Projekcije filmova Pjera Mereškovskog u Srbiji/Films of Pierre Merejkowsky

 

Četvrtak, 28. jun, 19:00, Mala sala DKSG

Dom kulture Studentski Grad, Bulevar Zorana Đinđića 179, 11070 Novi Beograd
Теl: +381 11 3191 108 Моb: +381 62 267 843

Naš gost – PJER MEREŠKOVSKI (Pierre Merejkowsky), Pariz

režiser, scenarista, glumac, kompozitor, tonski snimatelj

Učestvuju Nina Živančević i autor

Razgovor vodi Miroljub Stojanović

 I deo – projekcija kratkih filmova Mereškovskog

  • BILA JEDNOM JEDNA EKOLOGIJA (Il été une fois ecologie), 12 min. 
  • LE CASTING, 1min.

II deo- razgovor s autorom i projekcija dugometražnog LJUDI PROROCI (Les hommes prophetiques),108 min.

Petak, 29 jun, 19:00 Parobrod,

Kapetan-Mišina 6a, Beograd  Tel +381 11 4142163

  • Dugometražni film ČTO DELAT /Que Faire

         koktel

Utorak, 3 jul, 20:00 Kinoteka, Beograd

Kratkometražni filmovi

  • POST VIEW 4 min, IN REGARDS TO Eric P.,6 min., i THERE WAS ONCE ECOLOGY (Il était une fois l’écologie) 12 min.

Dugometražni film

  • MALI RAT, 50 min. praćeno komentarom autora o njegovom filmu i savremenom francuskom filmu

 

 

Petak, 6 jul, 19:00 Muzej Savremene Umetnosti Vojvodine,

Dunavska 37, Novi Sad, Telefon:+381 21 526634

Dugometražni film

  • ČTO DELAT (Que Faire) i
  •  kratkometražni: IN REGARDS TO ERIC P. 6mn, DAWN 8mn,  POST VIEW 4 mn, THERE WAS ONCE ECOLOGY 10 mn  engleski titl 

Kratak komentar postprodukcije. Učestvuju Nina Živančević-Mereškovska i Autor

 

 

Nekoliko reci o PJERU MERESKOVSKOM

Uvek je tesko govoriti o bliskim osobama jer ono sto coveku prvo padne na pamet dok govori o nekom bliskom moze da bude vrlo banalno- ako bi me neko pitao sta sam ja naucila od Pjera Mereskovskog a sta mi prvo pada na um je uzasna radna disciplina koja je verovatno njegovo rusko nasledje, a tu je mozda i kljuc za delo njegovih predhodnika, pisca Dimitri Mereskovskog i Zinaide Ksipius, njegove bake i velike ruske pesnikinje koji su gotovo ceo zivot, nakon Ruske revolucije proveli u izgnanstvu. Ono sto je zanimljiv momenat jeste da su oni pobegli od Boljsevika, i od Lenjinovog komunizma, da bi mu se Pjer vratio kao veliki francuski autor i reditelj, militant levice koja se granici sa verom u individualno “ja”, stvaralastvom autora anarhiste.

A onda, ceo Pierov rad na filmu, oko 50 produkcija do danas, koji se zasniva ne samo na Godarovom nasledju, Godar njegov veliki ucitelj i inspiracija, ali tu su i  skole velikih ruskih prethodnika- LJUDI PROROCI kao i CTO DELAT ili Mali Rat su filmovi radjeni pod znakom Ajzenstajna, Medvedkina i Brehtovog teatra. Za Merezkovskog snimanje je pre svega metod preispitivanja slike, CTO djelat sa slikom? On preispituje publiku kao i temu, pravi sadrzaj filma, sto predstavlja tehniku blisku Brehtovoj metodi uspostavljanja objektivne distance. U CTO DELAT kao i kasnije u LJUDIMA PROROCIMA Maoisticki metod ankete ili preispitivanja bio je baza za stvaranje kinematografije  koja je bila u stanju da prikaze kontradiktornosti u svakodnevnoj stvarnosti koju je prikazivala. Ova kinematografija se bori protiv naturalizma, istovremeno pokusavajuci da odbaci ideju da je snimanje neke  revolucionarne akcije dovoljno po sebi da bi takav film nazvali “revolucionarnim”. Od pocetka svog filmskog opusa Mereskovski se zanimao za razlicite nacine  koji bi publici ne samo okupirali gledalacku paznju vec i koji bi ih drzali stalno u stanju angazovane aktivnosti ponavljajuci tvrdnju da je ambijentalni naturalizam neka vrsta drustvene igre koju igra drustvo  da bi nas nateralo da prihvatimo njegove postulate. On to cini, u procesu rezije, verovatno imajuci Brehtov postulat na umu koji tvrdi  “da nista ne bi trebalo smatrati prirodnom pojavom u smislu da bi svaka pojava ili dogadjaj mogli da postanu predmet drustvene promene”.

