Louis Zukofsky

Louis Zukofsky

Louis Zukofsky (January 23, 1904May 12, 1978) was one of the most important second-generation American modernist poets. He was co-founder and primary theorist of the Objectivist group of poets and was to be an important influence on subsequent generations of poets in America and abroad.

Early life and writings

He was born in New York of Lithuanian Jewish parents and grew up speaking Yiddish. His parents were orthodox and Louis reacted against this religious tradition at a young age. Nevertheless, his family figured quite strongly in his later writings.

As a child, Zukofsky frequented Yiddish theatres in the Bowery where he saw many works by Shakespeare, Ibsen, Strindberg and Tolstoy performed in Yiddish translations. He also read both Longfellow's "Hiawatha" and Aeschylus's "Prometheus Bound" in that language. His first real contact with English was when he started school, but he was a quick learner and by the age of 11 had read all of Shakespeare's works in the original.

He went on to study English at Columbia. He graduated with a Master's degree in 1924. He began writing at university and joined the college literary society as well as publishing poems in student magazines. One early poem was published in "Poetry" but never reprinted.

Zukofsky considered Ezra Pound to be the most important living poet, and in 1927 he sent his poem "Poem beginning "The" to the older man. The poem, most of which is addressed to the poet's mother, was a kind of parody of T. S. Eliot's "The Waste Land". In contrast to Eliot's pessimistic view of the modern world, "The" suggests a bright future for Western culture based in Zukofsky's belief in the energy of the new immigrants to the U.S. and the socialist experiment then occurring in Russia.


In his early years, Zukofsky was a committed Marxist. While studying at Columbia, his friend Whittaker Chambers sponsored him for membership in the Communist Party, though it is unclear whether he actually joined. While he associated with Party members and published in Party-associated magazines, his poetry, which while strongly political was resolutely avant-garde and difficult, found little favor in Party circles. Though Zukofsky considered himself a Marxist at least through the end of the 1930s, the focus of his work after 1940 turned from the political to the domestic. Much later, he would claim that reading Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire finally turned him away from Marx.

Zukofsky the Objectivist

Pound was impressed by "Poem beginning "The" and promoted Zukofsky's work, putting him in contact with other like-minded poets, including William Carlos Williams. The two poets influenced each other's work significantly, and Williams regularly sent his new work to Zukofsky for editing and improvement. Zukofsky was one of the founders of the Objectivist group of poets and of To Publishers, later the Objectivist Press, along with Charles Reznikoff and George Oppen. Thanks to Pound's insistence, he was able to edit an Objectivist issue of "Poetry", in which he both coined the term and defined the two main characteristics of Objectivist poetry as sincerity and objectification. Other poets associated with this group included Williams, Basil Bunting, Lorine Niedecker, Carl Rakosi, Charles Reznikoff and Kenneth Rexroth.


Zukofsky's major work was the long poem ""A"" - Zukofsky never referred to it without the quotation marks - which he began in 1927 and was to work on for the rest of his life, albeit with an eight-year hiatus between 1940 and 1948. The poem was written in 24 sections, reflecting the hours of the day, and the figure of the poet's father is a major theme. The first 11 sections contain much that is overtly political but interweave this matter with formal concerns and models that range from medieval Italian "canzone" through sonnets to free verse and the music of Bach. Section 12, which is longer than the first 11 sections combined, introduces materials from the poet's family life, and from there on "A" interweaves the political, historical and personal in more or less equal measure. The extensive use of music in this work reflects the importance of Zukofsky's collaborations with his wife Celia, a professional musician. Their son Paul Zukofsky became a noted violinist and conductor.

horter poems, translations, and other writings

In tandem with "A", Zukofsky continued writing shorter poems throughout his life. Many of these shared the political and formal concerns of the longer poem, but they also include more personal lyrics, including a series of Valentines addressed to Celia. The first book publication of these shorter poems was "55 Poems" (1941). He continued to write and publish shorter poems and these were eventually collected in "All: The Collected Short Poems, 1923-1964" (1971).

Zukofsky also wrote critical essays, many of which were collected in " Prepositions: The Collected Critical Essays of Louis Zukofsky" (1968) and the book-length study " Bottom: On Shakespeare" (1963) which was accompanied by a second volume containing a setting by Celia of Shakespeare's play " Pericles, Prince of Tyre ". His prose fiction includes "Ferdinand" (1968) and " Little: For Careenagers" (1970). He also wrote a play " Arise, Arise" (1962/1973) and, in 1969, an extraordinary set of translations of Catullus that attempted to replicate the sound rather than the sense of the originals in English. For Zukofsky, translation provided occasions not for modest apprenticeship but rather for technical "tours de force".

