- One Man's Meat is Another Man's Poetry:Masculinity And Metaphor in the Work of Vladimir Maiakovskii
"Today's poetry is a poetry of struggle.Each word must be as a soldier in an army,a soldier made of meat, red, healthy meat!"— Vladimir Maiakovskii1
In the early 1910s, the Futurist poet Vladimir Maiakovskii shocked the Russian public with his risqué poetry in verses such as "Night" [Noch', 1912], "The Fop's Blouse" [Kofta fata, 1914] and the longer "Cloud in Pants" [Oblako v shtanakh, 1915].2 The poet's notoriety stemmed from his outlandish attire and his theatrical demeanor as much as his controversial verse: the young Maiakovskii fashioned a gendered public persona, which could appear either androgynous or hyper-masculine. On one hand, Maiakovskii sported an androgynous yellow blouse that frequently attracted satirical derision from his contemporaries.3 On the other hand, his impressive stature, operatic bass voice and manly swagger led fellow poet Benedikt Livshits to compare him to a "Sicilian Mafioso, transported to St. Petersburg by some twist of fate," a "robber bandit" and an "anarchist bomb-thrower."4
The wave of militarism that accompanied the outbreak of the First World War initially led the poet to promote the hyper-masculine side of his image.5 In Maiakovskii's article "Give Us [End Page 239] Meat, Too!" [I nam miasa!, 1914], he used violent, virile metaphors to describe his poetic output, explaining that the flamboyant poetry of Futurism had merely provided "the red cape of the matador" to provoke the bull, but now a "poetry of struggle" was needed, a poetry in which "every word is a soldier within a regiment, a soldier made of healthy, red meat!"6 Although the brutal realities of the war quickly dismayed Maiakovskii, he would return to this rhetoric of virility during the revolutionary and Soviet periods, an age when physical labor was valued above intellectual endeavor. In this "era that was not lyrical" (Trotskii),7 Maiakovskii forged a personal myth of the poet-soldier and the poet-worker, often deploying corporeal or industrial metaphors drawn from the traditionally masculine spheres of the military or manual labor. For example, he figuratively summoned poets to take up arms in his two "Order to the Army of Arts" poems [Prikaz po armii iskusstva, 1918; Prikaz No 2 armii iskusstv, 1922].8 In his last great poem, "At the Top of My Voice" [Vo ves' golos, 1930], Maiakovskii justified his own contributions to Soviet society by comparing his poetic output to the sacrifice of a soldier or the labor of a worker.9
While a substantial critical literature exists on Maiakovskii's changing political allegiances, there has not yet been a study of how the poet's conflicted ideological loyalties and beliefs intersected with his performance of masculinity.10 This article breaks new ground by exploring the intersection of gender representation and political ideology in his work. Specifically, I trace how Maiakovskii shifts his representation of masculinity over the course of his poetic career, using his verse as an instrument to negotiate with the hegemonic masculinities of Tsarist Russia, Revolutionary Russia, and the Soviet Union.
Rather than attempt a comprehensive study of the representation of masculinity in Maiakovskii's oeuvre, I present here a number of selected works that encapsulate the poet's engagement with broader discourses in Russian society at different historical moments. I begin by examining Maiakovskii's early work, arguing that it parodies, exaggerates, and reverses the gender codes of Symbolism, then dominant in St. Petersburg high society. Moreover, I suggest virility becomes a metaphor for poetic experimentation in the Futurists' early poetry and manifestoes. I then turn to the revolutionary years, arguing Maiakovskii refashions and refines this image of masculinity, now utilizing it to serve an explicitly political allegiance: the October Revolution. After 1917, Maiakovskii styles himself as both poet-soldier and poet-worker, attempting to justify the poet as an authentically masculine figure in an era when the dominant discourse demanded physical prowess, the capacity for labor, and a willingness to use violence when necessary. His portrayal of masculinity in the 1920s largely complies with the dominant gender order of the newly...