No. 6


Vladimir Mayakovsky  

Adaptted from the Russian by Augustus Young  


                                             A TETRAPTYCH


Your stuffy notions
sit on a spongy brain pan
like a puffed up timeserver
on a standing committee
that never stands
except on ceremony.

The ego lands!
And it is me.

Big shots,
I promise to embolise
your expense-account complacency
with a clot from the infarctions
of a broken heart,
and to sate
brash youthful 
disregard when gangrene
sets in.

I won’t wait
for grey hairs
and worldly cares
to soften my views.

I’ll melt down
the chairman’s iron bottom
with a poker, sizzling
              A direct hit,
disordering his points
with out-of-order

I’ll solder
his seat to the throne
of supreme deference —
a metal chamber pot
steaming with terms of reference,
previous minutes and what not.

I’ll walk around the plush
boardroom shouting “enough”
with the shrill ennui
of an impossible young man
of twenty two.

I won’t wait
for grey hairs
and worldly cares
to soften my views
(“How would you behave
if you were in my shoes?”).


play their love on a violin.
For yobbos a drum will do.
They like to bang.
                            But who,
except me, can turn him—
self inside out into
a pair of lips
spitting out pips?


You, upper echelons
of bemedalled bureaucrats,
learn this lesson —
the lisping party hack
in his Party hat
should know
that the doily
on a headrest 
soils easily.
not to lie back
unless you want to trace
a negative Veronica
on the cambric — a blank
surface rather than a face.

Learn too not to blab your lips
like a cook finger-tipping
through a gourmet
manual —
              globs of saliva
will smudge the print.
(Isn’t it
what can go wrong between
the recipe and the dinner,
the Black Cap and the guillotine?)


Let me pull
a grimace like the winner
of the Raw Meat Steak
                   Or if you’d rather
I’ll go all soggy
like a sunset
distempering night’s shroud.
No longer a man with a mission,
something wet
and tender
 — a cloud in pants.             

                                 Forget this —
(the scene of the crime
is a beauty spot,
more often than not).
The idyllic does not exist.

I sing instead
men as crumpled hospital beds
and women as clichés.
The world of faeces.


Put it down to swamp-fever.

It happened.
In Odessa. It happened.

“I’ll see you at four”, Maria promised.


The evening light
turns its back on the window
and desponges me
into the porous damp
of a December night
(giving the giddy
to giggle

You wouldn’t recognise
the tortured mass
that is me,
hunched hulk
of shivering

What could this
hairy mammal desire —
to be cast in bronze,
or to have its heart cased in railings?

No. Only
to sink
his clanging

Too gross
for delicate emotion,
I obscure the window
with tumescent bulk,
my midnight shadow
scratching the glass.

Larger than life, if life be large.

Love me, love me not.
I pull the short straw.
Big love, small love?
I take it on the chin.
Small is the most
I can hope for —
a tremulous little love,
a shrinking violet
wringing her gloves
at the slightest thing.
Terrified of traffic, 
a hoof or a horn
puts her in a spin.
Though the ping
of a tram in the night
delights this
tiny little thing
who’ll be crushed
by my clumsiness.


The city is awash
with the splash from tyres
screaming through the streets.
I see in craters,
pooling the rain,
my own mashed features.
And drink.
               And wait.



Mad axe man
on the loose.
Cut him down, chop him up.

At the stroke of twelve
a head rolls from the block.

On the windowpane
clusters of raindrops
swivel themselves
into the grin
of a Notre Dame
gargoyle and shriek.

Curse you!
Are you happy?
Screams are about
to force open my clenched jaws.

I hear
a spring
softly released.
Something like a
sick man creeping 
out of bed. It is a nerve,
tottering at first,
soon scampering 
around till it twitches
into a spasm,
running on the spot,
an agitated dance
splintering the boards.

The floor caves in.

every shape and size,
more than enough of them,
worm into action, knit
and knot like loony noodles
until their knees
        give way
                    to a mesh.

