we can't build socialism on any words. I do not use those words for that. I love it when a poet closing his eyes to all reality sweetly sings his sounds, but supposing one took him like a puppy and pushed his nose right into life - solely as a poetical technique. I've also been told off for using the word svoloch (meaning "scum") . I use that word because it's often used in life. As long as that word exists, I shall use it in verse . You can't annihilate the word "svoloch" for aesthetic reasons, and so I use it in its fullest sense". Mayakovsky then read more of his verse and finished by saying, "Maybe we'd better end on this.".. 
…My throat refuses to go on..

Ann Charters: Let me quickly say that when Mayakovsky gave his readings, he invited questions and comments from the audience, and people would pass out little slips of paper, and he would be then handed these questions from the audience, and he would reply to whatever comment the listener had, and they would often attack him in the questions, they were not praising him, they were always asking him, in low vulgar language, once they asked him why he wore a gold ring?. They said, "You're such you're a proletarian worker poet, you shouldn't have gold". And he said, "Ok, I'll wear it in my nose then, if that makes you happier!". So he took it off and never wore (his gold ring) again . But he was also, in other words, answering questions from people, on this magnificent poem, who were criticizing the words, that they were too common, that poets should have elevated words.   They actually gave him trouble at every point... The exhibition which was referred to also was something else that you might know about, because it was a collection of (about) twenty years of his work . He himself prepared  the exhibition without any official help or..

AG: A sort of self-defense shot?

Ann Charters:  A sort of self-defense.  He would show the government that he had indeed spent twenty years writing and working for the progress of the Revolution. And one of the things.. (they resurrected this exhibition in Moscow, and I saw it in 1977,  and one of the things was a whole bulletin board , like that,filled with the slips of paper that had come from the audience that had listened to Mayakovsky, all the questions (he kept them!  he didn't throw away a scrap! - Lily kept them actually), and they resurrected them and put all the people's comments from the time on the poetry on the big bulletin board. Now Mayakovsky's point was there was a lot of public response. I mean, he kept these papers to show the government that people listened to him, you know, and that's interesting. 

The last thing I'll say before I leave is, because we're running out of time, is that, getting back to what we said at the beginning of the importance of Mayakovsky as the spokesman, or the heroic figure, of the Revolution, and how it is often thought that his suicide marked the end of an era. Well, there's a painting in Washington DC , if you ever go, by Larry Rivers, who, like many people, (Peter) Orlovsky, Allen Ginsberg and Frank O"Hara, was profoundly moved by the poetry of Mayakovsky, and this painting by Larry Rivers is called "The History of the Russian Revolution From Marx to Mayakovsky". It hangs in the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington and it's a mixed-media work done in 1965. It consists of planks, painting, machine-gun parts, photographs, pipes, plumbing, starting with Bismarck, Marx, Engels and ends on (Vladimir Mayakovsky).

(Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately eighty-one-and-three-quarter minutes in and concluding at the end of the tape)

also (concluding at approximately twenty-two minutes in)
& on next tape:

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Expansive Poetics- 57 (Mayakovsky - At The Top of My Voice)

Vladimir Mayakovsky
[Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893-1930)]

Ann Charters: So we'd like to do a few more things before we end, and the poem which you have in your anthology, "At The Top of My Voice", which was written a few months before the suicide, in January 1930.

AG: Should we have that in Russian first?
Ann Charters:  Yeah
AG: You want me to read it in English first? - or do you want to do it in Russian first? Richard Poe has prepared the Russian.
Student (RP): Can I go first?
AG: Pardon me?
Student (RP): Can I go first?
AG: Want to come over here to do it? Standing. Want to sit down? Yeah..
Student (RP): I'll stand
AG: Stand, better, you'll get more breath.

[Student, Richard Poe, reads Mayakovsky's "At The Top of My Voice" in its entirety in Russian  ["Vo ves' galos"]] 

Ann Charters: Thank you.

AG: You were great.

Ann Charters: You heard the incredible.. if you were following the English, the incredible skill in which the sound..

AG: Maybe hang on to the...

Ann Charters: ..and sense went together there.

AG:... hang on to the text.

Anne Charters: He was being very brutal, (in) a brutal meaning, The word had a very very guttural.. and when he wants to fly, and tell you what poetry can do, and.. he can be like. Alexander Pope (the comparison is not an idle one). He's very very skillful. This is why Mayakovsky, even with the complications of his Party role is considered a genius by poets for what he can do. As a poet, he was an incredibly skillful and talented writer. That was very, very nice, thank you.

