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Russia's Manly Poet? Masculinity in the Work of Vladimir Mayakovsky

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“A giant in seven-league boots”, is how one critic, Robert Payne, referred to the Russian Futurist poet Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893–1930). This image of Mayakovsky as a manly, towering figure is similarly promoted by the many statues of the poet that appeared across the Soviet Union following Mayakovsky’s canonization by Stalin, and in parts of Mayakovsky’s own work (for example the “handsome twenty-two year old” who shakes the world with his mighty voice in Cloud in Trousers). Yet on closer inspection, Mayakovsky’s representations of masculinity appear more ambivalent than this myth of a “manly poet” suggests. I contend that Mayakovsky uses his work to conduct an inquiry into what it means to be a man, and to engage with and critique contemporary norms of masculinity and femininity. In this paper, I draw on current gender theory and queer theory to offer new readings of how masculinity functions in two early works, Cloud in Trousers and Vladimir Mayakovsky: A Tragedy. In doing so, I aim not only to arrive at a revisionist reading of Mayakovsky’s works, but also to illuminate more broadly the tensions and contradictions in Russian masculinity in the late Tsarist era.


Queens Building E