This virtuosity, inventiveness, and humor are all in full dazzle with "A Foin Lass Bodders Me," his translation of Guido Cavalcanti's "Donna Me Prega," a 13th-century canzone which Pound had translated several times. Pound had muted the poem's intricate rhyme scheme, reasoning that English was rhyme-poor next to Italian, and that lines "with the natural swing of words spoken" in the latter would sound stilted and artificial in the former. Zukofsky's solution was to substitute a Brooklyn vernacular for standard English, and transform a philosophical lyric into a dramatic monologue. In this way he managed to preserve every aspect of the poem's technical intricacy, down to the leap-frogging internal rhymes; what might otherwise have seemed an excess of artifice is resolved within the boozy virtuosity of the poem's swaggering speaker. Cavalcanti's "envoi" –

"Tu puoi sicuramente gir, canzone,"
"là 've ti piace, ch'io t'ho sì adornata"
"ch'assai laudata - sarà tua ragione"
"da le persone - c'hanno intendimento:"
"di star con l'altre tu non hai talento."
– is performed as follows by Zukofsky's speaker:
You may go now assuredly, my ballad,
Where you please, you are indeed so embellished
That those who've relished you more that their salad
Days'll hold you hallowed and away from shoddy–
You can't stand making friends with everybody.

His "A Test of Poetry" (1948) was a teaching anthology with critical commentary, after the manner of Pound's "The ABC of Reading".

Late revival

Having suffered critical neglect for most of his career, Zukofsky, along with the other Objectivists, was rediscovered by the Black Mountain and Beat poets in the 1960s and 1970s. The poet and editor Cid Corman was largely responsible, publishing Zukofsky's work and critical comments on it in his magazine "Origin" and through Origin Press from the late 1950s onward. In the 1970s, Zukofsky was a major influence on many of the Language poets, particularly in their formalism. The complete "A" was at the printers when the poet died in 1978. His " Complete Short Poetry" appeared in 1991.

Currently the Zukofsky revival continues unabated. In 2000 Wesleyan University Press, honoring Zukofsky's birth in 1904, began publishing "The Wesleyan Centennial Edition of the Complete Critical Writings of Louis Zukofsky". Editions of "A" continue to be published and sell quickly; Chicago Review (Winter 2004/5) devoted an issue to Zukofsky; his correspondence with William Carlos Williams was published in 2003. In 2007, Shoemaker & Hoard published Mark Scroggins' "The Poem of a Life: A Biography of Louis Zukofsky", a full-length analysis of the poet's career derived from extensive archival research and interviews with Zukofsky's friends, acquaintances, and family members.


Poetry, prose, plays

* "The Writing of Guillaume Apollinaire/Le Style Apollinaire" (1934), with René Taupin‎, Sasha Watson, Jean Daive and Serge Gavronsky, Univ Pr of New England, ISBN 0-819-56620-9; (Hardcover ISBN 0-819-56619-5)
*"First Half of "A" 9" (privately printed, 1940)
*"55 Poems" (1941)
*"Anew" (1946)
*"Some Time: Short Poems" (1956)
*"Statements for Poetry" (1958)
*"Barely & Widely" (1958)
*"It Was" (1959)
*"A" 1-12" (1959, 2nd edition 1966 (UK), 1967 (US))
*"Louis Zukofsky: 16 Once Published" (1962)
*"Arise, Arise" (1962/1973)
*" Bottom: On Shakespeare" two volumes (Volume 2 is C. Zukofsky's musical setting of Shakespeare's Pericles) (1963)
*"I's (Pronounced Eyes)" (1963)
*"Found Objects: 1962-1926" (1964)
*"After I's" (1964)
*"Finally a Valentine: A Poem" (1965)
*"I Sent Thee Late" (1965)
*"Iyyob" (1965)
*"Little: An Unearthing" (1965)
*"All: The Collected Short Poems,1923-1958" (1965)
*"All: The Collected Short Poems, 1956-1964" (1966)
*"A" 14" (1967)
*"Fragment for Careenagers" (1967)
*"Ferdinand, Including "It Was" (1968)
*"A" 13-21" (1969)
*"Catullus Fragmenta" (with music by Paul Zukofsky) (1968)
*"Prepositions: The Collected Critical Essays of Louis Zukofsky" (1968)
*"Catullus" (1969)
*"The Gas Age" (1969)
*"Autobiography" (poems set to music by C. Zukofsky) (1970)
*"Little: For Careenagers" (1970)
*"Initial" (1970)
*"All: The Collected Short Poems, 1923-1964" (1971)
*"A" 24" (1972)
*"A" 22 & 23" (1975)
*"80 Flowers" (1978)
*"A" (1978)
*"Selected Letters of Ezra Pound and Louis Zukofsky" (edited by Barry Ahearn) (1987)
*"Collected Fiction" (1990)
*"Complete Short Poetry" (1991)
*"Selected Poems" (edited by Charles Bernstein) (2006)