Jedna od aleatornih tehnickih metoda ponavljanja u  filmu je kvalitet zvuka koji se pretvara cesto u kakofoniju razlicitih glasova i razgovora. Na primer cesto se javlja asinhronican zvuk u filmu koji nas navodi da se zapitamo kako u potrazi za “radnickom istinom” reditelj dolazi do asinhronicnog zvuka. Mozda, ako kazemo da je ovaj zvuk proizvod tehnickog ogranicenja koji je posledica ekonomskog ogranicenja pri snimanju, opazamo da je proizveden neki drugi efekat koji se ne tice iskljucivo estetskog kvaliteta u filmu vec koji ima veze sa filmskom politickom akcijom koja zeli da ukine naturalizam i trudi se da probudi kriticku distancu  u citaocu. Prisustvo ovakvog zvuka u filmu dovodi nas do pitanja koje vecina militantnih filmova nakon 1968 postavlja u procesu rezije-: kako cemo zabeleziti na filmskoj traci marginalizovani ili cesto priguseni govor koji je negde zabelezen i koji verovatno nesto znaci? Odgovor Mereskovskog  nije jednostavan- on nas navodi da verujemo da takva vrsta prigusenog govora ne nastaje slucajno vec je prethodno konstruisan, usiljen i stalno u traganju za odredjenom sinhronizacijom.

Mereskovski ili kako ga kolege zovu “Merez” cesto insistira na trebljenju slika van njihovog obicnog i prirodnog konteksta da bi ih smestio u odredjeni millieux i specificni istorijski kontekst. Ako pod datim svetlom iscitavamo njegov film CTO DELAT pomislicemo da je reditelj “u sluzbi” revolucije, marksizma i radnicke klase, isto kao sto  kod Lindzi Andersona, donekle kod Slezingera  ili Andree Arnold  Merezove generacije, gledaoci veruju da gledaju nesto iz odredjenog kolektiva odredjene klase; pa opet, glas reditelja/snimatelja/ autora ce se glasno pobuniti protiv odrednica poput “beo” ili “crn” gde nema dublje mozda “politicki nekorektne” analize.

Moralno-pedagoska lekcija  dovodi reditelja do ludila i on od nje bezi. Svaka vrsta eksplicitnog politickog komentara, kao i formalno pribegavanje Brehtu, Ajzenstajnu, Vertovu i drugim ruskim pobratimima dovodi ga do ludila, kao sto ga i svaki naturalizam izludjuje , bilo kom kulturno-politickom periodu da pripada. Mozda je i to nasledje francuskog novotalasnog filma koje se nije plasilo Mao Ce Tunga i Che Gevare. U ovakvom pristup filmu podvlace se jasne crte izmedju takozvane intencije autora u pogledu filma koji pravi, izmedju kriticke recepcije publike i interpretacije filma. Tradicionalnom begu od naturalizma Mereskovski dodaje svoje strategije- on nam ne samo otkriva nacine koriscenja svojih tehnika , uvodeci pritom prolazne posmatrace (slucajni prolaznik Zerara Fromanzea i Brace Dimitrijevica) u svoj film, uvodeci takodje ideju (koja bese napustena od strane boraca protiv naturalizma) da film moze biti veran nekoj istini, da od istine ne treba bezati i ako je posmatraci ne cuju, da je treba nekoliko puta u tekstu ponavljati, variranjem jacine glasa od povika do sapata..

Merezovi filmovi su neka vrsta preseka formalnih strategija jer za njega film kao umetnost predstavlja pre svega pokusaj koji se krece ka vizuelnoj polifoniji (pri ovom zadatku  su mu muzicko obrazovanje i trening kompozitora  neizmerno korisni). Njegov film najcesce (ovde je akcenat na «  najcesce ») kombinuje militantni dokumentarac, epsko pozoriste, polifoniju glasova, neorganski i organski pristup tekstu, strategije komunikacije, genericka i formalna pomeranja oduhovljene slike , direktan  pastis  postmodernog francuskog  filma kao i veliku Sovjetsku skolu Ruskog formalizma.

 

Nina Zivancevic-Mereskovskaja

 

Few words about Merejkowsky Pierre

It is not easy to talk about the people we feel close to, whatever we say may appear banal- if somebody has asked me what I had learnt from Pierre Merejkowsky and that it does not appear banal is a very harsh working discipline and that probably goes way back to his Russian herritage, the very thing may be the key for understanding the work of his predecessors, the Russian writers Dimitri Merejkowsky and  Zinaida Xippius, who lived their whole life in exile. What’s really interesting is that they escaped the Bolsevics, Lenin’s Communism so that Pierre, as a French author and film director could only get back to it; he’s a militant of the Left which borders on the belief in the individual “I” which characterizes the creativity of an anarchist autor.

And the we have the entire Pierre’s work on film, some 50 films until today, work which is not only founded on Godard’s heritage, as Godard was his great teacher and inspiration, but in his film work we also find the schools of his Russian film predecessors: Merejkowsky’s films such as MEN PROPHETS , QUE FAIRE (CTO DELAT) and Small War , are films which come out of the schools of Eisenstein, Medvedkin but also Brecht’s theater as well. For  Merejkowsky the shooting as a procedure in film means, above all , the investigation of IMAGE, or “CTO DELAT”(what to do) with the image. He’s investigating the image as much as he investigates the theme,the real subject of the film,  the technique close to Brecht’s method of establishing  the objective distance.  In his own CTO DELAT as much as later in MEN PROPHETS, the Maoist enquette or the investigation was the base for creating the cinematography  able to show the contradictions in the contemporary reality which these contradictions tried to explain. This cinematography fights against naturalism as much as it tries  to reject the idea that the shooting of a revolutionary action per se is enough for us to call such film a revolutionary one. From the start  Merejkowsky was interested in different ways in which he could not only draw the public’s attention to the film, but also in the ways in which one could keep the spectator in the state of permanent active engagement. He had been repeating the fact that the naturalism of the athomsphere and landscape is more of a social game which society plays in order to make us accept their postulates. He entamed his own directing process probably thinking of Brecht who once said that “nothing could be considered a natural fact  as such,this is in order that we treat each phenomenon as something natural and  a potential subject to a new social change as well.”

