For the opening part of this week’s Cultureteca, let’s look back precisely one hundred years, to some of the poetry being published in the Russian Empire and the United States in July 1915. Then onto a correspondence between Björk and the philosopher Timothy Morton; the week’s music featuring Robyn, Erykah Badu, and Kanye West; and athletics highlights from the Anniversary Games in London.
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100 Years Ago in Russian and American Poetry: Vladimir Mayakovsky and Mina Loy
From December 1913 until the following April, Vladimir Mayakovsky along with his fellow Russian Futurist poets toured cities across the southeast of the Russian Empire, extending to parts of modern-day Crimea, Ukraine, and Moldova. In Odessa in January 1914, Mayakovsky met Maria Denisova, and fell into a love that proved unrequited. He began composing what would become ‘A Cloud in Trousers’ (‘Облако в штанах’).
Mayakovsky had published his first poems in December 1912, as part of the Russian Futurist’s debut collection A Slap in the Face of Public Taste (Пощёчина общественному вкусу). This contained the Russian movement’s manifesto, which called to ‘Throw Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, etc., etc., overboard from the ship of modernity’. In 1913 he published his first solo collection of poems, I (Я). ‘A Cloud in Trousers’ was finished in July 1915 in Kuokkala – whose Finnish name was changed in 1948 to Repino, in honour of its famous former resident, the painter Ilya Repin.
Sections of ‘A Cloud in Trousers’ had already been published in February, in the magazine Sagittarius (Стрелец); and more appeared elsewhere in August. The completed poem emerged in September, in an edition published by Osip Brik. However this version was severely censored, and the title changed: Mayakovsky initially wanted the poem to be called ‘The Thirteenth Apostle’.
The uncensored text would be printed in early 1918, by ASIS Publishing. Prefacing that edition, Mayakovsky summarised ‘A Cloud in Trousers’ as ‘four cries of the four parts […] “Down with your love”, “Down with your art”, “Down with your system”, “Down with your religion”‘. He dedicated the poem to Lilya Brik.
Prologue and first part of ‘A Cloud in Trousers’, by Vladimir Mayakovsky (1915)
dreaming on a softened brain
like a blown-up lackey on a greasy couch,
I’ll taunt with a bloody scrap of heart,
mock to my full, insolent and caustic.
Not one gray hair is in my soul,
no old man’s tenderness!
The world shakes from the might of my voice,
I go—a handsome,
You put your love on violins.
The vulgar put love on kettle drums.
But to turn yourself inside out, as I,
and become nothing but lips
this you can’t do!
from the drawing room, you cambric,
proper bureaucrat of the angelic league.
And the one who calmly flicks her lips
like a cook the pages of her cook book.
If you want—
I’ll rage from meat
—and, like the sky changing its tones—
if you want—
I’ll be irreproachably tender,
not a man, but—a cloud in trousers!
I don’t believe there’s flowering Nice!
Again they praise themselves through me,
men stale like a hospital,
and women worn out like a proverb.
You think it’s malaria raving?
happened in Odessa.
“I’ll come at four,” Maria said.
left the windows
into a night horror,
The candelabras sneer and neigh
at the senile back.
You wouldn’t know me now:
A sinewed colossus
What could such a clod want?
But the clod wants much!
Because for me it’s nothing
that I’m bronze—
and the heart’s—cold iron scrap.
At night I want to bury my sound
I hunch at the window,
melt the little pane with my forehead.
Will love be or not?
big or tiny?
Big, how from such a body:
It must be small,
a submissive baby love.
It cringes from the blaring horns.
Loves the clink of harness bells.
Still and still,
burying my face in the rain
against its pitted face,
spattered by the thunder of the city’s surf.
Midnight, racing with a knife,
to Hell with him!
Twelve o’clock fell
like a head from the executioner’s block.
Gray raindrops wailed together
massed into a grimace,
as the chimeras wail
on the Parisian Cathedral of the Mother of God.
What, still not enough?
Soon my mouth’ll rip itself apart with a scream.
a nerve jumped
like a patient from his bed.
at first, barely-barely,
it paced around,
Now with another two
race in a tap dance of despair.
Plaster crashed on the ground floor.
the nerves’ legs give way!
And the night oozes and oozes around the room,—
the waterlogged eye can’t pull itself from the ooze.
Doors banged suddenly,
as would the hotel’s
sharp, like “so there!”
tormenting your suede gloves,
I’m getting married.”
Okay, so get married.
I’ll make it.
You see—how calm I am!
Like a dead man’s
But I saw only one:
that had to be stolen!
And they stole.
Again, in love I’ll go and play around,
the arch of my brows lit by fire.
Even in a house burned to the ground
homeless bums sometimes live!
You taunt me?
“Your emeralds of madness are fewer
than a beggar’s kopeks!”
by taunting Vesuvius!
but the most horrible
have you seen it?—
am absolutely calm?
And I feel—
is tight on me.
Someone stubbornly pushes out of me.
Your son is beautifully sick!
He has fire of the heart.
Tell his sisters, Lyuda and Olya,—
he has nowhere to go.
even a joke,
vomited from his scorching mouth,
leaps like a naked prostitute
from a burning brothel.
smells of burnt flesh!
They herded ’em.
Tell the firemen:
Climb gently up the burning heart.
I’ll roll out my tearing eyes like barrels.
Let me lean against my ribs.
I’ll leap out! Leap out! Leap out! Leap out!
You can’t leap out of the heart!
On the burning face
from a crack in the lips,
out popped a charred kisslet about to jump.
I can’t sing.
