Maiakovskii in New York

Brooklyn Bridge

Give Coolidge
a shout of joy!
I too will spare no words
………………………………………..about good things.
Blush
……….at my praise,
………………………………go red as our flag,
however
……………united-states
………………………………….-of
-america you may be.
As a crazed believer
………………………………..enters
…………………………………………….a church,
retreats
……………into a monastery cell,
…………………………………………………austere and plain;
so I,
………in graying evening
………………………………………haze,
humbly set foot
………………………..on Brooklyn Bridge.
As a conqueror presses
………………………………………into a city
……………………………………………………….all shattered,
on cannon with muzzles
……………………………………….craning high as a giraffe —
so, drunk with glory,
………………………………..eager to live,
I clamber,
……………….in pride,
………………………………upon Brooklyn Bridge.
As a foolish painter
……………………………….plunges his eye,
sharp and loving,
…………………………..into a museum madonna,
so I
……..from the near skies
……………………………………….bestrewn with stars,
gaze
………at New York
…………………………..through the Brooklyn Bridge.
New York,
……………….heavy and stifling
……………………………………………..till night,
has forgotten
…………………….its hardships
…………………………………………..and height;
and only
…………….the household ghosts
ascend
………….in the lucid glow of its windows.
Here
……….the elevateds
………………………………drone softly.
And only
……………..their gentle
…………………………………droning
tell us:
………….here trains
…………………………….are crawling and rattling
like dishes
…………………being cleared into a cupboard.
While
…………a shopkeeper fetched sugar
from a mill
………………….that seemed to project
………………………………………………………..out of the water —
the masts
……………….passing under the bridge
looked
…………..no larger than pins.
I am proud
………………….of just this
……………………………………mile of steel;
upon it,
……………my visions come to life, erect —
here’s a fight
…………………….for construction
………………………………………………instead of style,
an austere disposition
…………………………………..of bolts
………………………………………………..and steel.
If
….the end of the world
…………………………………….befall —
and chaos
……………….smash our planet
…………………………………………….to bits,
and what remains
…………………………….will be
…………………………………………this
bridge, rearing above the dust of destruction;
then,
……….as huge ancient lizards
……………………………………………..are rebuilt
from bones
………………….finer than needles,
………………………………………………….to tower in museums,
so,
……from this bridge,
………………………………..a geologist of the centuries
will succeed
………………….in recreating
……………………………………….our contemporary world.
He will say:
………………….— Yonder paw
……………………………………………of steel
once joined
………………….the seas and the prairies;
from this spot,
………………………Europe
…………………………………..rushed to the West,
scattering
……………….to the wind
……………………………………Indian feathers.
This rib
……………reminds us
………………………………..of a machine —
just imagine,
…………………….would there be hands enough,
after planting
……………………..a steel foot
………………………………………….in Manhattan,
to yank
…………..Brooklyn to oneself
…………………………………………….by the lip?
By the cables
…………………….of electric strands,
I recognize
…………………the era succeeding
…………………………………………………the steam age —
here
………men
………………had ranted
…………………………………on the radio.
Here
……….men
……………….had ascended
……………………………………….in planes.
For some,
………………life
…………………….here
……………………………..had no worries;
for others,
………………..it was a prolonged
………………………………………………and hungry howl.
From this spot,
………………………jobless men
leapt
………..headlong
………………………..into the Hudson.
Now
………my canvas
…………………………is unobstructed
as it stretches on cables of string
……………………………………………………..to the feet of the stars.
I see:
……….here
………………..stood Maiakovskii,
stood,
…………composing verse, syllable by syllable.
I stare
………….as an Eskimo gapes at a train,
I seize on it
………………….as a tick fastens to an ear.
Brooklyn Bridge —
yes…
………..That’s quite a thing!

[1925]

The Brooklyn Bridge: A photo gallery

New York

For hours the train tears along the bank of the Hudson, at about two paces from the water. On the other side there are more roads, right at the foot of the Bear Mountains. Loads of boats and small craft are pushing along. More and more bridges seem to leap across the train. The carriage windows are increasingly being filled with the upright walls of maritime docks, coal depots, electrical placements, steel foundries, and pharmaceutical works. An hour before the terminus, you pass through a continuous density of chimneys, roofs, two-storey walls, and the steel girders of an elevated railway. With every step of the way, the roofs grow an extra floor. Eventually, tenements loom up, with their shaftlike walls and windows in squares, tinier squares and dots. This makes everything even more cramped, as though you were rubbing your cheek against this stone. Completely lost, you sink back onto your seat — there’s no hope, your eyes are just not used to this sort of thing; then you come to a stop — it’s Pennsylvania Station.

