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Night Wraps the Sky: Writings by and about Mayakovsky Hardcover – April 1, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The volatile young poet rose to prominence as a coauthor of the Russian Futurist manifesto A Slap in the Face of Public Taste in 1912; the next five years saw the explosive sexual boasting and the fragmentary lines of such poems as A Cloud in Pants, experimental plays and even participation in important Russian modernist filmmaking. An enemy of tradition in all its forms, the moody, energetic Vladimir Mayakovsky supported the Soviet revolution wholeheartedly, writing a poem called 150,000,000 in support of the Soviet army. Yet the passionate poet became worn down by the grind of his personal life and by Stalin's assault on something dear to him—modern art. Mayakovsky shot himself in 1930, and his subsequent canonization by the U.S.S.R. made him a figure of ambivalence even for Russians who liked his daring verse. Mixing well-translated poems with bits from Mayakovsky's short autobiography I, Myself, excerpts from memoirs (by the likes of Osip Mandelstam and Francine du Plessix Gray) and short bits from critics' writings, Almereyda attempts to give Mayakovsky a new audience. Alas, the bits may be too short to sustain readers' interest, and the anthology—like the poet's life—seems choppy, confusing and finished all too fast. (Apr.)
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From The New Yorker

At the height of his fame, in the nineteen-twenties, the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky was arguably the leading figure in Soviet art. Perhaps only Walt Whitman—whom Mayakovsky passionately admired—wrote with similar breadth and exhilaration. This volume offers some of Mayakovsky’s best works in vivid translations, and interleaves them with essays, photographs, and historical documents (including a complaint by a Tsarist prison governor about the poet’s refusal to obey commands). In 1930, at the age of thirty-six, Mayakovsky, disillusioned and trapped by the government that he had virtually represented, put a bullet through his heart; for Joseph Brodsky, he was "the first major victim." His tone of offhand ecstasy helped to produce, decades later, a spectacular new American poetry. It was Mayakovsky who taught Frank O’Hara to talk directly to the sun, and the book includes O’Hara’s beaming account of their conversation.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition - First Printing edition (April 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374281351
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374281359
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,358,737 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Michael Almereyda turns the clock back to the glamorous days of the early 60s when Russian poet and hero Vladimir Mayakovsky was being rediscovered by a new generation of non-Soviet admirers (among them NY-based "New American" poets Ginsberg and Koch). In Jean Luc Godard's Les Carabiniers, a character launches into a poem by Mayakovsky--a poem which Almereyda, with charming modesty, tells us he cannot identify from the known works of the author. Perhaps Godard wrote it himself in the spirit of the master, Almereyda theorizes. In much the same way his anthology prints the mysterious poem Donald Allen accepted as the work of Frank O'Hara, "A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island," although some recent scholars have concluded that the poem might be more wisely attributed to "School of Frank O'Hara," but everyone's a prankster. Almereyda, one of the greatest film directors of our time, is a sharp prose stylist as well, and some of the book's more interesting passages describe his own long involvement with the Russian language and in particular, with Mayakovsky's passionate conviction.

I came to this book with good intentions, but I found myself unable to break through the fantastic book design into any meaningful connection with the work. "Screaming My Head Off," in Ron Padgett's translation, brings the reader right into Mayakovsky's inventive, transactional world, where everything is a challenge, where everything is bigger than one might have supposed, brightly colored and filled with the vulgarity of the people. A few other translators do the man justice--I particularly enjoyed the casual surrealism of Matvei Yankelevich's version of "A Cloud in Pants.
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Format: Hardcover
I'm in tears after reading this book. Tears of gratefulness for having experienced something so powerful and tears of sadness for how it all ended. What an unbelievable talent Mayakovsky was! I had heard of him before but honestly knew very little about him prior to reading this book. I'm so inspired by his creativity and the fascinating people in his life that I've gone out and bought several other books to explore things further. I really loved how the book was laid out. The photographs were fantastic and the mixture of his poems amidst biographical sketches from those who knew him was a brilliant way to present everything. Some may think it a bit chaotic but I thought the presentation was very original and gave the book a real energy which I think Mayakovsky himself would have admired. The pages really fly out at you and you can't put it down. I really can't say enough great things about this book it has been so long since I read something I really enjoyed that I am truly grateful to the author for introducing a whole new generation to Mayakovsky. Bravo.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Mayakovsky is not so well-served by this book, in my view. It is chatty, contains excerpts, and has a text running throughout that compares the great figure and poet to a rapper and to Eminem. One can't help but wonder if that is what will inspire readers who are eager to find their way further into the expressiveness and personality of Mayakovsky, into the lifeworld of Russia's revolutionary avant-garde, and who want to read Mayakovsky. Perhaps I was misled. A really solid anthology of his work, translated into English, doesn't seem to exist. "The Bedbug and Selected Poetry" has much more of his work, but I am looking for something more.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you only buy one Mayakovsky book, this is the one. Great insight with great translations!
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