One of Merejkowsky’s aleatory technical methods is the method of repetition which, when it comes to the treatment of sound in his films , brings us to the cacophony of different voices and sounds. For instance, there is often a asynchronic sound in the film which makes us often wonder as to how  the director who searches for the “worker’s truth” ,comes to the phenomenon of the asynchronic sound. Maybe we can understand this phenomenon, if we say that this sound is the product of the limitations imposed by the technicality which was further imposed by the economic limitations on the film; in his films we can also observe that as the spectators we have arrived  at something which is not only at some aesthetic effect . It is not only of the aesthetic nature but this effect  became a certain political action seeking to abolish naturalism, at the same time trying to awake the critical distance in the spectator. The presence of such sound in the film brings us to the question which most militant films after 1968 : how to record the inaudiable or often marginalized speech which is somewhere hidden but probably means something else? The answer of Merejkowsky is not very simple: he makes us believe that this type of faded speech is not a by-product but that it was carefully constructed prior to the shooting of the film; as such, it is constantly in search of a certain synchronization.

Merejkowsky or, as his friends simply call him “Merej”, often insists on the pruning of the images and placing them out of their natural context so that he would place them into their specific millieux or a specific historic context.  If we read in such light his film CTO DELAT  we are to think that the director is in the service of the revolution, marxism or workers’ class, the way we read it with Lindsay Anderson, Schlesinger or Andrea Arnold,( the director who is more of Merej’s generation). The spectators believehere that they watch the scenes which belong to a certain class millieux, however, the director/author/technician is likely to rebell against our labeling of the scenes; “are they “black” or “white” are they “politically correct” or incorrect? “

The moral and pedagogical lesson drives the director insane and he escapes from it. Any sort of politically ouvert commentary as much as the formal treatment of it by running towards Brecht, Eisenstein, Vertov or any other Russian cousin- drives him insane; any escape towards naturalism drives him insane, no matter which cultural or political period  it belongs to! Perhaps that fear belongs also to the heritage of the French New Wave, the films which were not afraid of the influence of Mao Ce Dung and Che Guevara. In such “political attitude” film there is a strong line drawn between the so called author’s intention and the critical reception of the public viewing this film; there is also the line drawn between the author’s work and the possible critical interpretation of the film. To the already traditional escape from naturalism Merejkowsky adds his own strategies : he not only directly shows us the manner of using his strategies, the one of introducing the casual passers-by (as Fromanger or Braco Dimitrijevic in their art work), but he also introduces the idea (formerly abandoned by the naturalists) that a film can serve some higher truth. We should not escape from the truth and if the spectators cannot see it or hear it we have to repeat this truth in the script, and vary the tonality of the actor’s voice from a very loud to a whisper.

Merejkowsky’s films are taking a form of the formal strategies as for him the film as art means above all other things- an attempt which moves to the visual poliphony (and in this respect the musical training and composer’s education come in handy for his  art). His film often combines (here we should underline the word « often ») militant documentary, epic theater, poliphony of the voices, organic and non-organic approach to the script, the strategies of communication, the generic and formal shifts of the spiritual image , the direct pastiche of the postmodern French cinema as well as the heritage of great Soviet school of Russian Formalism.

 

Nina Zivancevic-Merejkowskaya

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Wrestling with the Sky: Mayakovsky Revolutionary Influence on Frank O’Hara’s Revolutionary Verse

 

“Does a literary work simply chronicle and accompany revolutions or can it change the world? Was each formal revolution which … ushered in a new phase of literary history just the reflection of a change in the way writers saw the world or did it create new ways of representing this change? What makes a piece of writing revolutionary? Is it its immediate impact?” Some of these pertinent questions I have tried to ask working on my first doctoral disertation”Mayakovsky and his influence on the contemporary American poetry” far back in 1982.

Marjorie Perloff warmly supported my research and gave me ‘green light’ to continue my investigation but the ultra-conservative team of professors at the American University in Washington,DC., did not approve of it as my theme was a bit too radical in those times. I’d like to clear some of these incentives at this  conference as many pertinent things have changed in poetry for the last 35 years, for the better we hope. Some of  these changes touch the very core of poetry writing in itself, a breath unit leading to an open, so called free verse. One of them is the question that Perloff discusses in regards to the American poets who underwent “the Revolution of the Word”, as Jerome Rothenberg would have it . More precisely what happens when the “natural speech” model inherited from the Modernists,comes up against the “natural speech” of the “talk show,” or how visual poetics and verse forms are responding to the languages of billboards and sound bytes. These questions  had been already raised by the Russian avantgarde writers of the Revolution in 1917.