Americans keep quiet (or, perhaps, people only seem like that against the roar of the machinery), but over American heads megaphones and loudspeakers drone on about arrivals and departures.

Electric power is further utilized twofold and threefold by the white plates covering the windowless galleries and walkways, broken by information points, whole rows of commercial cash tills, and all kinds of shops that never close — from ice cream parlors and snack bars to crockery and furniture stores.

Vladimir Maiakovskii in New York (1925)

Vladimir Maiakovskii in New York (1925)

It is hardly conceivable that anyone could clearly imagine this whole labyrinth in its entirety. If you have come in for business at an office say two miles away downtown, in the banking or business sector of New York, on maybe the fifty-third floor of the Woolworth Building, and you have owlish proclivities — there’s no need for you even to emerge from underground. Right here, under the ground, you get into a station lift and it will whizz you up to the vestibule of the Pennsylvania Hotel, a hotel of two thousand guest-rooms of all conceivable types. Everything a visiting businessman can need: post offices, banks, telegraph offices, all sorts of goods — you’ll find everything here, without even going outside the hotel.

This is where a few rather clever mothers will sit, with their only too obvious daughters.

Go dancing.

Noise and tobacco smoke. Like the eagerly awaited interval in a huge theater during a long and tedious play.

That same lift will take you down below ground (to the “subway”), you take the express, and this will rip through the miles even better than a train. Out you get, at the building you want. A lift whisks you up to the required floor without any exits on to the street. By the same route, you can get back to the station, under the celestial ceiling of Pennsylvania Station, under the blue sky, from which the Great Bear, Capricorn and other constellations are already glittering. And the more reserved American can travel home, in trains that leave by the minute, to his out-of-town rocking-settee, without as much as a backward glance at the Sodom and Gomorrah of New York City.

Even more striking is Grand Central Station, which towers over several blocks.

The train skims through the air at a height of three or four storeys. The smoky steam engine is replaced by a clean, non-spluttering electric one — and the train plunges underground. For a quarter of an hour there will still flash below you the green-entwined railings — chinks of quiet, aristocratic Park Avenue. Then this too finishes and there stretches out half an hour of subterranean city with thousands of arches and black tunnels, streaked with gleaming rails: every roar, thump and whistle pulsates and hangs on for quite some time. The gleaming white rails go yellowish, then red, and then green from the changing colors of the signals. In all directions, there seems to be a tangle of trains, choked with arches. They say that our emigrants, arriving from the placid Russian quarter in Canada, at first cling dumbfoundedly to the window, and then start whooping and lamenting: “We’ve had it, mates, we’re being buried alive! How can we get out of this?”

We arrive.

Above us are layers of station premises; below the waiting rooms are floors of offices; all around, the boundless iron of the tracks; and beneath us too the underground three-storey subway.

In one of his Pravda feuilletons, comrade Pomorskii skeptically derided the stations of New York, counterposing the example of those Berlin coops, the Zoo and Friedrichstraße.

I don’t know what personal accounts comrade Pomorskii may have to settle with the stations of New York. Neither do I know all the technical details, facilities and capacities. But outwardly, cityscape-wise, in terms of urban stimulation, New York’s railway stations are one of the most imperious sights in the world.

I love New York  on busy autumn days, in the working week.

Six in the morning. Thunder and rain. It’s dark, and it’ll stay dark until midday.

You get dressed thanks to electricity, on the streets there is electricity, the buildings are bathed in electricity; the evenly chiseled windows are like a stenciled advertising poster. With the inordinate length of the buildings, and the winking colors of the traffic controls, all the motions are doubled, tripled and magnified tenfold by the asphalt — which has been licked as clean as a mirror by the rain. In the narrow chasms between the buildings, a kind of adventurist wind hums through the chimneys, tears down signs and grumbles around them, attempts to knock you off your feet, and then flees, unpunished and uncaught, for miles through the ten avenues that slice across Manhattan (New York’s island) from the ocean to the Hudson. From the sides, numerous minor tones from the narrow side streets howl in accompaniment to the storm, just as evenly cutting their swathes across Manhattan — from the one water’s edge to the other. Under awnings — and on a rainless day, straight on the pavements — fresh newspapers lie about in heaps, having been delivered earlier by lorries and slung around here by the paper-sellers.

