From the Archive: Louis Zukofsky
Copyright © Elsa Dorfman.
Everyone seems to know that Louis Zukofsky, at the instigation of Ezra Pound and invitation of Harriet Monroe, guest-edited the February 1931 issue of Poetry magazine now famously known as the "Objectivists" issue. That issue would become part of literary history not only for Zukofsky's contributions, and those of Basil Bunting, George Oppen, Charles Reznikoff, Kenneth Rexroth, John Wheelwright, William Carlos Williams and other literary pioneers (not to mention Whittaker Chambers, who would become better known for naming Alger Hiss as a member of the Communist Party than for his poetry), but for inadvertently creating a rubric for the second flowering of modernist poetry: Objectivism. There weren't really any Objectivists at the time, however. Despite a loosely shared interest in "the appearance of the art form as an object," the term was created because Monroe thought it would be a shrewd editorial move for Zukofsky to create the appearance of a new school of poets. Despite the inclusion of Zukofsky's essays "Program: 'Objectivists' 1931" and "Sincerity and Objectification: With Special Reference to the Work of Charles Reznikoff," it was a ruse that he regretted for the rest of his writing career.
What is perhaps less well known is Zukofsky's long relationship with the magazine, which extended from the publication of his poem, "Of Dying Beauty," in 1924 all the way through the mid-1970s. In addition to almost a dozen other poems, many parts of his extraordinary long-poem "A" appeared in Poetry's pages: the second and seventh movements, parts 9, 14, 15, 17, 18, 19, and sections of parts 21 and 22. But his other work in the magazine is not to be overlooked: a prescient 1931 review of Basil Bunting's first book, Redimiculum Matellarum; an extract from Bottom: On Shakespeare; versions of Catullus, done with his wife, Celia, which notoriously attempted to reproduce the actual sound of the Latin originals; translations of René Taupin; and an unusual prose piece in the October 1965 issue (which also featured his poems) called "Pronounced GOLGONOOZÀ?." The latter, purportedly a review of books about William Blake, is constructed as a dramatic scene featuring William and Catherine Blake in conversation with someone called The Visitor, who accepts the couple's hospitality by saying things like, "How good of this bun to bolster the exactitude of your logic it nearly escapes (you called them) forests of solitude, cold floods of abstraction."
By the 1970s, however, a relationship that lasted exactly a half-century began to wane at last. When Aram Saroyan's review of the poet's book "A"-13-21 appeared, consisting entirely of quotations from various sections of the poem, one wag wrote to Poetry editor Daryl Hine asking, "Is it too much to hope that you paid Louis Zukofsky for the 'review,' and not Aram Saroyan?" Zukofsky's last publication in Poetry, the second part of "A"-22, was in the April 1974 issue.