What makes a piece of writing revolutionary, indeed? Is it because it  can be revolutionary in form, but it can also carry a political message, as is the case with Vladimir Mayakovsky? A renowned scholar of Russian literature and its  Revolutionary avantgardes,Caryl Emerson, tries to untangle some of the Russian Revolution’s brightest literary hours by presenting and discussing  an anthology of the early 20th century writing published in the TLS as of February 2017, and I would be more than honoured to extend and elaborate on some of his premises .

Another  burning issue here will necessarily imply the rich field of

translation,   being the torch bearer of the cultural and technical revolutions which shape our fields of study. However, if there is time and space for further discussion, I would love to tackle the issue as well of

a “translator as a rebel, an enemy of patriotism (Derrida)”.  At the time when the area of “translation studies” has revolutionized the university everywhere, it is clear that “the links between translation and questions of identity, political thought and the diffusion of knowledge,” have not yet been sufficiently discussed but we should strive  to do so.

I.

In 1940, a great Russian theoretician and semiotician, Victor Chklovski had written about the great revolutionary poet Mayakovski: ” Mayakovski reorganized words in Russian in the way that their semantic value was changed. He penetrated the solid ice-sheet made of words and reconstructed them to form new poetry based on the experience of Khlebnikov, on the Russian folk songs and on the vast field of the street conversational language.” ( Chklovski, On Mayakovski ” Moscow, 1940)

Perhaps we should explain something here: Mayakovski , a young poet who was 33 in 1926 and who had already gained the stature of a great poet with his people , quite early in the 20th century, tried to write something quite pertinent in regards to the genesis of his unusual verse . He wrote a text ” How to write Poetry ” in which he showed the newly born necessity on the side of the form to convert and guide the content, and above all, the necessity of the verse to attain a more casual character in its essence. In 1926 the great Russian revolutionary acts were already behind and Mayakovsky was still trying, despite many personal disappointments, to believe in the powerful Revolution which shook his country nine years ago. In his text, Mayakovsky speaks of those revolutionary times and ideas which he wanted to extend naturally as he was one of the most illustrious participants of the October’s revolution. He has always believed that the poet had one special role in society – the one which implied not only the showing  the obligatory respect to the formal inventions in poetry, but that such role also implied the creation of the  committed and avant-garde content , the one which in turn would further help the readers understand their tasks in their new revolutionary society.The  real biography of Vladimir Mayakovsky was recorded several times by various biographers and in very different manners: all of them agree (Bengt Jangfeldt, Edward J.Brown, Ann and Samuel Charters, Patricia J.Thompson) that he was a teenager who happened to live through the Russian Revolution poor and disoriented- his father died and his mother was raising him by herself in the Moscow in the revolutionary times. As a member of a Social Democrat party he went to jail as a youngster and served a  5 year long sentence, only to return a party membership card after he gained his freedom. The books which perhaps preserve the best the elements of his theoretical work remain Poetic Culture of Mayakovsky, written in French by Nicolas Khardijev (L’age d’Homme), Mayakovski- I travelled Around the World by Claude Frioux and Mayakovski and His Circle by Victor Chklovski himself. Equally precious and moving testimonies of Mayakovski’s life were given by his fellow-poets such as Boris Pasternak, Anna Akhmatova, Marina Tsvetaieva and Guennadi Aigui as well as the poet’s long lost companion Lili Brik. Mayakovsky’s life was larger than a life of any other poet as it had so many violent notes in it and it ended quite violently, some claim that the poet committed suicide,and some better informed of his contemporaries maintain that he was killed by Beria and his KGB agents. At any rate much of this violence leaks into his verse  where we feel poet’s struggle to exit his inner jail that the revolutionary life had condemned him to, but most of his verse remains sunny and optimistic, despite everything and everybody and this quality of his verse is the best described by his biographer Philippe  Blanchon. He wrote a preface to Mayakovsky’s theoretical book HOW TO WRITE POETRY ( in the revolutionary times, we should add) where Blanchon pertinently remarks “In his castle where the poet is suffocating, he is putting his last force to change the air and to open the windows out. He is attacked by everyone and everything, from the inside and the outside and his solitude must had been the total one.” (p.3) Three years after having completed his tractat the poet dies. But the chapbook remains in which he explains his working method; he has accomplished a new cycle of poems after his long voyages in the U.S. and in Europe, and has explained most of his poetics in a part entitled Essenine . In the text which he considered as his working laboratory he explains his metric and phonic demands which suit his semantic explorations and his search for the inner rhythm of words which slowly untangles his creative process accomplished- in the age of the mechanical reproduction. A similar search for rhythm and meaning we also find in the verse of Mayakovski’s distant spiritual cousin and poetic descendent, the American poet Frank O’Hara who lived and worked a bit later in the 20th century in the U.S., but the observations and the possible parallels of the work of these two poets we are ready to share a little bit further down in this presentation.

II.