Night seeps into the room.
Eyes smart with the fumes.
There is no escaping
the slime of the moment.
The door rattles like death
in the teeth of the hotel.

And you swan in
mauling your suede
gloves. “Take it, or leave it.
You might as well know,
I’m getting married.”

“Have it your own way.”
(Take it or leave it.)
Can’t you see I’m calm?
(I can take it.)
I am the pulse
of a dead man.

How you loved to talk,
quoting Jack London.
“Love and passion,
blood and money.”
You settled for gold
in the last resort.


My Mona Lisa
stolen before my eyes.
from my personal Louvre.

I should have guessed
a Gioconda
has got to be stolen.

I’ll gamble on mistresses
of Old Masters again,
with fevered brow. 
Sure, tramps
often find refuge
in a ruin.

I will stake all
on a foregone conclusion.


“You have no marbles
of madness to lose,
my penniless beggar.”
Why mock me now?
Don’t you know
what happened to Pompeii
when Vesuvius was teased?

of disasters,
and worse
you have not seen
the horror of horrors —
my face
in absolute

Then my ego
is too small for me.
I embody more
than the sum total
of my wretched being.


Hallo, darling!

Who is it?

Your mother, son. Your own mother.

you want to know
who I am?
I’m a public spectacle,
the latest heart transplant.
The heart is being rejected.
They struck in a red hot coal by mistake.

Tell my sisters their stupid brother is burnt out.

(Each word, each joke,
spewing from my mouth
is a naked whore
leaping from a brothel
when the fire-alarm goes off.)
((Bystanders voyeur
on burnt flesh
as the brigade,
in full regalia, run up ladders.
Stop them.
They want to put me out.

Leave it to me.
I’ll pump tears from my eyes,
hugging out the last drop.
I’ll leap, firemen,
if you take off your jackboots
while holding up the safety net.
After all, a heart is on fire!))
(((But no matter how hard
I squeeze you, my love
can’t leap out of my heart.)))

((((And my charred lips
are burning to kiss.))))

I can’t sing
in the chapel of my heart,
the choir in the loft
is on fire.

(((((Torched figures of speech
escape from my head
like children from a blazing building.
Fear is a tornado sucking in the sky
and lifting in its eye
the torched hulk of the Lusitania.
Into luxury cabins
where passengers hide
lasers of flame multiply.))))) 

I’m on fire.
I’m on fire.


Down on your knees.
Between me and celebrated authors,
past and present,
there is no comparison.

I am the ultimate full stop.

Anyway, poetry books —
who wants them?
And what are their
means of production?

I used to think it is like this —
the poet drinks the air in,
and pumps out poems in his piss.
Fools calls it inspiration.

Now I know it’s more humdrum.
The writer’s lot is numb bum
from sitting watching the fish
of the imagination swish
around the bowl of the heart,
half-dead. That is being a bard.

Who’d envy his twittering
on nightingales and the spring
when street life shrugs off his song.
Nothing he says can belong
to the real world. Which is dumb
after all. That’s best kept mum.

But poets must build Babel towers
with tongues unknown to censors
who knock them down to make land
to grow things. Not what was planned.


In silence the street torments
with congestion. A shout stuck in the gullet
conducts the traffic down the throat
(taxis and pony traps lead the rush).
The galloping consumption of crowds
stampedes across my chest, flattening it.

Road works darken the mood of the city.

But still the street’s throat is tickled by heaven.
Portals lift like a Bailey bridge from its corotid.
The crushed throng cough up, regurgitates
a celestial choir. And god (with a small g) conducts
a rearguard excelsius of wrath in multifold parts.

But the street won’t have any, squats down and bawls.
I want my mammy. I want my dinner.

Krupps and Son touch up
the brow of the city until it bristles
with rust from ammunition dumps.
Its mouth rots with boluses of dead words.
Only two fungate: “bastard” and “borsch”.

Poets weep and gnash their teeth.
Rush out into the street, tearing out
their manky tresses. “What can we do
to woo a lady with those two? Whither
love and  blossom drenched in dew?

