Vladimir Mayakovsky

1893 –

Born in Baghdati, Russian Empire (now Mayakovsky, Georgia) on July 19, 1893, Vladimir Vladimirovich Mayakovsky was the youngest child of Ukrainian parents. When his father, a forester, died in 1906, the family moved to Moscow, where Mayakovsky joined the Social Democratic Labour Party as a teenager in 1908. Due to his family’s financial situation, Mayakovsky was dismissed from grammar school. He spent much of the next two years in prison due to his political activities.

In 1910, Mayakovsky began studying painting, soon realizing that he had a talent for poetry. In 1912, he signed the Futurist manifesto A Slap in the Face of Public Taste, which included two of his poems. In 1913, he published his first solo project, Ya, a small book of four poems.

Mayakovsky’s early poems established him as one of the more original poets to come out of Russian Futurism, a movement characterized by a rejection of traditional elements in favor of formal experimentation, and that welcomed social change, as promised by technologies such as automobiles. Specifically, Mayakovsky’s early poems lacked traditional metrical structure, relying instead on forceful rhythms, exaggerated imagery, and—perhaps most importantly—street language, considered unpoetic in literary circles at the time.

In 1915, Mayakovsky published A Cloud in Trousers, his first major work. The long poem took the poet’s stylistic choices to a new extreme, linking irregular lines of declamatory language with surprising rhymes.

Living in Smolny, Petrograd in 1917 Mayakovsky witnessed the early Bolshevik insurrections of the Russian Revolution. This was a fruitful period for the poet, who greeted the revolution with a number of poetic and dramatic works, including the long poem 150,000,000 (1920); Ode to the Revolution (1918); Left March (1918); and Mystery-Bouffe (1918), a political satire and one of the first major plays of the Soviet era.

Mayakovsky returned to Moscow to create propaganda graphics and verses for the Russian State Telegraph Agency, and became involved in Left Front of the Arts, editing its journal, LEF. The journal’s objective was to “re-examine the ideology and practices of so-called leftist art, and to abandon individualism to increase art’s value for developing communism.”

In 1919, he published Collected Works 1909–1919, which further established his reputation. Mayakovsky’s popularity granted him unusual freedoms, relative to other Soviets. Specifically, he travelled freely, throughout the Soviet Union, as well as to Latvia, Britain, Germany, the United States, Mexico, and Cuba. In 1925, he published My Discovery of America.

Among the poet’s best-known longer poems are Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (1924), a eulogy to the Soviet leader; and All Right! (1927). Around this time, Mayakovsky also wrote two satirical plays: The Bedbug (1928) and The Bathhouse (1929).

Mayakovsky had been working on the long poem With Full Voice since 1929 when, on April 14, 1930, he allegedly shot himself directly in the heart. Ten days later, the officer investigating the poet’s suicide was himself killed, fueling speculation about the nature of Mayakovsky’s death.