Thursday, March 3, 2011

Mayakovsky: Revolution, The Avant Garde, and Poetry

Jorge Etcheverry

Revolutionary processes are upheavals, popular upheavals. However, not all upheavals or popular upheavals are revolutionary processes. Mussolini being carried to Rome in the arms of the multitudes, the Hutu masses rising up against the Tutsi-led Rwandan Government resulting in a genocide were not instances of the revolutionary process. Neither are the majority of national liberation, post-colonial movements that have replaced dominant, foreign authorities and their national puppets with national ones, without changing the structure of property ownership and the means of production, without attaining a sound economy or legitimate political sovereignty, and without changing the social structure of the country or region. These frustrated revolutionary processes always have the support and decisive input of the Left, which in some cases is successful in orienting a national liberation movement in the direction of a social revolution, which is believed to be a natural development. More often than not, any social revolution fades away with the advent of a governing caste and institutions that depend on the former metropolis or new alignments of the metropolis of the day. Triumphant and defeated revolutions have their bards. Defeated or aborted revolutions have their martyred poets. Triumphant revolutions have their national poets.

Contrary to what is normally expected, when the emblematic revolutionary poet communicates his/her message, the pristine, envigorating and engaging product is not always the result of a simple, spontaneous, common language. Most iconic revolutionary poets such as Pablo Neruda, Ernesto Cardenal, Federico García Lorca, Miguel Hernández and Roque Dalton, to name a few from the Spanish-speaking literary world, first delved into the experimentation and complexity of avant-garde literature and poetry,which ultimately provided them with tools to communicate a revolutionary ideology encompassing another basic and compelling way of life for humankind, a fresco of what is possible for human beings to attain and of the fight to get there, with its heroes and martyrs.

From nearly the very beginning of Mayakovsk's literary life, poetry and revolutionary politics became intertwined. His political commitment did, however, pre-date the birth of his poetry; he joined the Moscow committee of the Russian Social Democratic Party in 1908 and did not start to write poetry until the following year when he was jailed. He later joined the Russian Futurist group and became its spokesman in 1912. The Russian Futurists embraced the ideas of Italian Futurism, adopting a rebellious stance against the consecrated classical icons of Russian literature such as Pushkin, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy, and a generally anti-establishment position. The title of Mayakovsky's first great long poem, Cloud in the Trousers, written in 1915, already exhibited characteristics of avant gardism. He used slogans, mixed rhythms, and different typesetting styles as he practised writing for different readers: short propaganda plays and texts for ROSTA, the Russian Telegraph Agency; political verses, poem-marches; children's poetry; commercial jingles for state enterprises, and popular poems. The dislike of Bolshevik politicians and functionaries for avant-garde literature is understandable as leftist politicians in general tend to disregard writing that does not convey clear and direct messages in line with the propagandistic needs of their moment, and as a matter of strategy, they have reason to do so. This position, however, fails to take into account the connection between linguistic experimentation and the renewal of language, including political jargon. Without this renewal, political slogans become a series of tedious, repetitive clichés that fail to meet ideological and political objectives. Still, there remains the personal and political prerogative of the poet. Marinetti, the master of Italian Futurism, opted for Fascism in a lecture on the panorama of his time that mistakenly identified what was then a widespread movement in Europe with the objectives of Futurism in general, driven by a break with tradition, conventionality in the history of art, and an emphasis in poetry on valour, audacity, revolution, dynamism, the exultation of sensuality, nationality and combat, the machine, and literature as an object that tends to caligramism.

The relation between the practice of avant-garde poetry and art and the imperative to change the world is in some cases substantial, even pivotal. The exploration of new ways of expression does not take place in a vacuum. The alchemy of the verb translated itself into the alchemy of the world. The poet, positioned in the plexus of the culture of his time—a culture that is generally parallel to the social and economical state of things, or derived from it—strives to go beyond the present towards a ‘new’ or ‘other’ reality, and situates him/herself, as a solitary being, at the margins of a given society. As a consequence, the poet has a panoramic view of the society of his/her time that goes beyond the official, institutional one. Only by resorting to the arduous task of self-compartimentalization is the poet able to avoid extending his/her renewal from the cultural to the societal realm as a whole. The poet's alignment with the winds of social change thus nearly becomes a natural process.

Avant-garde exploration in the realm of expression brings about new and renewed ways of presenting facts, thereby proving to be a useful tool for renewing modes of expression and the representation of reality, provided that the avant-garde poet is commited, implicitly or explicitly, to the process of change.

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Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Canadá desde 1975, se inicia en los 60 en el Grupo América y la Escuela de Santiago. Sus libros de poemas son El evasionista/the Escape Artist (Ottawa, 1981); La calle (Santiago, 1986); The Witch (Ottawa, 1986); Tánger (Santiago, 1990); Tangier (Ottawa, 1997); A vuelo de pájaro (Ottawa, 1998); Vitral con pájaros (Ottawa; 2002) Reflexión hacia el sur (Saskatoon, 2004) y Cronipoemas (Ottawa, 2010) En prosa, la novela De chácharas y largavistas, (Ottawa, 1993). Es autor de la antología Northern Cronopios, antología de narradores chilenos en Canadá, Canadá, 1993. Tiene prosa, poesía y crítica en Chile, Estados Unidos, Canadá, México, Cuba, España y Polonia. En 2000 ganó el concurso de nouvelle de con El diario de Pancracio Fernández. Ha sido antologado por ejemplo en Cien microcuentos chilenos, de Juan Armando Epple; Latinocanadá, Hugo Hazelton; Poéticas de Chile. Chilean Poets. Gonzalo Contreras; The Changuing Faces of Chilean Poetry. A Translation of Avant Garde, Women’s, and Protest Poetry, de Sandra E.Aravena de Herron. Es uno de los editores de Split/Quotation – La cita trunca.

Instalación en la casa de Parra en Las Cruces

Instalación en la casa de Parra en Las Cruces
Chile, 2005, Foto de Patricio Luco. Se pueden ver en esta "Biblioteca mínima indispensable" el Manual de Carreño, el Manifiesto Comunista y Mi Lucha

Chile, 2005

Chile, 2005
Una foto con el vate Nicanor Parra, candidato al premio Nobel de Literatura