Cover to Soviet periodical Krokodil, featuring Maikovskii's writings on New York

Cover to the Soviet satiric periodical Krokodil, featuring some of Maikovskii’s writings on New York

Around the small cafes, single men start getting their body machinery into gear, cramming the first fuel of the day into their mouths — a hurried cup of rotten coffee and a baked bagel, which right here, in samples running to hundreds, the bagel-making machine is slinging into a cauldron of boiling and spitting fat.

Down below, there flows a stream of humanity. At first, before dawn, there is a black-purplish mass of Negroes, who carry out the most arduous and dismal tasks. Then, towards seven, it’s an uninterrupted flow of whites. On they go, in the one direction in their hundreds of thousands, to their places of work. But their resinated yellow waterproofs sizzle and glitter like innumerable samovars in the electric light — running wet, yet inextinguishable, even under this rain.

There are still almost no motor cars or taxis.

The crowd flows along, inundating the apertures to the underground, protruding into the covered thoroughfares to the airborne trains, and racing through the air at a height in double- and triple-decker parallel overhead trains. The fast trains run almost without stops, while the local ones make stops every five blocks.

These five parallel train lines fly at a height of three storeys along five avenues, and by 120th Street they scramble up to a height of eight or nine storeys -—and lifts then bring up a new lot, coming straight from the squares and streets. There are no tickets. You drop into a tall bollard-like cash machine a five-cent coin, which, to avert fraud, is magnified on the spot and viewed by the attendant sitting in the booth.

Five cents — and you can travel any distance, but in the one direction.

The girders and the roofs of the elevated railways often amount to a continuous awning, running the whole length of a street, and you can see neither the sky nor the houses to the side. There is just the thundering of the trains above your head, and the thundering of the heavy traffic in front of your nose — chunterings, of which you really can’t make out as much as a word. In order not to lose the art of moving your lips, it only remains to chew silently the American cud — chewing gum.

A stormy morning is the best time of all in New York — when there isn’t a single loafer, not a spare person about. There are only the toilers of the great army of labor of the city of ten million.

The working masses melt away into the gents’ and ladies’ clothing factories, into the underground tunnels being newly excavated, to their infinite occupations at the port. By eight o’clock, the streets fill up with immeasurable numbers of the cleaner and better-groomed, with an overwhelming smack of bobbed, bare-kneed, lean girls with sinuous stockings — the workforce of the clerical offices, the businesses and the shops.

They get scattered through all the floors of the downtown skyscrapers, around the side corridors fed by the main entrance of dozens of lifts.

There are dozens of lifts for local connections, stopping at every floor, and dozens of express lifts, going up without a stop until the seventeenth, the twentieth, or the thirtieth. Special clocks show you what floor the lift is now on, lights indicating, in red and white, descent or ascent.

And if you have two calls to make — one on the seventh floor and another on the twenty·fourth — you take the local up to the seventh, and then, so as not to waste six whole minutes, you change to the express.

Cover to a later edition of Maiakovskii's "On America"

Cover to a later edition of Maiakovskii’s On America

Up until one o’clock, typewriters chatter, jacketless people sweat, columns of figures lengthen on paper.

If an office is what you need, then there’s no reason to rack your brains over establishing it.

You phone up to some thirtieth floor set-up:

“Hello! Fix me up a six-room office for tomorrow. I want twelve typists for it. And a sign: ‘The Great Famous Compressed Air Company for Pacific Ocean Submarines.’ Two boys in brown livery — caps with starred ribbons — and twelve thousand forms, headed as above.”

‘Goodbye.’

The next day, you can walk into your office, and your telephone boys will greet you effusively.

“How do you do, Mr. Maiakovskii?”

5 thoughts on “Maiakovskii in New York

  1. Pingback: Maiakovskii in New York | Research Material

  2. Pingback: Birthday > Earth Day: Happy 144th, Vladimir Il’ich! | The Charnel-House

  3. Pingback: LEF — the Soviet “left front” of art (1923-1930) | The Charnel-House

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