Posts Tagged ‘ghetto’

Louis Zukofsky, Poet


24 Oct

Zukofsky

Poet Louis Zukofsky (1904-1978)

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Published on October 24, 2010

LOUIS ZUKOFSKY IS AN important American poet. Why? Because I said, so, naturally, and even though the bulk of this essay is snitched from other sources, I have split my sandwiches with this poet in question on many a toil. All italics mine. His book, A, dominated my thought back in the late 1980s, when I was still chasing a reason to be poet after already having written what I consider my best work, until I rode my elephant sling shot straight into punk rock, fickle women, and cheap booze, and friends who never knew where I was coming from much less where I was aiming to sink a mark, if any. This is my story.

The son of immigrant Russian Jews, he was born into the Jewish ghetto of the Lower East Side of Manhattan in 1904. What a headstart he had. I was raised by intelligent but socially illiterate, lingusitically stunted, financially crippled parents with little historical awareness of places and predicaments in a tiny town in SE Georgia, and I don't mean the Caucasion state in Asia. Zukofsky's conception of himself as a poet was indebted to Kaballistic Judaism, with both its emphasis on the magically transforming power of language and its division of the world into a tiny circle of initiates and a great mass of ignorant outsiders.

If Zukofsky was a New York Jewish poet, responsive to the cacophonous voice of the cosmopolitan city and determined to find a place for himself in the world beyond the ghetto, I was the epitome of plain white bread sandwich Tom Sawyer—with the crusted edges still attached. Zukofsky's route out of his festering ghetto was poetry. Mine was the result of that ever diminishing highschool diploma and the vital scream for liberty and exile I found in the wet sack and subsequent scattering of seed called making my way into the world without a clue. Leaving home within a month following a pirate's blue and gold graduation, I soon married a woman twice my age, with three kids nearly my own age, and a religion I was never built to suffer. But suffer I did for three years almost to the day under the yoke of the Jehovah's Witnesses, once removed, and a family I was ill-prepared to feed, clothe, or diminish that ridiculous notion that shibboleth shell games were all that mattered in a book so heavily translated and re-translated that no pretty monkey could ever come clean with the notion of theological typing again. Anxious for something else altogether, I hungered after something of a higher or lower caliber; it didn't matter, so Jehovah God (her phrasing) and I parted company for those three years as I sunk into a calculated misery with an initial declination of 180.

Rather the objectivists wanted, as Zukofsky declared in his Poetry essay "Sincerity and Objectification," to see the "poem as object," calling attention to itself by, for example, deliberate syntactic fragmentation and by line breaks that disrupt normal speech rhythm.
In his brief Autobiography Zukofsky reported how he began to appropriate the heritage of Western literature, first in Yiddish and then in English: "My first exposure to letters at the age of four was thru the Yiddish theaters.... By the age of nine I had seen a good deal of Shakespeare, Ibsen, Strindberg and Tolstoy performed—all in Yiddish. Even Longfellow's Hiawatha was to begin with read by me in Yiddish, as was Aeschylus' Prometheus Bound.... By eleven I was writing poetry in English, as yet not 'American English.'"

At age sixteen, Zukofsky entered Columbia University, where he wrote for and helped edit various student literary magazines. He identified with the literary avant garde (as represented especially by James Joyce, Ezra Pound, and T.S. Eliot) that saw itself as an elite committed to a revolutionary assault upon a dead bourgeois culture.

Zukofsky's first major poetic work, "Poem Beginning 'The,'" written in 1926 and published in Exile in 1928, demonstrates his commitment to a modernist poetic. "The poem's obvious predecessor," said Barry Ahearn in Zukofsky's "A": An Introduction, "is T. S. Eliot's 'The Waste Land.' In an attempt to surpass Eliot, Zukofsky pushes formal details to an excessive, but liberating, limit." "Poem Beginning 'The'" cultivates a tone of Eliot-like irony, as the poet tries to mediate between the insistently alien, Jewish particulars of his experience and an aspiration toward a broader American, "English," vaguely Christian culture.

poet

Zukofsky, as usual

If "Poem Beginning 'The'" resonates with echoes of Eliot, Zukofsky soon abandoned Eliot for Ezra Pound, who was at once more approachable and more overpowering. Pound's warm response to "Poem Beginning 'The'" led to a flurry of letters between the two men, and Zukofsky eventually visited Pound at his home in Rapallo, Italy. Pound gave Zukofsky's poetic career an important boost by urging Poetry editor Harriet Monroe to appoint the young New Yorker as guest editor of a special issue devoted to new English and American poets.

