Louis Zukofsky Biography


Louis Zukofsky was the son of Russian-Jewish immigrants and was reared on the lower East Side of New York City. His father, a religious and deeply sensitive man, was a presser in a clothing factory; his mother was a gaunt, quiet, introspective woman. Zukofsky’s first introduction to literature was through the Yiddish poems and stories read in his home, together with the plays produced at the renowned Thalia theater. In particular, he was attracted to the work of Solomon Bloomgarten, who wrote under the pen name Yehoash (an acronym of the initials of his Hebrew name) and earned much admiration for both his own poetry and for his Yiddish translations of major English and American poems. Zukofsky first read untranslated English literature in the public schools of New York. He began to write poetry in high school, then at Columbia University, where he was encouraged to continue by his professor, Mark Van Doren. Zukofsky received an M.A. degree from Columbia in 1924.

Zukofsky’s first submission to Poetry was a translation of Yehoash, which was not published. His own work (“Of Dying Beauty”) first appeared in the journal in January, 1924, and he published Poem Beginning “The” in Exile, a journal edited by Ezra Pound, who saw in the young poet a literary heir. Pound dedicated his own Guide to Kulchur (1938) to Zukofsky (along with the English poet Basil Bunting), promoted his work in Exile, and persuaded...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Although Louis Zukofsky (zew-KAHF-skee) has been called the consummate poet’s poet and even one of the greatest American poets born in the twentieth century, his challenging and innovative poetry has received little attention from either the popular or the academic world. Zukofsky pioneered the Objectivist movement in the 1930’s, wrote an inventive poetry that emphasized the music of verse, and contributed various innovations to the epic tradition in his lengthy poem “A,” which represents a lifelong endeavor.

The son of immigrant Russian Jews who spoke only Yiddish, Zukofsky was born in the lower East Side of New York City. He learned English and succeeded in school, and at the age of fifteen he enrolled in Columbia University, earning an M.A. in English by the time he was twenty. While at Columbia, Zukofsky began to write poetry and to read such poets as T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and H. D.

In 1926 Zukofsky wrote his first significant work, Poem Beginning “The,” a text clearly influenced by T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922). He sent the poem to Ezra Pound, who published it in his 1928 spring issue of Exile. As he did for a number of talented writers, Pound acted as a mentor to the young poet. It was on his urging that Zukofsky met the American poet William Carlos Williams in 1928, the beginning of a lifelong friendship in which each commented upon and supported the other’s work.

In 1928 Zukofsky also began writing his long poem “A,” a work that was a lifelong undertaking and eventually consisted of twenty-four movements drawing from art, economics, and Zukofsky’s personal life. Zukofsky has stated that part of his purpose in writing his epic included the desire to incorporate “historic and contemporary particulars” in his poem and to...

(The entire section is 753 words.)