On the coat-tails of the laureates
cling a street-wise rabble of students,
whores and commercial travellers
shouting and pleading. “Revered ones,
stop begging for a different vocabulary.
You have all you need to make do.”

We, the poets, invigorated by the acclaim,
walk tall, step high, proud heads held aloft
pretending not to listen.
                       Our task is to strip
the facade to tatters. And put the boot in,
rupturing what is within, to stamp it out.  

Modest assistance is not sought.
To hell with hymns, four part choirs.
All we require to make our poems
is the hum of hard work in foundries,
the labouring masses, blood and sweat.

Incidentally, that Faust fellow
was just playing extravagant games
with the devil on a carpet.
Damnation! A nail in my shoe
hurts more than all Goethe.

I should know. My gift of the gab
makes every word trip off the tongue,
a feast day for the body and soul.
I say unto you, the merest spark
of life in a living man means more than
the sum total of what I do or have done.


Roll up, roll up! Barnum’s Zarathustra
offers you a preview of hell at half price.
We of the underworld don’t need reminding —
faces like unmade beds, lips like pelicans —
that the cesspool of the city is one lazar
infected by banks and other forms of vice.

In comparison with respectable citizens,
we are the true untouchables, pure as
the blue sky above Venice mediated by
sun and sea.

                     I spit on the omission in
Homer and Ovid of lowlife characters  
like us. Sooty skin pocked like the moon.
The gold mine of our inner selves glows
and the sun dims.

                             Beasts of burden are
beneath prayer and patronage. We hold
down with our bare hands menial jobs
and maintain the world. But who cares?


I have suffered on the Golgotha circuit
for performing poets in all the big cities.
And my cross has been a great success.
Not a heckler failed to cry, “crucify him,
crucify the bastard”. Yes, you have been
a  wonderful audience. I love you to bits.

I‘m the dog that licks the hand that whips.

I am a shaggy dog story to my generation,
a monumental dirty joke that nobody gets
because it’s too large for Lilliputians to see.
In the land of the blind the faithful dog leads.

The Revolution comes with its thorny crowns.
The eyes of their champions stop short while
hungry hordes feast on their own carcasses.
Who will do as blood sacrifice, the incarnation of
pain everywhere, mirrored in each teardrop?
I, who nailed himself to the cross and made
forgiveness unnecessary, having stemmed
the source of human weakness, tenderness,
shame. I have stormed a thousand Bastilles. 

But I am only the rehearsal, the stepping stone
to the saviour who comes on the back of chaos
for the live performance. I will stamp myself out
on his advent and offer my flattened soul —
dyed with blood — as a banner to wave.  


How come
this king-sized thumb
and Imperial fist
can shake hands with
the zeitgeist?
The dirty paw
darkens joy.

She arrives
and the knives
are out.

drops the blinds
on my mind
at the thought
of the madhouse
break out.

(Men gasping for air
throw themselves
overboard to escape
this sinking Destroyer).

And there,
who can it be
but the half-blind
Burly (1), the painter,
burrowing through
the raw wound
of his dead eye.

Bloodying the tears
hesitating on the brink
of his eyelids, blink!

Out he crawls, ears
erect, straightening
himself, no mean feat
for a fat man. Gently
wobbling his meat
me-wards, reassuring
(“Always a friend of mine”).
“Everything will be fine.”

when my poet's
regulation yellow shirt
the inner self
from public scrutiny.

when hanging
from the gallows
to jingle,
Van Houten’s

Out of the
tobacco fog
the spectre
of good old 
Sever (2), the
his crapulent
mug mouthing
its way towards
its haven
in hard liquor.

Call yourself a poet?
you tediously twittering
tit. Today
must split
the life
of the imagination
into little bits.

You, whose main worry is
how your figure looks
in a quadrille, must wonder
what I get out of life
as a three-card-trick man
who sidelines in pimping.
You, up to your eyeballs
in sentimental dalliances,
irrigating with your tears
the drawing rooms of the past,
I leave you, licking
the sun like a monocle
into the one dry eye
in the house. 


