Under pressure from Monroe to declare himself part of a new “movement” in poetry, Louis Zukofsky coined the term “Objectivist.” Later, he admitted that the term was unfortunate; at the very least, it has been confusing to readers and critics who interpret objectivity as an indication that reality will be rendered undistorted by the poet’s personality. Zukofsky did aim at such objective honesty or “care for the detail,” as he put it, but he emphasized that being an Objectivist meant that the poet created a poem as an object, in much the same way that a builder constructs a house or a carpenter, a cabinet. These two aims—an objective rendering of reality and the creation of the poem as object—give Zukofsky’s poetry its distinction.
The prevailing metaphor throughout Zukofsky’s work is the correspondence between the ego and the sense of sight: “I” equals “eye” in his poetry and the terms are often playfully interchanged, as in the poems “I’s (pronounced eyes)” or “After I’s.” Similarly, “see” becomes “sea” or even the letter c and “sight” is transformed into “cite.” Like Benedictus de Spinoza (who figures in his works along with Ludwig Wittgenstein and Aristotle), Zukofsky was a lens-grinder; but Zukofsky’s lenses were organic and his method of sharpening them was an ever closer examination of objects. Just as the objective lens of a microscope is the one in closest proximity to...
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