In the beginning of his tractatus on poetry Mayakovski says that his intention was not to ‘destroy’ old poetry but to discredit its intrinsic value. He says that we should not quarrel with it- but rather study it carefully. Our criticism  and ‘hatred’ ( he uses these passionate words) should first of all go towards the “sentimental” in poetry which is “waiting for the poetic spirit to descend onto us straight from haven like a dove, a peacock or an ostrich”. Mayakovsky here is doing something that we,  children of the postmodern, can quickly understand, but for those times  it was a far and rare outcry of a brand new method in poetry; however, Frank O’Hara who had a poetic sensibility close to Mayakovsky’s got his messages right away, straight from the Russian source, and started applying them quite readily in his own verse. And what were Mayakovsky’s postmodern messages? Let us see them one by one

  • Introducing very trivial low register theme or expressions into a highbrow subject ((doves, peacocks, ostrichs)
  • Introducing an “extra” outdoor theme or story and sliding it into the relevant material (he compares old poets and their love of the pathetic to Tatiana’s love (a bit démodé, for Onegin)
  • By assuming a funny or humorous tone throughout the text, he is getting to the heart core of the scholarly or a difficult subject such as writing the creative verse

However, he says :“I am not giving you any rule which could make a poet out of an ordinary man, a man able to write poetry. Such rules do not exist. Every poet is a person who creates his own rules for writing poetry on his own and only for himself.” (p.11) And then he adds”I will emphasize: just to create the rules is by no means the goal of poetry- if that was the case, a poet would be no less than an office clerk who invents unnecessary rules for all sorts of things and non-existing situations.” And then he adds quite humorously in a jocose manner: “we all agree that it is futile to invent rules for counting the stars while we are riding the bicycle, right”. Further along the line, as he explains the revolution of “THE WORD”, that is the development of the revolutionary language in poetry he underlines the fact that the necessities of life always enter the body of poetry and observes that “the revolution has rushed and forced a foul and simple language of the streets , the language which belonged to millions of men – into poetry; the argotic expressions from the suburbs entered the city center and the week language of the intellectuals- effeminate words such as ‘ideal’, ‘social justice’ ‘divine origin’ and “the transcendental images of Christ and Antichrist”, as well as that refined murmuring happening in the restaurants- had been suffocated by a necessity.” (p 14) How do we introduce a totally new linguistic material into poetry?

Mayakovski had been asking himself that question in that long distant 1926, almost a hundred years ago, and we are more than ready to ask the same question today. Well, he did not know, Frank O’Hara did not know in the 1960s, and we do not know today, but in one thing all poets throughout the last century echo Mayakovski’s doubts in writing – one of these is whether we should apply old poetic rules and old prosody to  new subjects and new poetic themes, and the answer of all of them is in the negative. In his struggle for the new poetic language The Russian poet exclaims “It does not suffice to give examples of the new verse or rules of a verbal action to the revolutionary masses; it is necessary that action happens unanonimously and that it is enormously great in its support on the side of the whole social class.” (p.15) And he says also: “Novelty is indispensable in the creation of new poetics. The words as material have to be put in new combinations, if poet encounters them he has to rework their relationships. And if we use in new poems old and forgotten phrases, these should be used proportionately with the new material. However, the newness in a poem does not have to contain always new unedited truths. Iambics, free verse, alliteration and the assonance we do not invent every day. We can work in order to expand them, deepen them and elaborate them further. “ Also, he says that the description and representation of reality are not independent issues in poetry. This type of work is worthwhile but it should be considered as secretarial in a large assembly. All poetry, he says, starts with higher purpose and a hidden tendency.

He does not believe in the purposeless verse and thus he says:

“ I think that a poem “I’m travelling lonely on the road” is just an invitation to the girls to go on a trip with that poet. Ah! If a poem of that force had been only written to shake people and make them gather in cooperatives!” However, he was the one w<ho was able to write such a poem and shake people;Mayakovsky believed in future of the cooperatives. After all, he was a founder of the literary movement Futurism (1913) for which David Bourliouk, a member of the Futurist circle said that it was not a new movement in art but a new attitude towards everything in life. However,the movement gathered several poets of the same sensibility who later became famous such as Alexandre BlokVelimir KhlebnikovVassili Kamenski et Alexeï Kroutchenykh. The first  Futurist manifest  A Slap in the Public Taste, was published as early as 1912. But contrary to the belief that Mayakovsky’s poetry or of any poet from that group was heavy, modeled upon the need of the new society to be industrious and serious, one could easily remark that the poems of the Futurists were funny, full of revolutionary optimism and lighthearted. They were liberated from the chains of the traditional form and catered in their spirit the brand new society, people of the Russian revolution who needed hope and encouragement.

Let us take a brief  look at the principal  “revolutionary”poem of Mayakovsky’s, entitled “Ode to the Revolution”( beautifully translated by Rosy Patience Carrick) where he says :To thee/hissed at/mocked by the whole batteries/to thee/I rapturously render up../..you send sailors/onto the sinking ship,/where/a forgotten/kitten miaows./And afterward!/You roar through the drunken crowd/.

Why would he address the revolution in his first line with the most romantic, reverent “thee”, unless he loved and respected it from the start, and while other poets disliked it, “hissed at it” and went to exile, like Marina Tsvetayeva and Zinaida Xippius, the poet Mayakovsky remained faithful to it. Nonetheless, he will admit further down in his poem that ‘his’ revolution sent sailors onto the sinking ship, therefore it made willful and  deliberate victims. However, his line that follows the former one explains this long metaphor by stating that there was a “ kitten forgotten on the board”and the “sailors”, otherwise called “the revolutionaries”, were probably sent in there with a noble task- to save a living being from the sinking boat, which was truly Russia itself in the feudal times, just before the grand October revolution. Very few poets, descendants of the 20th century had enough subtlety and tenderness to embrace the revolution and the revolutionary zeal in the same manner. In a way, Mayakovsky knew that the revolution  was killing him, but for the higher, humanitarian goals he had to embrace it; he did not mind Lenin and then later Stalin and Beria, he just “had to shine, no matter what”; his sunny stance is shared with Frank O’Hara, his American twin, unvoluntary disciple and eternal aesthetic-revolutionary rebel.