AG: I thought the reason for this (particular) course is "heroic" or "expansive" poetry, and the touchstone poems, or the highlight poems that I had in mind were - (Guillaume) Apollinaire's "Zone", (Federico Garcia) Lorca's "Ode To Walt Whitman", among others - and what else have we covered? - (Ezra) Pound's  "Usura" Canto (which, I think, we went over), and this poem, "At The Top Of My Voice", which is both tragic and heroic at the same time.

There is an account of his first reading of this poem in the (Herbert) Marshall book that I have - And he's having an exhibition of twenty years of his work, and he's giving a lecture and answering a lot of criticism, and so he says this was the first time it was ever read, and there was an account (or) some notes taken on the conversation at the meeting before he read the poem, and then the moment of reading the poem. And before he read it for the first time, unveiling it, (at the) premier performance, he said - "I shall now read a few things, as you can't judge by only one thing. My last word is about the exhibition as it fully explains and defines what I do, what I am working really...Very often, lately, those who are annoyed by my literary-publicist work say that I have forgotten how to write poetry and for that posterity will give it to me hot. I'm a determined fellow. I want myself to speak with my descendents, and not to wait and see what my critics in the future will tell them. Therefore, I address myself direct to posterity in my poem, "At The Top of My Voice"

So the title is "At The Top Of My Voice". So you've got to also dig it as not merely wanting to address postetrity as (Percy Bysshe) Shelley did ("Scatter my words, ashes and sparks, among mankind"), but also he's got to speak over the heads of the political critics, and over the ring of iron that was beginning to slowly close around (him).

(Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately seventy-two-and-a-half minutes in and concluding at approximately eighty-one-and-three-quarter minutes in) 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Expansive Poetics - 56 (Mayakovsky-The Bedbug)

Vladimir Mayakovsky

Ann Charters: How much time do we have?

AG: We actually have have half an hour, but what I would like to do is get a piece of that ["The Bedbug"]  then go to "..At The Top of My Voice" (which Richard Poe has prepared in Russian, and we have in English). Then, if we have time, I'd like to get three short poems of (Osip) Mandelstam which comment on Mayakovsky's themes..and then I'd like Peter (Orlovsky) to read (Sergei) Esenin's "Confessions of A Bum" (because we talked about Esenin, but nobody has heard any of his poetry).

Ann Charters; Okay, okay. Here's what we're going to do then,

AG: So we have half an hour...

Ann Charters: We have half an hour..

AG: ... to do that,

Ann Charters:..and we're going to give..

AG: For time

Ann Charters:  ..just one minute...

AG: Till five (o'clock).

Ann Charters:  ..for the end of "The Bedbug", because these other things are more important than... you can find "The Bedbug" for yourself. The situation in "The Bedbug", very briefly said, (and I can't tell the story quickly, but I'll do my best), is that a man, a Soviet man, who is a former Party member, a former worker and a bum, an alcoholic bum (the hero of this play) dies at his own wedding, which is because of alcohol. Everybody gets totally, totally wasted at this wedding, in the Russian style, in vodka, and the whole place catches fire and it burns to the ground. And it's, like, caved over, like the Soviets, you know. 
And everything is exactly as it was, and, years later, (the) thirtieth century (sic) or something, they do an excavation, you know, like archaeology, and they find everything  all, you know, intact. And what they get excited about, in the future, with the perfect state, you know, (because the perfect state is not just love, the perfect state is now a place where hygeine prevails, and control). Science, in other words, after his trip to America becomes something to be played with and honored. And so he has "the thirtieth century" like an antiseptic place, where everybody goes around wearing the same white coats and you're all slaves of this higher power of scientists.
So what interests the scientists in the relic is not the human relic or the cultural artifact, but, as scientists, they're interested in the phenomena of a bedbug that has survived on the body of this man who was the bridegroom, the bum.
So they take the man, realizing that the host needs the thing to... the bedbug...

AG: The parasite needs the host.

