February 13, 2007



objects – music – shapes

The poet, Louis Zukofsky, was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1904. He came from Lithuanian-Jewish origins and later he went on to study at Columbia University, NY, completing his MA in 1924. He taught at the University of Wisconsin during 1930s Objectivist movement. Throughout his life he was a teacher, writer and editor.

The Objectivist movement had a number of aims which included:
• To write poems in which the form also made the same case as the content.
• To reinvigorate the word which had been degraded by a culture that lacked awareness of how words were arranged.
• To experiment with form and syntax, language on the page and visual poetry.
Poets who had some connection to the Objectivist movement include: Ezra Pound, Charles Reznikoff, George Oppen, William Carlos Williams, Carl Rakosi, Kenneth Rexroth, Basil Bunting and E.E. Cummings.

The text is the range of pleasure it affords as sight, sound and intellection. —Louis Zukofsky

Interestingly, one focus of Zukofsky’s poetry was its musicality. See the following extract from Peter Jones’ essay which can be read in full at: http://www.poetrymagazines.org.uk/magazine/record.asp?id=6388

The poem becomes a score. As he [Zukofsky] abandons metaphor, symbol and connotation in language, meaning takes a subordinate place. The clearest example of this approach is in his Catullus, prepared in collaboration with his wife (1969). His ‘translations’ of Catullus are into a language that attempts in his words to ‘breathe the “literal” meaning with him’. – Peter Jones

From Catullus’ poem CXII:
Multus homo es, Naso, neque tecum multus homost qui
descendit: Naso, multus es et pathicus.

Swanson’s translation:
You’re a made man, Naso, nor is he who lays you made:
you’re a made man, Naso, and a — maid.

Zukofsky’s version:
Mool ‘tis homos’ ‘Naso, ‘n’ queer take ‘im mool ‘tis ho most he
descended: Naso, mool’tis — is it pathic, cuss.

Which is nearer the Latin? But that begs the question: what is Latin? What do we mean by ‘being nearer’? The larger question Zukofsky has spent a lifetime probing is, What is language? – Peter Jones

So it seems that Zukofsky is more interested in the music than the literal meaning of the poem, although his translation of Catullus does convey something of the original message, doesn’t it? Michael Schmidt writes of this tendency in The Lives of the Poets describing Zukofsky’s ‘music’ as ‘the poem as score rather than realisation of score’.

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