Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Louis Zukofsky

The web site is in stasis while I rethink my design. But I decided I will try to make this blog more active. I intend to post brief reviews of some of my favorite and lesser known poets. I will start with a major influence, Louis Zukofsky.

I wrote my master's thesis on Louis Zukofsky's "A", or more precisely I wrote my master's thesis on "A"-21, an eccentric translation of Plautus's Rudens that incorporates a certain echolalia with the original Latin and manages to blend in a fair amount of Shakespeare as well. When I wrote my thesis very few knew of Zukofsky outside of a few poets. I came across him following a quote from Ezra Pound who dedicated his "Guide to Kulture" to him and Basil Bunting, "two voices struggling in the wilderness."

I found his book "ALL the shorter Poems" and skimmed through it. At first I wasn't impressed, but a few days later I had a dream in which I had opened the book and found beauties. The next day I opened the book again and there were indeed beauties there. Later that week I went to the local bookstore and ordered a copy of his newly printed epic called "A".

Zukofsky is often called a poet's poet, or sometimes even the poet's poet's poet. I would argue that there is no in the twentieth century--not even Ezra Pound--from whom one can learn more about the craft and structure of verse. In his poems you will find both masterful traditional verse forms and radical experimentation. I especially learned from his experiments with counting words per line rather than syllabi or feet. "A"-22 and "A"-23 are still breathtaking in their subtle audacity.

If Zukofsky's poetry was only about structure and form, it would not deserve any wider audience. But there is a deep humanity and compassion there. "A" at 800 plus pages in 24 sections, took a lifetime to complete. In the beginning the poet is brash, a progressive who explores the possibilities of social justice through communism. But, as time progresses, through world war two, Korea and Vietnam, as the world armed itself with nuclear weapons, Zukofsky increasingly countered with a nuclear deterrent of his own--the nuclear family, his wife Celia and his son Paul. In the end love may not triumph, but it does preserve what is still of value in the world.

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