After reading 12-1/2 chapters of “A” by Louis Zukofsky, I’m convinced Zukofsky must have been a lunatic. Only such a person could have spent an entire life on a work such as “A”.
I’m sure “A” has some literary value, but in large part it is a mad rambling. Zukofsky has the ability to make me think, in one moment, that he is a genius, and in the next, a self-consumed cogitator. These may be qualities that endear me to him.
Chapter 12 drones on for 135 pages. Zukofsky’s poetics is difficult to comprehend, though on a fundamental level it is quite simple. He is able to take a visual and incorporate it into the text, adding an element to the art of poetry that so few other poets ever aspire to let alone succeed at. Then he’ll go on and on page after page in a prosaic style over the most mundane details. Parts of it read like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance for eggheads. Other parts are like reading Gertrude Stein through a kaleidoscope. It would be fair to say that “A” can be described as a multi-textual composition – never stagnant, always moving, but not always engaging.
In my mind, Objectivist poetics, in which Zukofsky was a key and central player, is evidence of the downside of Ezra Pound’s influence. It could be the beginning of the disintegration of poetry as poetry. Though, truthfully, I think that disintegration began with the Imagists.
But the road forks and Pound’s positive influence can be traced through other channels (T.S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams and Marianne Moore).
When Zukofsky is good I find him to be real good, but when he slips off into intellectual perdition, which is often, he just blathers like a bad Language poet. No small wonder, the latter consider him a hero.
Nevertheless, I do find Zukofsky to have some admirable qualities. No. 1, his attention to the small words is commendable. So few poets today really understand the value of the small words (a, the, etc.). Just take them out of your text and see if you notice.
Another thing I admire about Zukofsky is his emphasis on form. While his prosaic style has a tendency to grate on my nerves, I am still always conscious that he is writing in form. His poetic structure is important and can’t go unnoticed. Varied, but important.
I think it is these two qualities that have given Zukofsky the moniker of “the poet’s poet’s poet”. He may be a bore on the page, but poets would do good to study him for an enhancement of their own sensibilities to language and form, the nuts and bolts of all poetic expression.
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