Bring me my glad rags
and I will strut the stage
of history to please and do
what I want. Boneparte
will precede me, my poodle 
on a leash.
                  The earth will
lay back like a woman, a jelly
just out of its mould. “Take me.”
Green shoots will spring up
everywhere blowing kisses,
throwing seedlets until they
become flowers. “Take me.”
The world will succumb
to me in a lisping babble
of baby talk, “Yum Yum”.

Clouds and other vague
disturbances in the air
will suddenly descend
in a moiling mass as if
workers in white overalls
are downing tools, miffed
to strike against the sky.

Worse is to come. Thunder
flaring its nostrils. “Where’s my bolt?”
And for an instant the sky’s face
distorts into a reactionary jackboot.

And someone reaches through the clouds
of smoke in a cafe and pulls down something
wrapped in a lady’s things. Could it be a gun?
You could believe the sun was patronising
the cafe’s cheek with a pat. Or a nonchalant
counter revolutionary splatting impertinent
rebels with cannon fire. 
                                      Bystander, look smart.
take your hands out of your pockets and catch
this grenade. Your friend can pick up a stone
if he doesn’t have a knife. Or just stand alone
and head-butt.
                       I feed the hungry with my rage,
offering them a chance to get their back on
life in the gutter with less than a living wage,
scratching their fleas.
                                  It’s time to get cracking.
Forward, turn the days of the week into blood
and holidays. With your boot on its throat
the world will admit anything. It will do you good
to hear the pampered squeal, the remote
become matey.
                         Stir official flags with bullets.
This is your Feast Day. Hoist up street lamps
and string huxters on them like prize pullets.
You’ve got to listen to me. I’m a cloud in pants. 


                I curse,

The sky
must die.
Bright hope

chops in two 
and eats the mess
of potage. You.

No residue,
except the bones
and darkness.

(Trust the Judas sky
with its double-agent
stars. Night feasts too
on the rump of the city).

bleeds  to death.


I console myself
in a low down dive.
Vodka preserves
my spirits (and pants)
in a cloud.

up and see two eyes.
A Madonna on the wall.
Two great round eyes
that eat into my heart.

Why grace a dump like this
with a numinous icon?
Drunks spit on Golgotha
and chose Barabbas.

Mother, I hide my face
from your reflection. I know
mine is the saloon’s spittoon. 
In your eyes I am perhaps
a beloved son, handsomest
amongst the handsome.

me the blessing of an early death.
I’m worn from an excess of life.
Healthy sons will be the fathers.
Plump girls will bear their children
who’ll grow up fast on my legend,
naming their children after my poems
which celebrate mechanical inventions
making me the thirteenth apostle
of an ordinary everyday gospel,
a way of life that I could not live.
Factories for dad, household gadgets
for mother. And when the whistle shrills
for shift changes it will be my voice
that gives them a taste for life. Managers
will wonder “What is that peculiar smell?”
sniffing the forget-me-nots of my being.


Maria (4), Maria,
open up, Maria.

You can’t leave me out here in the streets
hollering against the wind until my cheeks
cave in, and well meaning folk restrain me
(“It will do you no good. Leave the woman be”). 
And after all that humiliation I will break down
the door and throw myself at your feet, crying
“I am changed”.
                        Stinking of the gutter, sans
teeth, sans everything, I invade your fragrance
with frank decomposition. I mean the opposite —
changes, not in the body, but in my deeper spirit.
The change you see is my Quasimodo hump.

Vagrants, who live off pickings in the city dump,
wipe the garbage out of their eyes and fall apart
in empathic laughter at the howling of my heart.
They’ve watched vigils before for stale cheesecake
bring a man down. Some have made the same mistake.       

Rain blobs the sidewalk with its sobs. Sodden rats
slobber over drowned cats and dogs on the cobbles.
Look at me, my eyelids hanging with stalactites
begin to thaw, tears dripping from my eyes. Shutes
overflow in disbelief at the boots in which I hobble.