Born in Baltimore 1926, just 4 years before his Russian counterpart died in Moscow, O’Hara is considered nowadays a major participant of the so called New York School of poetry (together with John Ashbery, James Schyler and Kenneth Koch). He worked as a curator in the MOMA (New York Museum of Modern art) and also died young (in 1966) in a tragic accident, but he left behind a substantial body of poetry which was not perhaps so large in scope but truly substantial in its revolutionary  and innovative approach to verse that it formed the whole generation of successors-followers who have stared wide-open into the work of their beloved teacher of wild and funny postmodern verse many decades after O’Hara’s death.

In O’Hara’s short but ever- pertinent explanation of his verse, entitled “Personism-a Manifesto”, he jokingly teaches his Anglophone readers how to write, or even better, how not to write certain poetry.  He starts with his Mayakovshian reproach to the literary criticism: “Everything is in the poems.. so I don’t have to make elaborately sounded structures.. I don’t even like rhythm, assonance, all that stuff. You just go on your nerve”

As the result though.his revolutionary attitude in writing, and his verse got on many critics’ nerve though- America was not used to this sort of poetry, it did not have poets who would say like O’Hara “ I am not saying that I don’t have practically the most lofty ideas of anyone writing today…but they are just ideas. The only good thing about it is that whenI get lofty enough I’ve stopped thinking and that’s when refreshment arrives”. However, what the ‘resfreshment “ meant for O’Hara, we are just allowed to have a glimpse, an idea about it. Further along the line he would say “Only Whitman and Crane and Williams, of the American poets are better than the movies.” And why he loved them and not the others we can only guess- he probably loved that long, river-like Whitmanesque line, meandering like a river, and that indented rough verse by Hart Crane,  and WC Williams- perhaps for his take on the ideas “no ideas but in things”, yes, we can guess but we can never be so sure as O’Hara quoted everything and everybody, then also nobody specific in his humorous sardonic pastiches. In his Personism “ a movement for only two people which is going to become popular” Frank O’Hara has already announced “the death of literature as we know it”. Of course, he was referring to the critical avant-garde movement in visual arts which was announcing ‘death of art’. O’Hara was making a take-off and he was laughing at his readers already, while they were beginning to figure out what he meant by saying that “poetry was quicker and surer than the prose”. Some of us are still trying to figure out whether he was right or not, but it is sure that the poet’s delivery was reaching the heart quicker that some long descriptions, O’Hara was a quick and sporadic writer who had no patience with the events, just like his predecessor, Mayakovsky, but was reminding us already in the early 1960s that the heart is there, hidden but open, and an artist has to reach out loudly and then simply grab it. He was not there to share with Mayakovsky his revolutionary zeal, but the echos of futurism are already with him , as early as in his “Memorial Day 1950”s poem in which he picks up something which could be named “the Russian proletarian call” to verse:

O Boris Pasternak, it may be silly/to call to you, so tall in the Urals, but your voice/ cleans our world/clearer to us than the hospital:/you sound above the factory’s ambiguous gargle./ Poetry is as useful as a machine!”

And yet, one of the best FO’H poems is dedicated not to Pasternak but to Mayakovsky, more precisely “in the memory of Vladimir Mayakovsky” in a subtitle, but nowhere in it can we say with certainty why the Russian poet was the object of his dedication. True, the poem is long, divided in 10 sections, and is rebellious in its nature- it is almost not a poem in genre, but a long hybrid text which only makes us think that Mayakovsky was more of a real and enormous inspiration in poetic musings for O’Hara, rather than a real down- the- line influence and predecessor who  determines the younger poet’s style. How could we ever deduct the O’Hara’s lines from Mayakovsky’s? “ Quips and players, seeming to vend astringency off-hours,/ celebrate diced excesses and sardonics, mixing pleasures/as if proximity were staring at the margin of a plea..”

A mere joke or an attempt to appear more Surreal that the acclaimed Surrealists of that time? We cannot understand, as the poem goes, neither the quips nor the player who was witty enough to flash them, and by all means we could not feel Mayakovsky’s style or intention in any of O’Hara’s parts, and yet! The Irish American gave us a superb lesson in something which was called ‘ a dedication’ of a poem. From that epoch on, it became trully possible for any poet to dedicate a poem in his true intimacy to another poet while writing something entirely different from his peer’s style and content. The revolutionary word was there and it came straight from Victor Chklovsky a Russian theorist and Formalist who collaborated with Mayakovsky on his magazine LEF (Leftist Art’s Front) in 1923 and who developed his famous “method of defamiliarization” in art, a method which justly claimed that the best way to speak about a fact was to ignore it completely and to speak all the time about something else (see Chklovski’s “Zoo or the Letters which do not speak of Love”.) If we are to speak of the new and revolutionary methods in literature, we have to go back to Chklovski who preserved his art from Stalin’s purges and died rather late in the 2Oth century (1984). Chklovski was also rather in favor of the cinematographic style, that is the technique of film-editing in literature, a method that both Mayakovsky and Frank O’Hara felt very close to.

