This is a brilliant exercise in documentation and now the preferred method by which I would like to discover any new poet or artist or creative figure.
Mayakovsky’s creative output is chronologically arranged and interspersed with selections of writing by his contemporaries which give light and life to the context of the man whose images fill the pages. The result is an augmented poetry, one which allows for all the hidden experiences a poet normally tucks away in their words to be made less shadowy.
This is not to say that all poetry requires the context of a poet’s life to be appreciated. But Mayakovsky in particular is a cultural Zeitgeist, and his poetry, for better or worse, is utilitarian in the way by which it can reveal the engine behind a country’s revolution. Poetry is always a lived thing, a product of a hand which pulses with blood, and there is something to be said for filling an anthology with documentation and data, images, history. Mayakovsky vividly inhabits these pages.
My oft-cited, beloved radical experimentation in translation, Ventrakl, did a bit of this, however another voice, Christian Hawkey’s unreliable narration, served to interrupt the truth of Georg Trakl’s life.
If there was one way the volume could be improved, it would be the presentation of his works in bilingual edition. As carefully curated and well-translated as the pieces are, I found myself wishing desperately I could at least hear the Russian beside them, even if some vernacular was lost to me. But for English-speaking audiences, this is a prime introduction to the best translations of his work.
I am almost 10 years late past the publication, but I cannot recommend Night Wraps the Sky more highly. I sincerely hope to find more life/work documentation with a similar dedication to uncovering the truth of a poet and his works.