The deluge licks down on streetwalkers and such,
cleansing their souls. But spoils the fabric of the suits
of gentlemen about town, out exercising themselves
in carriages. Bursting at the seams, their armpits rip.
The remnants of their picnics nourish the soupy flood.

the stuffed ears of these smoothychops
are deaf to poetry and my confidences.

A bird
sings for its supper
and gets it.

I am only a man,
a simpleton, Maria,
coughed up by consumptive
night on the dirty hand 
of a slum.

Is that what you want?
Let me in.
My fevered fingers latches
on to the door-knocker’s
iron lung.


Coach horses bolted
from the paddocks
in your street. Forget
the padlocks. Open up!

Lynch mobs
have a hold of my neck.
They’ve got me. Open up!
Society ladies spike my eyes
with hat pins. Open up!
Don’t leave me to them.
They plan my immortality,
They’re loving me to death.


Dear one, don’t be alarmed.
Those mountainous women
with gross overheated bellies
squatting on my shoulders
are what I have to live with.
I drag behind me a harem
of swooning Fannies (“We
Love Big May”(4)). Regiments
of platonic paramours, armies
of bints who want a piece of me.
It goes with the territory and
means nothing, honest. When
falling back into their clamouring
embraces, I’m performing a duty
to the needy. Squalid betrayals
are part of my job. The shop-soiled,
cleaned and pressed in my laundry,
are returned purified by the experience —
queens for a night on the slippery
slopes of the heart of a madman
released back into their safe cages.

Maria, don’t recoil.
Sit close, hold my hand.

Stripped naked and hot,
or shivering with all your clothes on,
let me search out and find
where your blossoming lips
can be opened at bud-point
by mine. All in an April evening.
I have never got as far as May.
My seedy life is an eternal spring.
Impatience lasting a century!

Proper poets do their homework
and craft sonnets to interested ladies,
mostly married, giving them pet names
(Maud, Maudlin) to spare their reputations.

I wouldn’t know where to begin.
I’m a flesh poet, simply a man,
ill-bred by moonlight, whose plan 
is to get you to bed. What’s wrong
with wanting your body? Christians
lust for the body of Christ, give us
this day our daily bread. Hypocrites!
I don’t want a half a loaf. I want you.

give me my due.


I nail your name
to my brain
for permanence.
I’m afraid
of forgetting it
like the lost word
in a poet’s dark
night of the soul.

Your body will be cherished
like the lonely,
loveless war veteran
finds solace in

What Maria!   
You just want to be friends?
You want to be friends. Ha!

Darkness falls once again
and numbly, dumbly, I drag
my tearstained heart 
in my coat to the doghouse
like a mongrel tending a

Dripping blood,
it will leave a poppy trail
on the highway, glad rags
caking dust.
lopped head is the earth
around which Salome’s sun
dances for a thousand years
or as long as I live.

The haemorrhaging path
leads to my father’s house.
I’ll arrive, derelict from
rough living, rough dying,
But not too dead to stoop
and bawl in his ear,

“Listen, mister god,
your eyes must stream 
from sticking hairy eyebrows
in the celestial blancmange
day after day. Why don’t you
climb down and join me
in a dance around the May Pole
garlanded by good and evil?
You have the keys to cupboards
everywhere. Let’s unlock the wine.
You’ll find, even your gloomy apostles
and the virgin martyrs will want to
step out and dance a fandango.

We could set up a couple of little Eves.
And heaven would be heaven again.
Just say the word. A nod will do. Tonight
I’ll trawl the boulevards for top totty.

Wouldn’t you like that?

                        The only sign 
is wind stirring in your beard
from the bustle of wings behind.
Do you think the holy ghost
has all the answers? What 
does he know about love?
That great ghoul of a butterfly
living for the eternal moment.