Of course, in 1950s and 1960’s in the U.S. one could  relate this particular method more easily to the New York Pop art where we find O’Hara’s buddies Larry Rivers and Bill Berkson . We are not trying to direct the readers here to a possible influence of Mayakovsky on O’Hara in those terms, we are just trying to draw an incredible similarity, a serendipity on the side of O’Hara who must had liked Mayakovsky’s brief, oratory style suited to be posted in an imaginary Popish cartoon’s balloon. However, the balloon was Pop  and extremely fresh in writing,and both poets rejoiced in it. Or, what’s happening here ,according to Alain Badiou is the mere dissemination of a poem , as “its operation tries to overcome a certitude of an objective and pushes its inner action towards a void, towards a pure scintillation which  places its object in front of its absence or annihilation.” The philosopher says that such dissemination wishes to dissolve the object by its infinite metaphoric distribution, so as soon as the object escapes to a different meaning in a poem, at the same time it “disobjectivizes” itself and becomes something else. The object loses its “objectivity” not because it got lost but because it got multiplied by the means of becoming excessive, it became excessive in regards to other objects”. (p. 21) The active dialogue with the Russian poet becomes more visible in O’Hara’s poem entitled simply Mayakovsky. Here, O’Hara suffers a real “anxiety of influence” and writes a real response poem to Mayakovsky’s Cloud in Trousers which is not  Mayakovsky’s best and the most renowned poem but often it appears so. However, with O’Hara it becomes a vaudeville, a pastiche, a post-modern take off, a sort of a Monthy Python’s take on Tarkovski as O’Hara wants to escape his own flood of emotions, a pathetic bathos and he says: “I/ My heart’s aflutter!/I am standing in a bathtub/crying.Mother, mother who am I?/ If he will just come back once/and kiss me on the face/his coarse hair brush/my temple, it’s throbbing!

We see here that Mayakovsky’s verse is turned upside down in a comic manner, we have a comic relief to a sad situation of abandonment but is it really comic? O’Hara’s heart is also hurt but he would not allow the reader to cry with him, it’s unbecoming for a poet to be pathetic; however, his sincere questioning of identity comes through in the line “mother, mother, who am I?” as it becomes a tragic quest devoid of laughter. He keeps his mocking tone throughout the “epic”, as one of the primary tasks of every postmodern school of writing relied on the ancient quotes or sincere sentiment in the predecessor’s verse now being turned completely upside down- what was a high tone in writing now becomes a lower subject and the small, insignificant events- for the sake of the comical effect are being turned into high odes and quasi worthwhile themes. (see Marjorie Perloff, Postmodern Genres, UN of Oklahoma Press 1988)

“2 I love you. I love you,/ but I am turning to my verses/and my heart is closing/ like a fist./Words!be/sick as I am sick, swoon,/roll back your eyes, a pool,/and I’ll stare down/at my wounded beauty/which at best is only a talent/ for poetry.”

A “wounded beauty”, or a talent for poetry  at its best is quite visible in Mayakovsky’s long  poem

“An extraordinary Adventure which befell..in the Summer at a Dacha” written in 1920s: “Like one hundred forty suns blazed/as summer rolled into July;/the weather was hot,/heat shimmered and swam-/ this took place at a dacha./ The knoll of Pushkino hunched up/ against Akulova hill/was a village/ its rind of rooftops grimaced”. In this one the Russian converses with the sun- his equal  and personalized diety: “I shouted at the sun:/Hold it!/ listen up, goldilobe:/ don’t just drop idly/from the sky-/drop by/ my place for tea!” Once invited,the sun started talking to the poet who did not miss his opportunity to complain “ I talked of this/ and I talked of that/ said Rosta was really wearing me down,/ to which the sun retorted:/ Cmon, /don’t grieve-/just look at the things simply!/You think/it’s easy/ for me to shine?/..But here’s the thing:/you chose to go,/so you go-and shine wide open!..Let’s go, poet/ and blaze/and laud/in the gray rubbish of the world./I will pour out the sun that’s mine/and you, your own,/in verse./…To shine all-wheres/until the end of days,/to shine-/and that’s all there is to it!/My slogan/and the sun’s!”

Before we turn to Frank O’Hara’s immense response to Mayakovsky’s poem, it is just correct to remark that the poet who had written such verse, an ode to the sun, was more than unlikely to commit suicide. He was emotional, as poets usually are, and despite Shelley’s slogan that “the poets are the least poetical of all beings”, and despite the fact that he was emotionally ruined by his love affair with Lily Brick- hard to imagine such a poet committing suicide.

O’Hara, a sunny poet as well indeed, writes “A TRUE ACCOUNT OF TALKING TO THE SUN AT FIRE ISLAND”, the poem he wrote after having read Mayakovsky in translation of Kornei Chukovsky, an early translator of Whitman and a friend of Mayakovsky’s.However his translations were almost as excellent as the original- here is what McGavran, his larter translator says on translating the Russian poet “Translating Mayakovsky is a daunting task. The traditional impossibility of verse translation- maintaining poetic form and semantic content- is compounded in his case by Mayakovsky’s penchant for word creation and highly unusual, at times ambiguous grammar. Furthermore, form- which comprises rhythm, rhyme, all sorts of sound-play and other effects that rely on the phonetic or graphic make-up of words in Russian- is almost always a bearer of meaning, and it is often central to Mayakovsky’s work that to throw it out entirely would render a poem meaningless. There is also the challenge of conveying Mayakovsky’s frequent changes in tone and stylistic registar: from jeering to pleading, from vulgarity to eloquence (or mock eloquence), from bathos to pathos and back again.”

