Study Guide

Louis Zukofsky

Louis Zukofsky Essay - Zukofsky, Louis (Vol. 1)

Zukofsky, Louis (Vol. 1)

Zukofsky, Louis 1904–

American poet, critic, and author of the novel, Little. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-10.)

It is not so much [the] grappling for what [Zukofsky] calls "objectification" that strikes the reader, as another equally typical effort to infuse his verse with his conscious selfhood…. It is [the] tension between the "straining at sense" and the utter quality of lyric honesty, frankness, exposing the "maniac," that characterizes Zukofsky's work. It is an unresolved tension and one that was shared by this poet's contemporaries, those men, Pound, Eliot, Williams, Stevens, whom Stanley Kunitz calls the "Senators." In this sense Zukofsky typifies the poetry of the twenties and thirties, though one will look far to find a more eccentrically unique poet…. For those who are familiar with Zukofsky only through the little magazines, it is possible to be unaware of his strong American presence. Not only in the conscious references to New York, but in allusions to Jefferson's Monticello or to Amerigo Vespucci this quality recurs. There are also present here, though not as obtrusively as one might suspect, poems of social protest which only briefly lapse into anger or propaganda.

George Lensing, "The Lyric Plenitude: A Time of Rediscovery," in The Southern Review, Vol. III, No. 1, Winter, 1967, pp. 197-228.

All the collected short poems, 1923–1958, by Louis Zukofsky, traces the development of a writer who has taken the examples and injunctions of Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams more seriously and devotedly than perhaps any other contemporary poet, and who has become something of a tradition all by himself. His has been an underground reputation, until recently; but his admirers and devotees have been absolute in their respect for him, from the days of An "Objectivists" Anthology published thirty-five years ago. Like Pound and Williams, he has been concerned to discover what is really viable for him in all poetry, and so viable for his own work; but he has also encouraged, if unwillingly, a kind of dogmatic eclecticism that has done some of his disciples more harm than good, and that has put an enormous burden on some of his own engaging, brief, and unpretentious pieces, which make All the book that it is. More often than not, however, Zukofsky imposes on the reader a burden of seriousness (in Auden's sense of the word) that is difficult to justify…. [His] poetry sometimes seems to have been composed to illustrate a preconceived theory; its limitations are those of the pioneer—say, Schoenberg. Impressive as his work sometimes is, one is seldom sure that one has "got" it as Zukofsky intends one to get it.

Samuel French Morse, in Contemporary Literature, Vol. 9, No. 1, 1968 (© 1968 by The Regents of the University of Wisconsin), pp. 116-17.

Zukofsky's long poem [A] cannot be criticized here but merely hailed with the respect it deserves. The constructive idea is a free, expansive form which can bring in the most remote and intellectual ideas, if they are creative ideas, and the most personal anecdotes of a lifetime: prose, documents, antipoetic detail can also be fitted in somehow….

Zukofsky's own essays will be an indispensable text for whoever does undertake the really hard thinking that will be necessary to see how imagism, a cult partly of the very short, the very depersonalized or objective poem, could result in the end in extremely long, personal and subjective poems of a quite new kind. It seems to me that even now we can only call attention to the kind, and some of its more broadly obvious characteristics. We still completely lack an accurate and detailed enough description of the aesthetics of such a poem to form a set of prescriptive rules either for writing it or judging it, or even for being more than hesitantly sure that our own judgments about whether parts of such an at once organic and ramshackle whole work or don't work are not mainly subjective.

G. S. Fraser, in Partisan Review, Summer, 1968, pp. 471-72.