For this Poetry issue Zukofsky invented the name "objectivists" to describe himself and the other poets—including Charles Reznikoff, George Oppen, Carl Rakosi, and Basil Bunting whose work he liked. (Zukofsky, however, never used the term "objectivism" and never claimed to be the leader of a movement named "objectivism.") Most of these objectivists also appeared in Zukofsky's An "Objectivists" Anthology, where they were joined by Pound and even Eliot.

The core group of Zukofsky, Reznikoff, Bunting, Oppen, Rakosi, and Niedecker eventually cohered into something approaching a movement, with Zukofsky established as both the principal theorist and—until World War II—the most diligent critic of and advocate for the poetry of his friends.

Objectivist verse owed a great deal to imagism. Indeed, in his preface to An "Objectivists" Anthology Zukofsky quoted Pound's 1912 Imagist credo: "direct treatment of the 'thing' whether subjective or objective." But in two respects objectivist poetry went beyond imagism. First, unlike such imagists as Amy Lowell, most of the objectivists were unwilling to treat the poem simply as a transparent window through which one could perceive the objects of the world.

Rather the objectivists wanted, as Zukofsky declared in his Poetry essay "Sincerity and Objectification," to see the "poem as object," calling attention to itself by, for example, deliberate syntactic fragmentation and by line breaks that disrupt normal speech rhythm.

Second, following Pound's poetic practice of the 1920s, the objectivist poets were at least as much interested in historic particulars as they were in immediate sensory images. All the objectivists shared Pound's aspiration to create a "poem containing history"; and Pound's incorporation into his Cantos of various historic documents showed these poets a way of incorporating history into their poems without violating the principle of objectivity.

Read it all.

Spring Sprung, So I'll Write To Ravi


24 Apr

ravi

This Is Not Ravi

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Date: Fri Apr 24, 1998 5:25:31 PM

Hey Ravi, been extremely busy this spring with painting and cleaning, essays and professional responsibilities. Just wanted to zip off a short note to let you know I still count you among those two dozen or so in my E-mail loop.

How is the climate there right now? Do you live in a beautiful part of your city, or quite near the slums? The latter is truest in my case. Drug dealers hang around the alleys and gunshots are occasionally heard. Litter, paper, broken glass, ugly grafitti is everywhere, but I do my best to carve a bit of paradise out for myself here in DC with our own home, a two story brick rowhouse with basement. We are not minimalists in terms of materialism, but we do pick and choose our delights.

We drive an old 1989 Dodge Caravan. As you know, in America, the car is the soul of the personality, but we dare not invest in expensive automoblies in our neighborhood. Car theft is big business in urban areas. My personal library is rather extensive for poor white trash like myself, but aspirations to write that definitive novel of our times still urges me forward, even as I continue to procrastinate.

With a mechanical engineering degree, Ravi, what area of business do you intend to exploit? I spent ten years in the civil engineering field, have I told you this already? I forget. I worked for several different firms, ranging in specialities from sewerage & water disposal systems, and new home construction from the ground up, meaning clearing, grading for roads and layout, pipelines, and property corners. I retired from that particular endeavor in 1990 with the advent of the Macintosh computer. I wanted to write, and now here I am, a web designer, an unpublished novelist and poet, but plunging right ahead day by day.

So...

Gabriel

Sweat, Toil, Sensuality, And Simple Acts Of Temporary Beauty


09 May

imaginations-few

Imaginations of A Few

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Date: Fri May 9, 1997 2:00:32 PM

Whew! Well, George, I'm so nearly at the end of this spring toil that I simply must flop down into this chair and get on with something other than the futile work of my stone-cascaded backyard. When this quite modest rowhouse was built in 1925 apparently turning under leftover materials like broken bricks and unscored pebbles was simply the thing to do. Over the ten years much labor and arbor has been lost trying to restake a claim to beauty, but each layer of rubble only leads to another it seems, and since I've only been able to dedicate short sums of time and money to each spring and fall project failure seems my greatest success, but onward. A few days of toil, a few days of beauty until the death rot sets its teeth into the flesh of my flowers, my bushes, even the trees I always hope will survive for more than a season, but I've taken the attitude that the grace won albeit only temporarily is greater than the apathy which would result if intelligence sought reward only in self-flattering terms. But, who am I kidding? It depresses me to realize how much our toil is mere withering on the vine, a fleeting season, a reflection of nothingness infinitely squared as time proves everything is possible but very little of it lasting longer in scale than a blink, a wink, last night's orgasm just another fair folly.