O’Hara starts his “True Account of Talking to the Sun” in Mayakovskian unique self-assured manner of a salesman who tries to barter a couple of verses for a piece of your heart: “The Sun woke me this morning loud/and clear, saying “Hey, I’ve been/trying to wake you up for fifteen minutes. Don’t be so rude, you are/ only the second poet I’ve ever chosen/ to speak to personally/so why/aren’t you more attentive?” Here the poet takes up on Mayakovsky’s revolutionary street language stance and continues in the same style throughout the poem “Frankly, I wanted to tell you/I like your poetry. I see a lot/on my rounds and you’re okay. You may/not be the greatest thing on Earth, but/ you are different./.. Just keep on/like I do and pay no attention. You’ll/find that people always will complain/ about the atmosphere,either too hot/or too cold/..And don’t worry about your lineage/poetic or natural. The Sun shines/on the jungle, you know,/ on the tundra/ the sea, the ghetto./..I was waiting for you to get to work.

In the first part of the O’Hara’s take off , the American poet speaks the same words of the professional encouragement as we had already heard them in Mayakovsky’s poem, but in the second part  he pushes the Mayakovskyan metaphor very far. Here we have O’Hara speaks Mayakovsky’s lines that his predecessor had never spoken, enlarging the spirit and the situation the way Mayakovsky would have done but he never did, so O’Hara anticipates the verses which Mayakovsky failed to fill in his poem and he says:”And always embrace things, people earth/sky stars, as I do, freely and with/ the appropriate sense of space./Sun don’t go! I was awake /at last.”No, go I must, they’re calling me”/Who are they?/ Rising he said, “Some day you’ll know.They are calling to you/too.”

One can rightly ask the question who the Sun is in O’Hara’s poem and the answer falls naturally- it is his peer, the Russian poet Mayakovsky, giving him the supreme advice  in  life and in his poetics which is larger than life. To me, these two poems are some of the best poetry ever written in the history of literature as both of them in their similar but also very different ways teach the artists how to fight oppression in the world and in themselves,  the opressive melancholy, or the dark Sun that the poets are often prone to. Both of these poems sing in the voice of the oppressed teaching the artists how to love the weak and how to embrace  misfortune by taking a stance larger than life, as both of them did. What could have Frank O’Hara  picked from Mayakovsky,being  a difficult poet to translate ? Mayakovsky was famous for his revolutionary, innovative form in poetry, but his content, inspired by the great October revolution was no less revolutionary than his fight for the new form in poetic language. And O’Hara followed, certainly in a different way, but what he recognized was the kindred spirit in Mayakovsky , the one similar to his own. Both of them believed in being faithful to the spirit of the times, that is of those unique, respective eras that they inhabited and which inhabited them , each poet  in his own times.

In conclusion,we should observe here that it is not an easy task to talk about the influence in poetry or about the legitimate heritage that one poet inherits from another who was his predecessor . Our task to understand one’s poetics is doubled here, as Badiou justly remarks that the nature of poetry, anyone’s poetry in our epoch tends to evade us. And he says that poem is an uncompromising , intrasigent exercise. It cannot be mediated and it avoids mediatisation. It is an act of rebellion in itself as it does not demand to be communicated. It is not a general action and it does not try to please; it gives itself to our ears as a thing in language which we always encounter as an event. It is a pure event which hides itself in its own tissue, waiting for us to take it out from its envelope.. and also it dwells in the essential silence, it is a “musician of silence” as Mallarme named it, or Rimbaud who called it “a thought sang in a song together with the singer”.

How can this song be transmitted from one poet to another and from that one to the masses, we do not know; what I am only trying to say is that Vladimir Mayakovsky and Frank O’Hara tried to do it, in their respective eras and in their different ways. And as Badiou pertinently remarks again, poetry happens to be the only artistic form to keep the thought alive in this “age of poets” when philosophy failed to keep the world together and only the poets are able to show their writing as an exercise of vigilance. Pessoa had seen their role as the great metaphysicians of our times who keep the flame burning, and Heidegger called them “the guardians of being”. Their role is to shine and to revolutionize the word, thus  to revolutionize the world that fell into some temporary or permanent darkness.

Nina Zivancevic

 

 

(p.8 the Selected Poems of F O’H, ed. By Donald Allen)

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Alain Badiou, “Que pense le poème?”, NOUS,2016

Carrick, Rosy Patience,”Vladimir Mayakovsky: the Language of Revolution”, unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Sussex (British Library, London , 2017)

James H.McGavran, Mayakovsky’s selected poems, vol III, 2013 Northwestern University Press

Mayakovsky, Vladimir :Comment écrire des vers, adaptation Philippe BlanchonÉditions de la Nerthe, 2014.

Mayakovsky, Vladimir : L’amour, la poesie, laRévolution, trad. Henri Deluy, Le Temps des Cerises, Montreuil 2011

Perloff, Marjorie, Postmodern Genres, UN of Oklahoma Press ,1988

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