Tbilisi: Zakkniga, 1926. Item #827
14 pp., 1 ill. 17.6x13cm. In original photomontage wrappers by Alexander Rodchenko. Tear of the spine, four pages are detached, soviet bookselling stamps on the rear wrapper. Otherwise in a good condition.
First edition. 1 of 5000 copies.
An epitome of Mayakovsky’s inner struggle that had reached its peak in the mid-1920s.
Conversation with a Tax Collector about Poetry is the first in a series of works publicly criticizing the new Soviet philistinism, according to which poets became compelled to pay taxes and submit annual declarations of income.
Financial problems had always been an integral part of Mayakovsky’s daily life: numerous trips around the country (which he often financed himself), his “lavish personality”, and financial support he provided for his mother and sisters demanded large amounts of money: “I earn less, … than I should. I can’t keep up with my expenses”. Yet, it was not the new law and additional levies it implied that enraged the taxpayer, but the problem of defining a poet’s role in society: “My work is like any other work” - he wrote in the poem. The author’s ironic manner in which he, step-by step, explained to a tax collector the difficulties of being a genuine poet (including financial ones), culminated at the end of the piece (...Comrades, here’s my pen. Take a crack at it yourselves!) and became his first, but not the last expression of disillusionment with the Soviet regime. In the following years, Mayakovsky completed two satirical plays: The Bedbug (1929), and The Bathhouse, both lampooning bureaucratic stupidity and opportunism.
Interestingly, after the publication of the Conversation poem, the state made a decision to reduce tax rates for Mayakovsky. Yet, the problem of defining a poet’s heavy burden persisted: “It’s necessary to stop considering a poet’s “easy” task, as something less important than any other form of human labour”, - wrote the author in his famous literary critic, How Verses are Made (1927). Although Mayakovsky devoted a number of pieces (What are You Writing? (1928), At the Top of My Voice (1929), etc) to the painful subject of the importance of poetry and its qualification, Conversation with a Tax Collector is up to date considered one of his most vibrant works.
Design of the edition is a classic example of Mayakovsky-Rodchenko revolutionary collaboration that inspired the book and advertising industry of the 1920s Soviet Union. The rear wrapper design can be seen as an adaptation of Vladimir Mayakovsky's line from the book - "All poetry is a journey into the unknown". A more conventional portrait of the author adorns the front cover. The "tax inspector" seated at the table is Fyodor Raskolnikov (1892-1939), an Old Bolshevik, commander of Red fleets during the Russian Civil War, and editor-in-chief of the literary magazine "Molodaya Gvardiya”.