Centennial Edition of the Complete Critical Writings

*"A Test of Poetry" (Foreword by Robert Creeley) Complete Critical Writings-Vol.I (Wesleyan University Press, 2000)
*"Prepositions+: The Collected Critical Essays" (Foreword by Charles Bernstein; Additional Prose edited & introduced by Mark Scroggins) Complete Critical Writings-Vol.II (Wesleyan University Press, 2001)
*"Bottom: On Shakespeare" (with Celia Thaew Zukofsky) Complete Critical Writings-Vol.III & IV (Wesleyan University Press, 2003)
*"A Useful Art: Essays and Radio Scripts on American Design" (Edited with an introduction by Kenneth Sherwood; afterword by John Taggart Complete Critical Writings-Vol.VI (Wesleyan University Press, 2003)
*"Le Style Apollinaire:The Writing of Guillaume Apollinaire"(Edited with introduction by Serge Gavronsky; foreword by Jean Daive) Complete Critical Writings-Vol.V, bilingual edition (Wesleyan University Press, 2004)

Letters and correspondence

*"Pound/Zukofsky: Selected Letters of Ezra Pound and Louis Zukofsky" (edited by Barry Ahearn) (Faber & Faber, 1987)
*"Niedecker and the Correspondence with Zukofsky 1931-1970" (edited by Jenny Penberthy) (Cambridge University Press, 1993)
*"The Correspondence of William Carlos Williams & Louis Zukofsky" (edited by Barry Ahearn) (Wesleyan University Press, 2003)

As editor

*"An 'Objectivists' Anthology" (1932)
*"Test of Poetry" (1948/1964)

Further reading

*Perelman, Bob. "The Trouble with Genius: Reading Pound, Joyce, Stein, and Zukofsky", University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1994.
* [http://www.lib.ksu.edu/depts/spec/findaids/pc1994-07.html Louis Zukofsky Papers] at the University Archives at Kansas State University.
*Scroggins, Mark. "Louis Zukofsky and the Poetry of Knowledge", University of Alabama Press, 1998.
*Scroggins, Mark (editor). "Upper Limit Music: The Writing of Louis Zukofsky", University of Alabama Press, 1997.
*Scroggins, Mark. "The Poem of a Life: A Biography of Louis Zukofsky", Shoemaker & Hoard, 2007.


* [http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/s_z/zukofsky/zukofsky.htm Zukofsky at Modern American Poetry ]
* [http://epc.buffalo.edu/authors/zukofsky/ Zukofsky at the EPC]
* [http://www.ofscollege.edu.sg/z-site/ Z-site: A Companion to the Works of Louis Zukofsky]
* [http://jacketmagazine.com/30/index.shtml "Feature: Zukofsky"] Webmag "Jacket Magazine" (#30: July 2006), devotes a prominent section to Zukofsky

External links

* [http://www.americanpoetsproject.org/volume/1931082952 American Poets Project] page referencing "Louis Zukofsky: Selected Poems" (2006) edited by Charles Bernstein

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  • Louis Zukofsky — (* 23. Januar 1904 in New York City; † 12. Mai 1978 in Port Jefferson, New York) war ein US amerikanischer Schriftsteller und Dichter litauischer Abstammung, der zu den Mitgründern der objektivistischen Lyrikbewegung (Objectivists) gehörte. Leben …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Louis Zukofsky — Louis Zukofsky, né le 23 janvier 1904 et mort le 12 mai 1978, est un poète américain d originie lithuanienne considéré comme l un des pères et théoriciens de l objectivisme. Biographie Cette section est vide, insuffisamment… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • ZUKOFSKY (L.) — ZUKOFSKY LOUIS (1904 1978) L’itinéraire de Louis Zukofsky, juif new yorkais né dans le Lower East Side de Manhattan en 1904, recoupe les tendances de la grande poésie américaine de ce XXe siècle. Héritier de Pound et de William Carlos Williams… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • ZUKOFSKY, LOUIS — (1904–1978), U.S. poet and critic. Zukofsky was born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan to poor immigrants parents, who struggled to provide for his education at Columbia University. He taught English at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute from 1947… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • ZUKOFSKY, PAUL — (1943– ), U.S. violinist, conductor, and teacher. Zukofsky was born in Brooklyn. His father was the poet and writer louis zukofsky . He began playing at the age of four. At seven he studied with Galamian, at ten he appeared with the New Haven SO …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Zukofsky — ist der Familienname folgender Personen: Louis Zukofsky (1904–1978), amerikanischer Schriftsteller Paul Zukofsky (* 1943), amerikanischer Geiger, Dirigent und Musikerzieher Siehe auch: Zuckowski Diese Seite ist eine …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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  • Zukofsky, Louis — ▪ American poet born Jan. 23, 1904, New York, N.Y., U.S. died May 12, 1978, Port Jefferson, N.Y.       American poet, the founder of Objectivist poetry (objectivism) and author of the massive poem “A.”       The son of Jewish immigrants from… …   Universalium

  • Zukofsky — /zooh kawf skee, kof /, n. Louis, 1904 78, U.S. poet. * * * …   Universalium

  • Zukofsky — /zooh kawf skee, kof /, n. Louis, 1904 78, U.S. poet …   Useful english dictionary

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