Louis Zukofsky: An Introduction.

The Poems

Louis Zukofsky (1904-1978) was, along with Charles Reznikoff, one of the leading figures in the "Objectivist" movement of second generation American modernist poets. Zukofsky, protege and friend of both Ezra Pound (with whom he shared a lenghty correspondence) and William Carlos Williams, was nominally the leader of the movement, editing a special issue of Poetry dedicated to the movement and collaborating in the establishment of the short-lived Objectivist Press. "Objectivist poetry" (which has nothing to do with Ayn Rand's political philosophy) is largely a blanket term, describing a group of associated artists rather than articulating a programmatic approach to the composition of poetry. This is particularly true of Zukofsky, as Sandra Stanley writes of the
multiple demands Zukofsky makes on his own poetry, demands that are inclusive rather than exclusive. [...] Zukofsky articulates his desire for "what is objectively perfect." But his conception for what is objectively perfect includes both complexity of detail and the simplicity of the poetic object; both historic and contemporary partiiculars; both the concrete and the universal; both the poem as object in perfect rest and the poem as an object in process; and, finally, both the poem as an autonomous object and the poem as an inclusive object. (Stanley 13)
Nonetheless, Stanley suggests that Objectivism "constituted a poetic movement based on an identifiable aesthetic: sincerity and objectification [though Zukofsky] felt uncomfortable about confining their poetry under the rubric of any 'movement,'" (Stanley 13). This concept of objectification means not "objectivity in its philosophical sense" but rather a "proposal of 'rested totality,' the poise of a finished art object" (DuPlessis 7-8).

All of this speaks to the complexity and difficulty of Zukofsky's work and accounts for the fact that, while he was greatly admired by the poets who came after him (particularly those associated with the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E movement) his work has never been widely read.

Zukofsky's masterwork is his epic "A", a long poem of 24 sections written and published over the period from 1928 to 1968. "A"-8, composed from 1935-1937 exhibits, among many other things, Zukofsky's engagement with the political and economic crises of the decade, despite the difficulty, the aesthetic elitism, of his work. Zukofsky, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants, had grown up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and throughout his career maintained an interest in leftist politics and the plight of the poor. In "A"-8, he

delineates not an individual, authorial self but a social self—Labor as creator or creature. Clearly the question of labor as creator or creature raises questions not only about identity but also about revolution (will labor act or continue to be acted on?). In this movement Zukofsky intertwines a number of themes, from Bach's music to Marx's economics. But rather than focusing on the Christ of Bach's Saint Mattew Passion, he focuses on "the poor" (Stanley 42)

Combining mass ideology and elite technique, "A", and Zukofsky's work generally, illustrates the fate of poetic expression after the inluence of the High Modernists. The heights of technical complexity and experimentation initiate a disengagement from the sphere of American popular culture, despite the attempt to engage with the contemporary historical context of that culture.

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