The tragic Mayakovsky

As for the classroom, her last few years at school left Musya uninspired. She no longer wrote poems, although she kept a brooding photo-portrait of the tragic Mayakovsky pinned to her bookshelf. She did well at tests and might have qualified for university but didn’t want to try, the regimentations of student life held no appeal for her. What she wanted was to surround herself with freedom and empty space, she wanted to ease the way for fame to find her.

Vladimir Mayakovsky was one of the most famous faces of modern Russian poetry in the years before and after the Soviet revolution. MoMA owns this copy of a 1924 photo-portrait taken by the Constructivist artist Aleksandr Rodchenko, a frequent Mayakovsky collaborator.
makovskyrodchenko
Rodchenko survived Stalin, dying in 1956. The Georgian-born Mayakovsky did not. He died in Moscow in 1930 at the age of 36, by all accounts a suicide. He’d fallen out of favor with the regime by then, subjected to public mockery, possibly worse. The pin-up shot in Musya’s room would have been one that caught him around 1915, in Mayakovsky’s first fame for his great long youthful poem A Cloud in Trousers, which also figures in LAMENT. I recommend a 1978 Iowa University Press translation by Bob Perelman and Kathy Davis for these lines, for instance:

If you prefer,
I’ll be pure raging meat,
or if you prefer,
as the sky changes tone
I’ll be absolutely tender,
not a man, but a cloud in trousers!

mayakovsky
Was this man everybody’s first major boyfriend?

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