“We want peace, but if you provoke us…”
According to a new poll by the Levada Centre published Thursday, a day before the poet’s 120th birthday, 120 after his birth and 83 years after his suicide, literary rebel-cum-Communist Vladimir Mayakovsky remains one of modern Russia’s most popular poets. The results show that he’s the second-most-popular Russian poet of the 20th century. The Levada poll was held in late June and surveyed 1,601 respondents. It had a margin-of-error of 3.4 percentage points.
Generations of Soviet school-kids memorised his lines about the eternal glory of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin, or the pride of owning a Soviet passport… along with litanies of Communist utopia and a didactic sermon about the good and the bad, addressed to an imaginary “baby son” the poet never had. However, there was another Mayakovsky… a rejected, heartbroken, and suicidal lover, who was also an arrogant nihilist, whose rebellious, exquisitely-rhyming lines might fit a modern heavy metal anthem or rap tune. He committed suicide in 1930, after the end of a not-entirely monogamous relationship with Jewish Communist Lilya Brik, and increasing disillusionment with Communist dogma. Only Sergei Yesenin, the hard-drinking bard of the Russian countryside, who killed himself five years prior to Mayakovsky’s suicide, exceeds his popularity. Vladimir Vysotsky, the actor and folk singer who died in 1980, came third in the list.
Prior to Mayakovsky’s birthday, a national television channel showed a somewhat glamorised mini-series about his life and love, and people held readings of his poems throughout Russia. Although Mayakovsky’s suicide was widely seen as a symbol of the Soviet intelligentsia’s falling-out with the Communist régime, a cult began around him right after his death. Communist leader Iosif Stalin, who dabbled in poetry in his youth and studied theology before becoming a full-time Marxist revolutionary, turned the iconoclastic poet into an icon. Dubbed “Nr 1 Proletarian Poet”, he became omnipresent on bookshelves and city squares, his statues mushroomed all over the USSR, and his works published in the tens of millions. Mayakovsky was widely translated into European languages and was popular among Western leftist intellectuals. American poet Frank O’Hara wrote a poem about him, and British singer Billy Bragg recorded an album named after one of his works entitled Talking with the Taxman about Poetry.
19 July 2013