Look here, you silly god,
I was an angel once
in my way. A sugar lump
offering myself to ponies
with wings. When that failed
I tried ornamental vases
with scenes of torture
to stampede the horses.
Never again. Mythology
is a dead loss. You made hands
to mould our heads. Why did you 
top them with a twist that torments
when two heads come together
to kiss and kiss and kiss?

You were the Big One, I thought.
No stooge supreme. What a let down
when you revealed your true size,
a dwindling little microbe of a god?
I stooped to find the knife in my boot.

Faker, cowering in the clouds,
flapping flightless wings, amplified
by a trick of the light, cock of the walk
now a feather duster, I won’t give you
wing space. You can ruffle your feathers
to keep warm. Fly by night, god.
I cut through you, stinking of incense, 
and show your stomach’s absence from
here to Alaska. A trail of cloud, fading out.

Let me in!
I’ll have the last word.
No stopping me. Right or
           See how calm I am
although the stars are once
again the running scars
of severed trunks. They’re taking 
off their heads to me. 

I’m coming.

Dull thud. No response.
                 Vacant space’s
                 ponderous paw
                 reposes around
                 an ear, swarming
                 with stars.
1914 — 1915

NOTES (by Augustus Young)

This free version of Mayakovsky’s pre-Revolutionary poem (1915) is a belated twenty-first century attempt at understanding and representing the original. In “The Cloud in Pants” Mayakovsky rarely says one thing when he can say another to compound it. It is more than punning. As many things as possible are being communicated in order to create a public world of personal chaos. The intimate and the political coexist in a universe of multiplicities. I have made some presumptions with  meanings and the prosody is my own. The spirit of the original is a visiting ghost and I am  responding to it. I hope the reader is haunted too. 

(1)  Burly is David Burlyuk, the painter, a friend and contemporary of Mayakovsky. He was famously blind in one eye.

(2)  Sever is the poet, Igor Severyanin, another coeval but not a friend. His mock Futurist verses celebrated high society in kitsch terms and without irony. 

(3)  VM’s promiscuous muse and life meet in a confusion of Marias. There are two of them. Maria 1 is a girl Mayakovsky knew in Odessa, Maria 2 a Moscow artist with whom he became amorously entangled. Her suicide in 1919 occasioned an incongruous satire by the poet. Far from being a blip in the continuum of “Cloud”’s narrative, this duality is wilful and  serves a double purpose. The universal female has two faces and one body. The Byronic man solves the problem of remembering the name of his perplexing number of mistresses by denominating them with the same sobriquet. That it coincides with the moniker attributed to the Mother of God may not be coincidental.
(4)  The reoccurrence of the word May in the final section suggests an abbreviation of VM’s name. 

Mythological Trousers. Translating ‘Cloud’

I have attempted a reincarnation of Vladimir Mayakovsky's ‘The Cloud In Pants’ (1915) for a new century. Existing English translations (Hayward and Reavey, 1960, Perelman and Lewis, 1974) chose a literal approach, which has rendered them out of date. The museum of history has glassed over the world Mayakovsky detailed. 


I first came across Mayakovsky in Pasternak's Safe Conduct in the 1960s. He leaped off the page into my imagination.

"The accumulating thunder of his voice."

“A man for whom truth held an almost animal attraction."

"Poetry that flows through history and its collaboration with real life."

"The novelty of the age ran through his veins."

"I was astonished by the gift he had for seeing the perfect frame for any landscape." 

“His drama needed the evil of mediocrity to highlight it”

“When Mayakovsky recites his poems he is entirely lost within himself, carried away by a joy which regrets nothing, because on the heights where it feels itself at home, only sacrifices exist and the eternal eagerness for these". 

"His dead body resembled the State".

In my teenage mind this lumberjack's son from Georgia became confused with Zbigniew Cybulski, the Polish James Dean, another man who lived and died a myth, one that he made himself. 


