Study Guide

Louis Zukofsky

Louis Zukofsky Analysis

Other literary forms (Poets and Poetry in America)

Louis Zukofsky (zew-KAHF-skee) was as much respected for his criticism as he was for his poetry. His volumes of criticism include Le Style Apollinaire (1934, with René Taupin), A Test of Poetry (1948), Prepositions: The Collected Critical Essays of Louis Zukofsky (1968, 1981), and Bottom: On Shakespeare (1963). In 1932, he edited An “Objectivists” Anthology. A play, Arise, Arise, was published in 1962; a novel, Ferdinand, Including “It Was” in 1968.

Louis Zukofsky Achievements (Poets and Poetry in America)

Louis Zukofsky was, in many ways, a poet’s poet, who won the admiration of such contemporaries as Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams for his innovative use of language, for his stretching of the boundaries of poetic form, and for his perceptive readings of their works. With George Oppen and Charles Reznikoff, he became known as an Objectivist, a term he chose to distinguish these poets from Amy Lowell’s Imagists and the French Symbolists. Objectivists were concerned with the precise use of language, honesty and sincerity in their communication with their audience, and the creation of a poem that in itself would be an object, part of the reader’s reality.

Zukofsky’s voice was that of an urban American Jew, tied to the Yiddish tradition of his immigrant parents, yet Americanized into twentieth century New York. He was conscious of living in what he called the “age of gears,” where machines and technology dominated everyday life, and he was sensitive to social problems and movements—socialism, communism, Marxism, the Depression, urban unrest. His epic“A” provides an idiosyncratic autobiography of one poet’s life from 1922 to 1976.

Throughout his life, Zukofsky taught at universities and colleges and, with reluctance, read his poetry in public. He was awarded the Lola Ridge Memorial Award of the Poetry Society of America (1949); the Longview Foundation Award (1961); the Union League Civic and Arts Poetry Prize (1964) and the Oscar Blumenthal/Charles Leviton Prize, both from Poetry magazine (1966); the National Endowment for the Arts and American Literary Anthology awards (1967 and 1968); and an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters (1976). He was nominated for a National Book Award in Poetry in 1968.

Louis Zukofsky Bibliography (Poets and Poetry in America)

Ahearn, Barry. Zukofsky’s “A”: An Introduction. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983. Zukofsky once said that a poet writes only one poem for his whole life. He began the eight-hundred-page poem“A” in 1928, when he was twenty-four years old, and did not finish it until 1974, when he was seventy. Ahearn gives the student a framework to understand Zukofsky’s magnum opus. Includes bibliographical references and indexes.

Leggott, Michele J. Reading Zukofsky’s “Eighty Flowers.” Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989. Leggott attempts to explain Zukofsky’s rare work, written the last four years of his life. Zukofsky wanted to condense the sense of his lifetime of poetry into a last book. Leggott offers a plausible interpretation for Eighty Flowers and thus explains the entire philosophy of Zukofsky’s writing.

Maerhofer, John W. Rethinking the Vanguard: Aesthetic and Political Positions in the Modernist Debate, 1917-1962. Newcastle upon Tyne, England: Cambridge Scholars, 2009. Contains a chapter on Zukofsky that sees him as moving toward a “revolutionary formalism.” Looks at his position among the modernists.

Pound, Ezra. Pound/Zukofsky: Selected Letters of Ezra Pound and Louis Zukofsky. Edited by Barry Ahearn. New York: New Directions, 1987....

(The entire section is 475 words.)