Event Recap: Remembering Vladimir Mayakovsky With the Poet’s Daughter

On April 11, 2010, Sunday Best devotees and  fans of Vladimir Mayakovsky gathered to celebrate the poet’s life and work.   A leading Futurist, Mayakovsky became known as the poet of the Russian Revolution, and his life and work are distinguished by their political engagement.  However, he became increasingly disenchanted and critical of the Soviet government.  When the poet died in 1930, three months shy of what would have been his 37th birthday, the official verdict was that he had committed suicide.  Nonetheless, questions remain about possible state involvement in his death, and some believe that he was assassinated on the orders of Stalin.  Whatever the truth about Mayakovsky’s death, his stature as a lion of Russian–and indeed world–literature cannot be denied.

Those attending the reading experienced the spine-tingling treat of hearing a recording from close to a century ago of Mayakovsky reading his own poetry in Russian.   The multi-talented poet and physician Andrey Gritsman read his translations of some of Mayakovsky’s most beautiful and affecting poems including “A Cloud in Trousers,” “The Backbone Flute,” and “Brooklyn Bridge.”

The most moving presentation of the afternoon’s celebration was that of Mayakovsky’s own daughter, Professor Patricia J. Thompson (Yelena V. Mayakovskya), who read several selections from Mayakovsky in Manhattan: A Love Story, which is based on Thompson’s conversations with her late mother as well as excerpts from her mother’s own unpublished memoirs.  The story of the romance between Mayakovsky and Thompson’s mother was poignant, and the insights Thompson shared about her father’s life and work were revelatory.  Thompson’s reading was a stirring tribute, not only to Mayakovsky the poet, but to Mayakovsky the man and father.

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