Ann Charters: The parasite needs the host. They, therefore, take him.. leave him, you know, that's worthless, (a) human being's nothing,  just keep the scientific curiosity. But because they know the bug needs his host, they bring the whole thing and put it in a cage, alright?. And they let the man do whatever he wants (after all, he has to survive so the bedbug can keep alive). And they bring in tours of people to see this miracle, this scientific curiosity. And what happens, of course, is that the man is as degenerate as ever (he loves love-songs, he loves to play the phonograph, he loves to drink, he loves to play the guitar, he wants to screw, he's absolutely a beast, you know). And the man is very foggy, you know, like he finally gets to understand that this is the thirtieth century, he is alive - it takes a little while. 
And the last scene of the poem, when he finally realizes, when all the tourist bus is coming, and the director of the museum, here's the famous thing. Here's the director - "Comrades" - [He says to the visitors] - "Come closer, don't be frightened, it's quite tame. Come, come, don't be alarmed. On the inside of the cage there are four filters to trap all the dirty words" - [because he likes to swear] - "Only a few words come out and they're quite decent" - [notice censorship of the word is the first thing mentioned] - "The filters are cleaned every day by a apecial squad of attendants in gas masks. Look now, it's going to have what they call "a smoke"' - [I mean, he smokes cigarettes] - 

[Allen takes up the reading] - Voice from the crowd says, "Oh, how horrible!"..
Ann Charters (collaborating on the reading): "Don't be frightened. Now it's going to have a swig, as they say. Drink" - [and he orders the beast to drink] - [Allen : "Prisypkin, drink!" (Ivan Prisypkin, the protagonist)] - and Prisypkin reaches for a bottle of vodka. (and)  A voice from the crowd says... - 
[Allen, again - "Oh, don't, don't, don't torment the poor animal"] - 
Ann Charters (continuing): "..and the director, "Comrades, there's nothing to worry about, it's tame. Look, I am now going to bring it out of the cage". He goes to the cage, he puts on gloves, he checks his revolver, he opens the door, brings up Prisypkin into the platform, turns him around to face the guest-of-honor in the grandstand. "Now then, say a few words. show how well you can imitate the human language, voice and expression". - [treats him like an ape] - "And the guy stands obediently, clears his throat..
AG: (continuing): .. raises his guitar, suddenly turns around, looks at the audience, "Citizens, brothers, my own people, darlings, how did you get here? So many of you.When were you unfrozen? why am I alone in a cage? Darlings. friends, come and join me, why am I suffering, Citizens?"
Ann Charters: [then, the voice of the guests] - "Children, remove the children, muzzle it, muzzle it, how horrible, Professor, stop it, stop it." - [ AG:"Oh, don't shoot it."]  - Don't shoot it, don't shoot it". - [And the Professor holds an electric fan and he runs on the stage and the attendants drag off the bum, the director ventilates the platform quickly with a fan, and the musicians are playing a march, the attendants cover the cage with a cloth, and the director says..]
AG: - "My apologies, comrades, my apologies. The insect is tired. The noise and the bright lights give it hallucinations. Please be calm. It is nothing at all, it will recover tomorrow. Disperse quietly, citizens. Until tomorrow, music. Let's have a march." - 
Ann Charters: [And the curtain comes down] - It should be put on, it should be put on

AG: Well, they wouldn't put it on in Russia, though, that's the thing. They closed the theatre on him?

[Meyerhold's staging of Mayakovsky's "The Bedbug", Moscow, 1929] 

Ann Charters:  They did at the time. It was not a critical success. I mean, how do you take such a thing? It's a terrible criticism of the regime. And this is difficult. The point is of course that recognition. This was a (Vsevolod) Meyerhold production, it was... he was a forerunner of the modern theory, the open-stage concepts of Bertolt Brecht, for example, so it was not a conventional production at all. And the remarkable thing is that when the man who became the anti-hero, the bum who then becomes all of us in his suffering from the regime and his oppression by the tyranny above him, turns round and looks at the audience (and now the audience of course is a few people on the stage but it's also the audience, people who come to see the play). And so when he addresses, he addresses the theatre to say, you knowm "Why, I didn't know you were here, how..we're all suffering together". And there's a sense of community in the theatre, which I gather was present at the time and comes out in the production. (A) truly marvelous, marvelous thing.
So that was "The Bedbug", written when he couldn't get to Paris to marry his Tatiana.

AG: I think there is some note that he wrote to the people in the Writer's Union, or were directing the theatre that they should not have closed the door on him
Ann Charters: Oh yes
AG: Because they closed the doors without telling him
Ann Charters: Yes
AG: As part of a general shut-down on him.
Ann Charters: Yes
AG: When he was slowly being encircled.
Ann Charters: Yeah
AG: ..didn't he have...

(Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately sixty-four-and-three-quarters minues in and concluding at approximately seventy-two-and-a-half minutes in)
also: concluding at approximately twenty-two minutes in & next tape:

Sunday, April 27, 2014

What Keeps Mankind Alive?

What Keeps Mankind Alive?

The text - Ralph Manheim and John Willett's translation, from Bertolt Brecht's original German, of the second finale of Brecht-Weill's classic "Threepenny Opera" (Die Dreigroschenoper) (1928):

A rare photograph of Brecht and Weill together
[Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) & Kurt Weill (1900-1950)]

"You gentlemen who think you have a mission/To purge us of the seven deadly sins/Should first sort out the basic food position/Then start your preaching, that's where it begins/ You lot, who preach restraint and watch your waist as well/Should learn, for once, the way the world is run/However much you twist, or whatever lies that you tell/Food is the first thing, morals follow on/  So first make sure that those who are now starving/get proper helpings, when we all start carving/What keeps mankind alive?/ What keeps mankind alive? The fact that millions are daily tortured, stifled, punished, silenced and oppressed/Mankind can keep alive thanks to its brilliance/in keeping its humanity repressed/And for once you must try not to shirk the facts/Mankind is kept alive/by bestial acts!"

[Ihr Herrn, die ihr uns lehrt, wie man brav leben/Und Sünd und Missetat vermeiden kann
Zuerst müßt ihr uns was zu fressen geben/Dann könnt ihr reden: damit fängt es an./ 
Ihr, die ihr euren Wanst und unsre Bravheit liebt/Das eine wisset ein für allemal:/Wie ihr es immer dreht und wie ihr's immer schiebt/Erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral./Erst muß es möglich sein auch armen Leuten/Vom großen Brotlaib sich ihr Teil zu schneiden./ Denn wovon lebt der Mensch?/ Denn wovon lebt der Mensch? Indem er stündlich/Den Menschen peinigt, auszieht, anfällt, abwürgt und frißt./Nur dadurch lebt der Mensch, daß er so gründlich/Vergessen kann, daß er ein Mensch doch ist./Ihr Herren, bildet euch nur da nichts ein:/Der Mensch lebt nur von Missetat allein!]

The memorable William Burroughs version first appears in 1994 in Larry Weinstein and David Mortin's "September Songs - The Music of Kurt Weill" video 
(a Hal Willner-produced audio version, a soundtrack of the film, appeared some three years later).  

Here's the, perhaps, more familiar Tom Waits version (from the album Orphans, Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards (2006)) 

and here's the soundtrack (auf Deutsch) (and another translation)  from the 1931 film made by G(eorg) W(ilhelm) Pabst.

Here's Lotte Lenya singing (not "What Keeps Mankind Alive", but several other songs from a (recorded December 193o) original cast recording.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

More Burroughs Music Collaborations

Last weekend we featured a couple of William Burroughs' rock collaborations. Here's a few more, starting with his rendition of a poem by Jim Morrison (from the tribute album, Stoned Immaculate - The Music of The Doors) - "Is Anybody In?"

[Jim Morrison (1943-1971]

Turning the heat up (more than) a little, there's his collaboration with Ministry on what is now a bona-fide "heavy-metal" classic - "Just One Fix"  (The more immediate, more palatable, more obvious Ministry-Burroughs collab, A Quick Fix - can be heard here - or here)

"Life keeps slipping away/Silence of desperation/Trying to find a highway in vein [sic]/Trying to find a destination/ Just One Fix/ Clock keeps ticking away/Banging on the walls of frustration/Organs keep grinding away/Monkey is the only solution/ Just One Fix/ Monkey starts driving the train/Tries to take out the station/Trying to find a highway in vein/ Monkey kills without hesitation/ Just One Fix"

Ministry - Just One Fix
[cover-design by William S Burroughs]


Ministry William Burroughs
[Al Jourgensen (of Ministry) and William Burroughs]

Finally, Laurie Anderson  (from "Mister Heartbreak" (1994))

