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This review is taken from PN Review 141, Volume 28 Number 1, September - October 2001.

BODY AND VOICE Voices of the Revolution, edited by Patricia Railing
VLADIMIR MAYAKOVSKY and EL LISSITSKY For the Voice, (The British Library and MIT Press)

From words like these coffins burst from the earth
and on their own four oaken legs stride forth
                        From 'At the Top of My Voice' (1930),
                        an unfinished poem by Vladimir Mayakovsky

Obsessiveness can have its place. When he was ten years old, novelist James Ellroy came home one afternoon to his mother's house on the wrong side of the tracks in Los Angeles to find she had been murdered. The hard-boiled crime novels Ellroy has written as an adult, L.A. Confidential among them, mine that experience. The Black Dahlia, published in 1980, directly conflated Ellroy's mother with murdered would-be starlet Elizabeth Short. The work of historical fiction consumed Ellroy as he wrote it, as if his words could reach into the cold depths of the unsolved mysteries and force the bodies to resurface. But to what end? In a 1996 interview Ellroy said, when he finished the book he wept. But with sixteen years of hindsight he added frankly, 'My mother was murdered. She gave me many gifts - her death did.'

The life of poet Vladimir Mayakovsky seems to elicit a less personal but no less impassioned obsessiveness from those who take up a study of his work. The career of the Russian poet, whose attempts to merge cubo-futurist poetry with revolutionary propaganda alienated him from the masses of whom he hoped to be the voice, is the stuff of romantic tragedy. Mayakovsky's frustrated idealism, his frustrated love affair ...


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