In the mid-1970s Brian Coffey asked me to pick up a copy of ‘Cloud in Pants’ on a visit to Leningrad. Over several years, we delved into English and French versions, comparing them against the Russian. Coffey regarded translation as a poet’s means of understanding another. His version of ‘Coup de Dés’, for example, is a negotiation with Mallarmé’s maze of words and thoughts (and the only version I’ve seen that follows the original closely and competes with it as a poem). Mayakovsky’s topography particularly preoccupied us. It was like pouring over the contour map of his bizarre inner world.  

In ‘Cloud’ Mayakovsky (VM) rarely says one thing when he can say another to compound or confound it. It is more than punning. As many things as possible are being communicated in order to create a public world of personal chaos. The intimate and the political coexist in a universe of multiplicities. ‘Cloud’ is more than an exercise in myth making. It is a public execution of VM by himself. It was written fifteen years before his suicide. Yet it could be described as the longest farewell note in history with the actual one he left its coda. “The love boat has crashed against the everyday. You and I, we are quits, and there is no point in listing mutual pains, sorrows and hurts."   

But our negotiation with Mayakovsky broke down. A route into his mind could not be found to make the return journey into English (ignorance of Russian signposting did not help). Unlike with Mallarmé, following it step by step could not do justice to VM’s poetry. He leaped around too much and was reaching in rather than out. Mallarmé ‘hearing of the sky’ (‘d’ouïr tout le ciel’) was a clearing of the head. VM’s epical egotism implodes into a black hole that laughs back at him. We were not sure we wanted to engage this creative chaos with sensible compromises that made its self-destruction comprehensible. Still something was learned. Brian Coffey's epic "Advent" derives structural and topographical effects from VM’s ‘Cloud’.

Sixteen years later, I resumed my quest. Shortly before Brian Coffey died he expressed regret we had got nowhere. I’ll do it for Brian, I thought, but going through our notes it looked a hopeless task. The Soviet Union was no more. Mayakovsky seemed as remote as Chatterton (as Blok to Chaucer!). The stuff of scholars not poetry, at least in the West. In the no-man's-land between arrogance and desperation, impatience took over. I threw caution to the wind and let fly.  A draft was completed within a week.

My method was a form of manic braille. I traced the meaning and significance of the poem with bare hands, feeling for its shape and sharpnesses. VM in life was clearly a great actor. I employed Method School techniques to enter his character, aspiring to more rather than less. The memoirs by people who knew him became my prompts. I was his understudy, fumbling the lines on his night off.

The ‘performance’ exhausted me. A friend offered to publish it to put me out of my misery, but I wasn’t sure if my ‘Cloud’ was an original poem or a translation or a piece of self-indulgence. MPT published the prologue with an apologia. I put it aside, poking at it from time to time to keep the smoldering fire alight. 


Lila Brik, VM’s great love, used to muse over the distinction between honest lying and dishonest lying. In my mad attack at ‘Cloud’ I had gone for the spirit rather than the letter of the poem. Closer to honest lying, I thought. Andrei Voznesensky wanted an explosion, not a monument, to commemorate Mayakovsky's eightieth anniversary in 1984, the year Brian and me gave up. Maybe sixteen years later I was detoning VM’s poem, in the hope that the whole would be greater than the fragments.

Now I have allowed the fire to go out I can look more coldly on what I did five year ago. I took liberties with meanings and prosodic modes. Making the poem come alive demanded risks and wild guesses. Arrogance and desperation were not vices to VM. In retrospect, adapting him in his own spirit strikes me as a left-handed way of being faithful to his intentions.


Mayakovsky is a ghost that still haunts me. My response to his visitations is personal rather than historical grounded. Lila Brik in Notebooks records, "Vladimir appeared at the ‘Evening of Satire’. The speaker maintained that in our conditions satire was unnecessary, that it was simpler to report things to the proper authority". The proper authority for VM is poetry. I present my version of ‘Cloud’ as an interim report (executive summary : the poem still lives. Even in English)?  




The copyright of 
everything published 
here remains 
with the authors.


Main Page | Current Issue | Contributors| News | Where to Buy | Links | Contact us | Archives

© 2003-2005 Ars Interpres Publications.