Mayakovsky’s voices: futurist performance and communication in verse

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This essay examines the formative rôle played by performance in the evolution of Russian Futurist poetics. While Russian Futurist performance is often discussed in terms of its outrageous content, I argue that these performances were part of the broad effort in the Modernist period to re-imagine the possibilities of poetic speech by returning to earlier models of poetry consumption, when a poem’s voice belonged to whomever chose to inhabit it. The paper focuses on the example of Vladimir Mayakovsky, offering readings of three early poems (“But Still”, “Listen!” and “But Could You?”) that demonstrate the way in which performance and the spoken word shaped experiments with the structure of poetic address. Seeking to engage audiences as (inter)locutors and to make them active participants in poetry-as-communicative-exchange, Mayakovsky’s pre-revolutionary poems and their concern with the interstices between utterance, speaker and hearer respond to the larger process of renegotiating the function and cultural status of public space during a period when art institutions, audiences and norms of spectatorship were in constant flux. The Futurists’ enthusiasm for the medium of performance emerges from a desire to equip audiences with alternative models for politically and socially engaged speech.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)157–187
Number of pages31
JournalInternational Yearbook of Futurism Studies
Publication statusPublished - 16 Dec 2019


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