"Sun's Going Down. Like a big bald head/Disappearing behind the boulevard. (Oooee). It's Sharkey's night/Yeah. It's Sharkey's night tonight. And the manager says: "Sharkey?/ He's not at his desk right now (oh yeah). Could I take a message?"/ And Sharkey says: "Hey kemosabe! Long time no see"/ He says: "Hey sport. You connect the dots. You pick up the pieces"/ He says; "You know, I can see two tiny pictures of myself/ And there's one in each of your eyes. And they're doin' everything I do/ Every time I light a cigarette, they light up theirs./ I take a drink and I look in and they're drinkin' too./ It's drivin' me crazy. It's drivin' me nuts"./ And Sharkey says: "Deep in the heart of darkest America/ Home of the brave. He says: "Listen to my heart beat",/ Paging Mr Sharkey. What courtesy telephone please."

Tomorrow - What Keeps Mankind Alive?

Friday, April 25, 2014

Friday's Weekly Round-Up - 174

Wild in Denver - Neal Cassady's Teen Years by Charlie Hailer

News from New York - it seems that this summer's regular Howl! Festival won't be happening this year.  More on that story here - and here 

No HOWL! this spring. News from the HOWL! Festival Board:Due to circumstances beyond our control, HOWL! Festival 2014, originally scheduled for May 30 thru June 1, has been postponed. New dates will be announced as soon as available. Steve Cannon will continue as Poet laureate and will rule at the next HOWL, whenever that is. It’s Tompkins Sq Park bureaucracy, IMHO — HOWL has never been supported like the Treasure that it is.

In memoriam -  here is a group reading of "Howl" (from the 2010 Howl! Fest)

and here is "Plutonian Ode" (from the following year, likewise ensemble).

File:Harry Smith 1985.jpg
Amanda Petrusich (from a forthcoming book) on Harry Smith and the legendary American Folk Music anthology

Next Thursday, Thursday May 1st, at London's Horse Hospital, a book launch for Joe Ambrose and A.D.Hitchin's recently-published "Cut Up" anthology 

Allen, the great correspondent -  The American Reader has occasionally spotlighted several particularly engaging examples. This (from 1947) to Lionel Trilling, this (from 1952) to Neal Cassady, and now this (from 1956 - that seminal moment), a note to his father. Louis Ginsberg

Another important letter (to Diane di Prima, from 1981, in which he admits, "..I guess communism just doesn't work (tho') Socialist Austria seems pretty free and independent-minded..") goes up on the auction block next Tuesday. More information about that particular Ginsberg communication here   (and also here

More Ginsberg recollections. Here's Chuck E Weiss, in an interview, recalling attending to him in a record store, in Denver, sometime in the mid (19)70's - "I developed a particular hatred for Allen Ginsberg", he declares, "because he used to come in and I'd have to wait on him and he'd mispronounce (the) names of artists that I liked and (so) I started to resent him. Once he came in and asked, "Do you have an Shen-yah?". I said, "Oh, ah, Clifton Chenier, you mean, man". Then he pulled out a Ma Rainey album and said, "You know, she was a lesbian". I didn't care. So the great Allen Ginsberg, I hated to wait on."

Bob Ingram at Broad Street Review remembers his editorship of the Philadelphia underground newspaper, The Drummer - and Allen's awareness of posterity, Allen's tenacity -  "I was just typing Allen Ginsberg's name when the phone rang and it was Allen Ginsberg himself. "Allen! Jesus! I was just typing your name! Honest!" "Look", he said, "I haven't got time for any metaphysical bullshit about cosmic confidences. Bockris-Wylie had some mistakes in that story (that you're about to print about me) and I want them corrected in the next issue so that literary scholars fifty years from now will have the right information."

Here's Charles Simic in the wonderfully titled "The Great Poets' Brawl of '68", in the blog for the New York Review of Books - A poetry punch-up? - "As soon as the fight started, Allen Ginsberg went down on his knees and began chanting some Buddhist prayer for peace and harmony among all living creatures, which not only distracted those fighting, but also startled a few puzzled couples who had discreetly retreated into the bushes during the party and were now returning in a hurry with their clothes in disarray."
Herb Gold, the legendary Herb Gold, "elder statesman of the Beat Generation" was interviewed in the San Francisco Chronicle this week ("Allen was a good friend. He was serious - about being gay, about love, about poetry, of course. But he also had a good sense of humor") 

&, pretty much contemporaneous to the record-store story, mid (19)70's, here's Dan Nielsen's account of  "An Evening With Allen"

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)