In the chapel of my heart the kliros is catching fire!
The scorched figurines of words and numbers
from the skull,
like children from a burning building.
to seize heaven,
the burning arms of the Lusitania.
To the trembling people
in the apartment quiet
a hundred-eyed glow explodes from the harbor.
moan through centuries
that I burn!
(Translated by Jonathan Brent and Lyudmila Sholokhova. Read a full translation of Mayakovsky’s ‘A Cloud in Trousers’ in John Glad and Daniel Weissbort’s Russian Poetry: The Modern Period (University of Iowa Press, 1978): Mayakovsky Cloud in Trousers)
Meanwhile over in the United States, July 1915 saw the first issue of the new literary magazine Others, subtitled ‘A Magazine of the New Verse’. The magazine was founded in New Jersey by Alfred Kreymborg, who had previously edited The Glebe with Man Ray. Based for much of its run in New York, Others offered an alternative space for modern poetry, often attracting writers whose work had either been rejected by or simply didn’t fit in Chicago’s Poetry or The Little Review.
A core of artists, emerging out of a colony established in Grantwood, came to gather round Others. These included William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore, Mina Loy, and Marcel Duchamp. Amy Lowell, Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, and Carl Sandburg were among their fellow contributors, as the magazine published twenty-seven issues until July 1919. Three anthologies appeared, in 1916, 1917, and 1920.
The July 1915 issue featured poetry by Mary Carolyn Davies, Mina Loy, Orrick Johns, Horace Holley, and Kreymborg. Mina Loy’s contribution was four short ‘Love Songs’, which brought a hostile response from Amy Lowell and Conrad Aiken.
‘Love Songs’, by Mina Loy (1915)
Spawn of fantasies
Sitting the appraisable
Pig Cupid his rosy snout
Rooting erotic garbage
“Once upon a time”
Pulls a weed white star-topped
Among wild oats sown in mucous membrane
I would an eye in a Bengal light
Eternity in a sky-rocket
Constellations in an ocean
Whose rivers run no fresher
Than a trickle of saliva
There are suspect places
I must live in my lantern
Trimming subliminal flicker
Virginal to the bellows
In which a wanton duality
All the completions of my infructuous impulses
Something the shape of a man
To the casual vulgarity of the merely observant
More of a clock-work mechanism
Running down against time
To which I am not paced
My finger-tips are numb from fretting your hair
A God’s door-mat
On the threshold of your mind.
We might have coupled
In the bed-ridden monopoly of a moment
Or broken flesh with one another
At the profane communion table
Where wine is spilled on promiscuous lips
We might have given birth to a butterfly
With the daily news
Printed in blood on its wings.
Once in a mezzanino
The starry ceiling
Vaulted an unimaginable family
With human throats
And wisdom’s eyes
Who wore lamp-shade red dresses
And woolen hair
One bore a baby
In a padded porte-enfant
Tied with a sarsanet ribbon
To her goose’s wings
But for the abominable shadows
I would have lived
Among their fearful furniture
To teach them to tell me their secrets
For I had guessed mine
That if I should find YOU
And bring you with me
The brood would be swept clean out.
(Every issue of Others can be accessed via The Modernist Journals Project, a collaboration between Brown University and the University of Tulsa. A PDF of the July 1915 edition can be downloaded here: Others July 1915)
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Björk and Timothy Morton, Robyn & La Bagatelle Magique, and More of The Week’s Music
This week Dazed published some of the correspondence between Björk and the philosopher Timothy Morton. This appeared in full in the retrospective Björk: Archives, which features critical texts, poetry, and photography, and was published by MoMA and Thames & Hudson in March.
Morton is the author of books including Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World (Minnesota, 2013), The Ecological Thought (Harvard, 2010), and the upcoming Dark Ecology: For a Logic of Future Coexistence. Introducing the series of twenty-four emails which appeared in Dazed, Björk wrote:
‘last year i reached out to the philosopher timothy morton to see if he would be interested to start a dialogue with me, to search for a definition of me and my friends’ stance in this world, which i felt his writing came very close to already. of course i’m still searching but this email chat of ours got pretty close and we shared a couple of coordinates trying to define what “ism” a pop musician from iceland would be …..’
Here’s a reproduction of one of the early emails sent by Björk to Morton, with the introductions out of the way:
In other music-related stuff this week, Robyn announced the specifics of the upcoming La Bagatelle Magique release. The group – comprising Robyn alongside keyboardist Markus Jägerstedt and the late producer Christian Falk – will put out a mini-album entitled Love Is Free on 7 August, on Konichiwa Records, and it is available to pre-order now. Meanwhile – with the album’s titular track shared last month – Robyn also released the album’s second single, ‘Set Me Free’:
After a string of stellar mixtapes, Future’s third album Dirty Sprite 2 emerged to strong reviews. 3RDEYEGIRL promised a new Prince record for 2015, to be called The Hit & Run Album. Erykah Badu compiled a mix of soul, funk, and jazz, headed with the message ‘Feel Better, World!…Love, Ms. Badu’:
And Kanye West and director Steve McQueen unveiled their new video for Kanye’s songs ‘All Day’ and ‘I Feel Like That’. The tracks are thought to be part of Kanye’s upcoming album SWISH; and the video has gone on display until Tuesday at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, after being previewed there on Friday evening.
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Brief Highlights from the Anniversary Games
Hot on the heels of my extensive coverage of the Anniversary Games – which took place over Friday evening and Saturday at the Olympic Stadium in London, as part of this season’s Diamond League – here are two brief highlights packages showing the best performances of the athletics meet: