Posts Tagged ‘Poets’

Louis Zukofsky, Poet

24 Oct


Poet Louis Zukofsky (1904-1978)


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.


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.

Let's Not Get Carried Away

01 Sep

I enter this tent
baring arms to the thief,
charting threads representing fresh marks of superiority,
a knotty fugitive, sparing no friend, no city,
nosing for booty, until its nose is bent.

Gritty bitter but better nerves down,
this soldier grows bolder whisper by whisper,
proving with scientific uncertainty,
this early 21st Century gown,
unravels from his master's spool,
a dark-eyed blue clown.

Obama the handpicked emperor,
wobbling village sector nefarious
smudges past ink spillage of his own 1980s
still feeling like yesterday will never arrive.

Ignoring the Reagan Years
except when hurling rocks against them
clowns, one show at a time, the Baltic seasons
drew nexus from the hidden years themselves
bunched among hallowed groundswells
of odd manners
like putrid oranges on dirty carpets
sickly sweet among the street gross
standards of contemporary
inspection and high alert.

Fortunately, this old branding
knuckled us the gist and viscera
to strike through any earlier bromide kills
the long dead rope of imagination collapsing
youthful nights churning on digital promise
sealed haircut pretense looking for the quick thrill,
that ample insight, this sudden urge.

Live not a judgement call, but a hard fast slider
licking the dusty ranges of home plate,
we, swinging for the fences
(those few of us who had both
earned the right
and still revered the mighty
and ubiquitous American sports metaphor
generally missing among the tragically hip).

Damn that! Yes Almighty, we the poseurs.
cheering art world outliers. Punk of the year,
bored, drunk, fagged, foul, frank and disorderly,
many of us by nature, others by chance, a few
by intelligent design. We had copped
to the idea that we were nothing
but youth wasting on the bones
of youth. Many would perish
like cunning sundown poets
hurling soup kitchen lines
past the eager and the vaguely forewarned.

Nothing is more rooted in uncertainty
than the brash certainty of youth. Torn oscillating spirit
between nature and nurture, the driven scorn
and the sluggard worn, we dare now, after all
these scantily clad years to remember, not
that we ever forgot, but that we were born,
as generations are born, to stride onward
synthetic, owning the lucid task,
framing imperfect the flaccid context,
alienation the fallen piazza.

Flower power and victimology 101,
the vain hope, the crude struggles for distinction
generating enough peer memory to matter
somewhere somehow something like that
because precisely one proud
and princely thing was certain (recalling our
prior words just now) back then, and that was
we knew we had our bright eyes sullen
and our frank fists founded
on some fair future with all its revelations
ripened to emerge.
And in these trenches
where junior jackboots coughing
and lacy fetish brassieres bumping begged to differ,
on our tongues the frequent riddle
of turnabout is fair play, we also spoke
to a society still girded and burdened in spades.
The poem, the street sheet, an army of one
to come. First bounce in black magic
marker calligraphy on pink
bathroom wall
in Corpus Christi, Tay Hass, we
again whistled a sudden work of literature
within days of that fog-inspired scrawling.

A broken beast, velocity learned,
alternate receiver comes limping but dangerous
into our ancillary cage snapping all records
for glory and shame. Such was and is still
my quantum luck with immutable timing.

[ 2010, Washington DC ]


25 Jul

There's an old word for poetry
and that word is prophecy,
love never the tyrant.

Counting headaches by twos,
poet understands his mouth,
only asset worth squandering.

Too many artists, not enough jobs
give suicide better odds than square one,
but yet, let's not explode myths here.

Not so much the free language filter
velocity of one's looking that counts,
especially among colored eggs and neon.

Addicted to reading overvalued famous,
those not, simply expire within complex
requisitioning, another agile bloom.

Magical or not, each capitulation among rags
ruins the poet, for antennae he really seeks
building concepts, pedestal to win favor.

To incite a pronoun to riot
is federal offense in some tongues,
applauding slaughter of words for clout.

Buttering bread on both sides of the ocean
is better than sinking both feet into wet rock,
where amphibious canons play hard to get.

Plump poets are knockouts when unsoured
but foul rainclouds of envy work overtime
serving up dual faces a beautiful stage.

Tragic skirts written for obligatory nude
contagious like electrons packed with syrup
into idiotsheet of wiretapped writers.

Sing sing the warm fluids of spring,
but remember trap and claws of stilled
phantoms buried in wide eyes of fate.

[ 2007, Washington DC ]

A Slice Of Nostalgia (Before The Crash)

17 Mar


Chip On My Shoulder


Originally published on March 17, 2000

You know Steve, I've actually given some thought to this idea several times these past few weeks, mostly on Sundays as I eagerly scan the sports pages for baseball bits, but I'll probably pass, what with my persistent feeling of work overload, our new house hunt and sales fever, and such. But thanks for asking. Would love to bring those Poets back, but I think the best I can do is wish you good luck with the Rhubarbs.

Speaking of gallery openings. Just read an article yesterday about DC's NOMA (north of Massachusetts Ave.) being the center of a new commercial push up the New York Ave. corridor, complete with four new circles, office buildings, upscale housing, shops, et cetera, the mayor is touting. Of course, the urban renewal project will more than likely oust the artists who rent loft space in old buildings amidst mechanic shops and other grease monkey estabs, and one was quoted saying that they would like to organize in collectively buying a place east of there, as in NE, so that they won't fall victim next time to this sort of urban swell.

And so it goes, the Stadium-Armory infestation continues to remain the invisible fringe west of the Anacostia, although the mayor is still talking like DC will hustle in a team which will play at RFK until a downtown stadium can be built across from the White House...

We drove by a few places yesterday from a short list of available units in DC provided us by our agent, and will actually visit inside a couple of them if they are still available after this past weekend. It's amazing that DC is suffering a housing shortage. Last Friday afternoon we had our first walkthrough here in the Dollhouse, but the tall professional anglo from the Smithsonian was decidedly not interested, yet our agent remains highly optimistic of a quick sale. Our first scheduled Open House for next Sunday has been postponed at least a week at my request, so I can get the courtyard up to snuff once this last (hopefully) cold whiff passes. Sigh...

Meanwhile, go hip young man, nothing lasts forever. . .


The Ypsilanti Rag

15 Mar


Bob Black


The sad fact that nearly everyone in this pool of bottom-feeding sharks is out to make a mark of somebody else, a trophy guaranteed to grab him some still bleeding slice of what we now derisively call blood fame continues to baffle us all who are in the business of pulling back the curtain to not only see what is real, but to name the enemy among us, so as to bring him safely ashore, not to erect our own personal monument to bitterness, acrimony and vile passions. Money and prestige seem to diminish next to this new sport where the very act of attacking others is much more satisfying that any money or prestige that comes of such an attack. I realize that among these types "artistic description" and "ad hominem attack" will be confused and the entire topic ridiculed by the same sharks who indulge in the latter as if earning himself another blaze of bars to flag his identity crisis. Incapable of any artistry, this sort of writer does what he does best, criticizes or ridicules others without resort to facts or context—merely to boost his own distorted sense of honor, humor, and hubris. This is not Oedipus. There is no killing the father here, no whispering about the emperor's nakedness, just self-deluding vulgarity delivered cold.

…curiouser and curiouser. Stewart Home and Bob Black have, if I recall correctly, a big fight going over some comments of Home’s to the effect that Debord’s intro. to a Polish (?) edn. of SoS smacked of fascism, backed up (rather dubiously) by the ‘fact’ that Debord was cited as a hero by a Russian right-winger… All this was reported a year or so ago on the Jefferson Village avant-garde list.

That’s Bill Brown (NOT BORED!), not Bob Black. And here’s the text of Stewart Home’s “Open Letter” reply…which will soon be posted at the SI Archives. —Spud

Thanks Spud for the Bill Brown clarification. But there is indeed a Bob Black, who's most recent claim to infamy was ratting out Jim Hogshire after the latter alledgedly pulled a shotgun on Black after a heated argument in Hogshire's Seattle apartment. Hogshire had outstanding drug-manufacturing warrants on him, so he landed in jail, if only temporarily, while he did lose his relationship with his publisher in the deal. Of course the events have been rabidly discussed on the radical gossip circuit for months, all with the typical frolic through clarification and reclarification of facts, rebuttals and retractions, monkeyshines and namecalling. My source was again Bracken via a copy of an ugly little newsprint rag out of Ypsilanti called POPULAR REALITY. True to the cliquish nature of hero worship and friends on the give and take, and despite a line in one of Bracken's situ novels which reads, "We hear of poets snitching to the cops and calling themselves prophets..." Len still talks in high admiration of this Black fellow, whom I have never met, while Hogshire is aired with relative indifference, whom I also have never met, and is only a name in a story I once read in an ugly rag.

>>what have we learned these past few days? me, i have basically decided that
>>situationism can not be revived.

Well, Tim, I learned a few details about certains books that may interest me simply because I am a bleeding bibliophiliac with a penchant for useless and pointless knowledge. I too have had confirmed what I've known all along and that is "revolution, who needs it?" is about as close to a cult slogan as I would ever want to shout in a crowded street, or out a moving vehicle (another Bracken antic) and because of all the spare change I can pocket on the issue of revolution for its own sake I still agree with Sam's signature quote. To paraphrase: a good mind is a terrible thing to waste in a crowd, and I might add, especially a crowd of hardliners who betray the very peace, love, and understanding they would rant at strangers and loved ones alike, by their actions. I'm living proof of that. Despite my best intentions I become a complete asshole in a crowd...

Look at it this way: revolution is not a plan, it's a spontaneous combustion.



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