Mayakovsky’s Sun in “A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island”

Frank O’Hara’s poem “A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island” is a lighthearted and fun account of a man’s conversation with The Sun. Unlike many of O’Hara’s other poems, “A True Account” is not rife with proper nouns. Instead, it only mentions two proper nouns- other than the narrator- in its two and a half pages. “‘Sorry, Sun, I stayed up late last night talking to Hal,’” Frank-the-narrator explains (O’Hara 146 ll 12-3). “‘When I woke up Mayakovsky he was a lot more prompt’ the Sun [says] petulantly” in response (O’Hara 146 ll 14-6).

Mentioning Vladimir Mayakovsky in the poem seems to be an appropriate choice for O’Hara, and not only because Mayakovsky was the first “poet [The Sun had] ever chosen to speak to personally” (O’Hara 146 ll 5-6). O’Hara based his poem on a piece by Mayakovsky, “An Extraordinary Adventure Which Befell Vladimir Mayakovksy in a Summer Cottage” (http://www.uvm.edu/~presdent/mayakovskypoem.html), which is equally as humorous. If the reader knows of the Russian poet, though, the poem starts to carry more weight than if it were just a silly conversation with an inanimate object. Mayakovsky was a key figure during the Russian Revolution, writing about his political
grievances, and, like O’Hara, had thoughts of becoming a painter before turning to poetry. Most of his poetry deals with serious subject matters, like death. As such, though O’Hara’s poem is jovial in tone, it specifically alludes to another poet with a lot of depth, legitimizing the piece.

The most striking detail about Mayakovsky is that, dissatisfied with his love life and distressed by poor reviews from critics, he committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest. While O’Hara may not have possessed that level of concern about critical approval, talk of the reception of his poetry does make its way into the poem when The Sun comforts Frank, telling him that “‘even if no one reads you but me you won’t be depressed’” (O’Hara 147 ll 53-4). What seems at first glance like it might just be a simple, throwaway line, when coupled with the mention of Mayakovsky’s poetry actually raises a much deeper concern, that of a certain level of anxiety about appreciation of one’s art. Not only does O’Hara mention Mayakovsky in the poem, but he refrains from
mentioning any other artists, poets, or movie stars, drawing even more
attention to the Russian poet and his view of criticism, perhaps serving to reflect O’Hara’s own serious apprehension about the matter.

(Information concerning Mayakovsky’s biography courtesy http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/majakovs.htm.)

 

One thought on “Mayakovsky’s Sun in “A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island”

  1. I can’t help myself and I feel need to respond to: ‘The most striking detail about Mayakovsky is that, dissatisfied with his love life and distressed by poor reviews from critics, he committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest’.

    That is the ‘official’ communist’s version of Mayakovsky’s death though. However, many questions surrounding his death still remain with out answers even now, more than 80 years later. Why was the letter he left behind dated 2 days before his death ? Why were his close friends hastily sent abroad shortly before his death ? Why did neighbours hear 2 shots ? Why did the bullet removed from his body not match the gun he allegedly used to kill himself etc. ? Even Mayakovsky’s own daughter refuses a suicide as the true reason behind his death.

    Anyway, I just thought I would share this information with you as I do personally find it very interesting. All the best from cufflinks uk

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