Even in my garden work, which usually is a fine seasonal reprieve for me despite the setbacks I just described, I have been woefully depressed since last Saturday, depressed for no obvious reason at all, zapped of fervor, fire, and energy. Lethargic and grave I breathe feverishly, fitfully. Even your sweet prayers for me, as welcomed as they were, failed to revive my flagging spirit.

The bible is its own testament against organized religion. Jesus used scripture with as much cunning and flair as any Philadelphia lawyer he might critcize as heaping up too much burden upon the backs of the weak and the poor, as he very well often pointed out to those who would defeat his purpose.
Yet, it's still slightly uplifting to be back at the writing tools. Horticulture is such a struggle to me. The annual painting of the porches to wash away all the dirt and grime of the inner city neighborhood is a must, however, to maintain this 20th century dignity I inherited by rights and by rites. I finally bought an aluminum extension ladder, sharing the cost with my neighbor Blumstein next door. Window washing, pulling down limbs caught in the telephone wires, old Virginia creeper ivy runners severed but still clinging to the walls to be snatched to a trash bag...

And yet another hailstorm predicted for tomorrow. But every time I think of the millions of flood victims, hurricane and tornado alleys, earthquakes and riot squads, my own drug-infested paper-littered streets feel somewhat qualitatively protected from quarrels of a gargling earth. Yet beyond the rocky soil, last year it was rain from November until August, this year it is excessive winds and haildroppings. Aggravations yes, but certainly mild disruptions compared to so many other tales of woe spiraling off the nightly news. A century ago before global communication technologies, the human mind scarely was forced to contend with so much disaster-oriented details on a regular basis, up close and personal. And dirt huts of antiquity once the norm hardly sustained the artifact people of their time, and yet with all our modern fetish-driven aims for cleanliness we still feel the dirt swirling deep inside us not sparing our neighbor's backyard. But terror and tragedy is no newcomer to the stage of human affairs, as you well know. Your bible is full of such disasters, but you wrote:

I don't know you well enough yet to know how much metaphysical training you have put yourself through, or what your spin on, what it is we are; why we are here; what are we doing. Most people don't want a real examination of themselves or their surroundings. However, it fascenates me, and weather or not I have a clue or not, I THINK I have apprehended a bit about the subject...and the only thing that ties it ALL together is a metapyysical understanding of the Bible. It is an eastern book, therefore, all (or most) western thinking needs to be set aside, when trying to understand what God is saying to us.

The First step is to believe it: even if I don't understand it all, I am determined to make it first and final authority in my life, and pray for the "strengthening" of the Holy Spirit (the author) in my being to make it clear to me.

Second step is to forget what I know, percieve, or seem to percieve. It is a dream...within a dream. Reality is infinite! I am finite. The I AM is the whole. The George is, is the part...the part cannot truly apprehend the whole, without becomming it. That is the forte of Eastern thought...they call it desirelessness...nirvana! It is simply tapping into the Eternal. (OK... enough ground work)

