Ryan Hardy on translating Vladimir Mayakovsky

Ryan Hardy


on translating Vladimir Mayakovsky


  • плевочки — A plural, diminutive form of плевок, meaning “spit.” Originally, I translated the word as “spittles,” but felt that it was out of place. While somewhat contrived, “spitlets” offered a more robust alternative that could more easily be imagined in individual units.
  • жемчужиной — In my rough translation, I translated this word as “pearl-like,” but found that it slowed the meter’s momentum. The shift to “pearls” as a subject complement to the direct object, improved fluidity while adding a luster to the otherwise gross imagery of bits of spit. I felt that this was closer to Mayakovsky’s poetic intentions for the phrase.
  • about the author

    Vladimir Mayakovsky — poet, playwright, satirist, revolutionary, and futurist—was born in present-day Georgia to a Cossack father of noble descent and a Ukrainian mother. Moving to Moscow as a teenager, Mayakovsky was radicalized and joined local socialist groups. Following a brief prison sentence, Vladimir distanced himself from the Party, focusing instead on his independent socialist education. Mayakovsky discovered his literary voice as he became more involved in the Moscow artists’ circles of the 1910s. He made his name in Futurist literary magazines with early poems like “Night” and “Take That!” Mayakovsky played a key role in early Bolshevik literature following the October Revolution, supporting socialist ideology not only in his writing but also through plays, film, and agitational propaganda. Mayakovsky’s Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, a poetic epic in tribute to the vanguard of the revolution, was applauded by both the Party and Soviet citizens. After the release of two satire pieces in the late 1920s, Vladimir’s relationship with the Party began to deteriorate and Soviet media targeted him in media campaigns. Following an argument with a romantic partner in 1930, Mayakovsky died of suicide. Mayakovsky’s pioneered Futurist and Socialist Realist genres, gaining revered status in the Soviet canon.

    about the translator

    Ryan is an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, pursuing a degree in Russian and Eastern European studies. He holds various writing and editing positions for the School of Russian and Asian Studies, Pomona College Vestnik, and Doublespeak Magazine. Ryan’s main research interests lie in the study of underground cultural movements in Soviet and post-Soviet Eurasia, most recently focusing on the Leningrad Rock and Siberian Punk movements of the 1980s and ’90s. He enjoys reading, climbing, and getting lost on walks. He plans to continue learning languages, having most recently started a course in Czech. Ryan’s collaborative translation of Tamara Dmitrievna Skoblikova-Kudryavtseva’s memoir, Words for Oneself, is due for release by the end of 2021.