2 minute read

Louis Zukofsky Biography

(1904–78), Poetry, An ‘Objectivists’ Anthology, All: The Collected Shorter Poems, ‘A’, A Test of Poetry

American poet and critic, born in Brooklyn; he taught at the Polytechnic in Brooklyn for most of his working life. His editorship of the February 1931 issue of Poetry magazine, and the publication of the influential An ‘Objectivists’ Anthology (1932), marked the advent of Objectivist poetry, a major new development in American poetry. He was a friend of many avant-garde writers in the 1930s, amongst them William Carlos Williams, whose poetic collections Zukofsky helped to edit and publish. Consistently denying that he was part of any ‘school’ of poetry, Zukofsky went on to write a large number of sparse and carefully wrought lyric poems which were collected in All: The Collected Shorter Poems (1965). His major work was the long poem ‘A’, begun in 1927 and published in separate volumes before it appeared in a complete version in 1978. A vast amalgam of poetic techniques, philosophical enquiries, and personal experiences, Zukofsky called ‘A’ the ‘poem of a life’. It maps the interrelated changes in the public sphere of America and the developments of his own private life over the fifty years of its production, weaving this material into a dense fabric. He wrote several expositions of poetic theory which are gathered together in A Test of Poetry (1948), Bottom: On Shakespeare (1963), and the expanded edition of Prepositions (1981). Zukofsky and his wife Celia produced a transliteration of the poems of Catullus (1969), which sought to imitate the sound of the Latin in English. Amongst his other works are a comic novel entitled Little (1970); an Autobiography (1970) of verse set to music; and a play, Arise, Arise (1973). He also published a series of highly intricate sonnets on the flowers of America entitled 80 Flowers (1978). Zukofsky's poetry is marked by an attraction to language and its sounds, a high degree of punctiliousness in his research, and a playfulness in his use of puns and linguistic games. His importance for the development of American poetry has been obscured by his almost complete neglect from the 1930s to the late 1970s, but his close (if profoundly critical) relationship with Pound, and his influence with such poets as George Oppen, Charles Reznikoff, and Lorine Niedecker, place him among the major poets of the twentieth century. Several writers in the USA such as Allen Ginsberg, Robert Creeley, and the contemporary ‘Language’ poets have all recognized him as a major precursor and influence on their own writing. See also Black Mountain Writers.

Additional topics

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Woking Surrey to Æ