I don’t fancy this patriotic phenomenon as the holistic Jesus path, but rather the same old tribalistic warrior god. I certainly prefer the spider in the crowd approach to reclaiming the peace of God in this confused world heading deeper into the ditch according to one inspecting it from every vantage point he can muster. And yet, like Jesus, and John the Baptist, I do not condemn soldiering carte blanche. Yet I feel like an awkward spy trapped in a kick the can world of a million miles of promises, complaints, and correlations without a single purpose of my own. You say there is only one person. I say there is only one idea.
Metaphysical training? Of course I comprehend the word at its root meaning, but I've had no "formal" training in intellectual or spiritual matters since a child I must suppose, having only a highschool diploma, an autodidact. But ever since I came face to face with the word "teleological" I've accepted it as the most basic tenet of my otherwise, rather nebulous faith. And while I persist in casting great suspicions at the idolization of the sixty-six current books of scripture, canonized by a catholic gathering in 325 at Nicene, I believe it was, I am still deeply affected by the influences a complete immersion in the book from earliest childhood up through my middle twenties (when I hid among library shelves trying to suck up the very marrow of life I thought this commentary would offer) have subjected me. That said, however, the Everliving God dwelling within and without seems much more powerful to me than a much-argued multi-translated from dead tongues collection of biographies, aphorisms, riddles, terror tales, party politics, and shrouded predictions on a timetable only liars, thieves, and libelers take the time to work up using their own vested-interest slide rules. The bible is its own testament against organized religion. Jesus used scripture with as much cunning and flair as any Philadelphia lawyer he might critcize as heaping up too much burden upon the backs of the weak and the poor, as he very well often pointed out to those who would defeat his purpose. However, the Nazarene came to set men free, we are told he said, not to bind them even tighter to the scrolls of the past as christian history has done. Sin is a robust killer no doubt. Paul's admonition that while he was no longer bound by the Law, therefore making all things lawful to him, not everything was edifying. But churchianity has implemented a stringent law just as deeply rooted in the letter at the expense of the spirit as any synagogue in the days of Christ could have inspired. But Jesus and Paul went one better. They said ANYTHING one might do, do it in joy and love, just as you, George have pointed out. Again, not that all things are edifying, but I detect something in all this that smacks of situational ethics, a phrase that I have read is maligned by every preacher of the gospel from here to there, on radio, TV, pamphlet, and streetcorner (since I too long ago ceased shadowing the doors of churchbuildings where law outranks spirit every time I open my mouth). Fear not those (that?) which can harm the body, but fear those (that?) which can squash the spirit. A pastor, a coalminer, a drinker, a whore. Who among us protects our own body at the expense of our spirit? To what degree does the flesh inform the spirit? To save the 100th still drowning in that ditch over there, as the ninety-nine dress up in Sunday best, shall I get muddy, bloody, or even toxic, by attempting a hands-on rescue, or shall I just stand on the edge of the ditch shouting, "I told you so, you old sinner."? Shades of van Gogh? To be first, one must be last. To be best, one must be worst. Or else self-righteousness is the easiest ditch of all, and is as filthy as the rags of a burning mansion in the sky. Who among us is safe debating the politics of righteousness? Is righteousness self-hatred or self-love? When is the greatest act toward the moral life too much hypocrisy and not enough elbow grease? Is ABC morality the greatest holy activity of all? I've always been perplexed by christian patriotism. Warrior christs-in-the-making, or simple affairs of men? I ask street corner christlovers, what is the greatest act of love one can employ? They always answer in textbook glee, "Laying down one's life, of course!" couched in grand schemes of just and unjust wars, while I push forward wondering about the life of the soldier I am shooting at, a friend, a husband, a son, perhaps even a fellow believer.

George, all this is old news of course in the annals of christian thought, and I appreciate your recent counsel that it's one on one, God and GT. Very Kierkegaardian. Of course, what typical moralists point out is the chaos that follows when everybody is running off doing whatever whenever. True enough, but where is the christian strength of the lion's den? Great chunks of rightwing christians in this country seem to think that ruling under the American flag is their God-given inheritance, just as the Jews did, do, Jerusalem. I don't fancy this patriotic phenomenon as the holistic Jesus path, but rather the same old tribalistic warrior god. I certainly prefer the spider in the crowd approach to reclaiming the peace of God in this confused world heading deeper into the ditch according to one inspecting it from every vantage point he can muster.

It is true all greater artists come to this same conclusion at the end of their lives and parabolic careers. And like every cheater who skips to the back of the book, I grew very old in my early 20s, tossed off the old man in my late 20s and sputtered on trying to save youth by impersonating youth up to my forties. Now I am tired and wretchedly old again, but with a calibrated child inside who keeps me sane if only to the degree that I haven’t stopped writing what I am feeling at every spin of my molecular mind.
And yet, like Jesus, and John the Baptist, I do not condemn soldiering carte blanche. Yet I feel like an awkward spy trapped in a kick the can world of a million miles of promises, complaints, and correlations without a single purpose of my own. You say there is only one person. I say there is only one idea.

One morning as I was rattling off a series of adjectives and adverbs trying to finger just what it was that was keeping me out of the world of intellectual commerce and recognition, that infernal sandbagging that I construct to remain nearly anonymous, unsuccessful, disinterested, culturally paralyzed, my wife stopped me in mid-stream when I uttered the word "irrelevant". She concurred that I found the whole of the world's self-flogging and flogging of others for bucks and mirror-time just so damned irrelevant. And irrelevancy was George's thing as well—this was what drove him to discourage my own youthful zest in any "irrelevant" area of gnosis. It is true all greater artists come to this same conclusion at the end of their lives and parabolic careers. And like every cheater who skips to the back of the book, I grew very old in my early 20s, tossed off the old man in my late 20s and sputtered on trying to save youth by impersonating youth up to my forties. Now I am tired and wretchedly old again, but with a calibrated child inside who keeps me sane if only to the degree that I haven't stopped writing what I am feeling at every spin of my molecular mind. Have I crucified Christ afresh, as Paul puts it, lost faith, sinned beyond redemption, parlayed faith into a miserly fetish? I certainly don't expect to ride in on new Rounthwaite coattails looking for answers over wire or lunch. I'm just thankful you have turned out to be someone whose response mode is up to the task of his faith. Experience prevails. Few are they, as you might say. You wrote:

Yeah, it was a good idea at the outset, but now there is this more interesting idea; or there was that rejection; or FIRST I must go and examine this ramification; or a thousand other distractions that finally dry up the creative juices, and zeal for the original spark that started it in the first place! I know of what I speak, because of a file cabnet full of inventions "waiting" to be built, and marketed! Yes I have patents, and even machinery now used in industry...but the financial fruition of creative genius...ahhhh, well...now we come to it! What, about worldly success, are we avoiding? We are not the first to deal with this impediment. If you/we could outline a stratagy for overcomming it, you/we could publish it, be on the best seller list...and creative geniuses all over the world could put it on their "never to be read" shelf to gather dust.

I believe the era of the fishers of men is dormant, the world having already skidded into the era of the hunter (Jeremiah 16:16). This is a one on one, two on two scenario. Both the Mormons and the Jehovah's Witnesses, whatever their claims on righteousness, truth, and morality, and to a lesser degree, the Seventh day Adventists, have helped usher in this understanding that in a world of bloated competing spiritual forces, blanket legalisms, revolutionary chatter, international communication and worse, no communication at all, the fisherman types have become "appearances" charlatans, moneygrubbers, designated seating moguls, so that only the secret exchanges fostered by lonely hunters and the hunted shall endure the pressures of Babylon the Great. Yes George, walled with my back against knowledge, the handwriting of most of my metaphorical and metaphysical baggage is caught up in the biblical languages. And despite the fact that I do not consider myself a christian on the grounds that I could not begin to decipher what that phrase means anymore in light of what I know of both good and evil, I do however, consider Jesus and his God, a big brother, a guiding force, a literal reality, the only source of my plodding continuation on this wreckage planet. If this is merely a cultural coincidence, so be it.

We have certainly shared more in a short time than either of us probably expected. You say have courage, and I thank you for the sentiment because courage is indeed my most spiritual need right now as always. I have long been a coward, and therein lies my greatest mischief. I must overcome this flaw, thanks.
However, I am afraid of the word—Lord. I never use it. Slavery and its modern counterpart, racial self-consciousness, has tainted the word with roaring poisonous fumes for now in my southern-poxed vocabulary. Lording over anybody as celebrity or bankrolled sophisticate as a concept drives my fear of success. Bride and bridegroom? I dunno my friend. The last will be first. We cannot keep building on a crippled past, despite all the famous names in that past. Remember, none greater than John the Baptist (uh, David, Moses, Abraham, Jeremiah, Ruth, Solomon, all less than?) but even the least of those in the Kingdom of God will be greater than even John. Jesus is defiantly in league with anti-fame forces, while becoming quite famous himself, although only a minor figure in his own lifetime. And of course the numbers are legion with two milleniums of artistic pretenders to this throne who have eschewed fame only to position for fame just the same. I would just like to make a living.

Ah, you have quoted William Blake. Mmmm...something I can not imagine my other George to have done. Are you familiar with Blake's penchant for nudism and his theories of Jesus and the Apostles as great artists, as great as the world has ever seen, and in Blake's terms, definitely not moralists, for the world was not lacking for moralists said the English romantic poet. There after all was Zoroaster, Moses, Confucious, Socates and...

George, you must realize that smug between these lines is not some call to unbridled profligacy. Quite the contrary. I am merely seeking to draw out your own perceptions as to what is wrong with the church and its relationship to the world, because it seems I do not care for either, having made somewhat of a mess of myself trying to find some common ground with one or the other, failing I fear on both counts.

So as you see, I am not always bright and cheery. I had not been depressed in several months until last Saturday morning when I awoke very tired, but here I am, and now I burden you with my own cryptic despondency. I pray that this reality of mine is not too disheartening for you. We have certainly shared more in a short time than either of us probably expected. You say have courage, and I thank you for the sentiment because courage is indeed my most spiritual need right now as always. I have long been a coward, and therein lies my greatest mischief. I must overcome this flaw, thanks.

More later! Take peace...take the next step...have courage, and keep moving...you are an awsome man! Your writing WILL be bought and removed from the shelves by avid readers, just like you envision...only you have to do it for you, none of us matter, or even should be given the right to have a say...in what you and The Big Guy agree on as to your greatness, and usefullness is in His plan. Blessings!

George

Best to you and yours,

Gabriel

S A M P L E X

"Ignorance and virtue suck on the same straw. Souls grow on bones, but die beneath bankers' hours.""


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