Louis Zukofsky

Lydia Davis

The poet's novel

In “Composition as Explanation” Gertrude Stein writes: “The only thing that is different from one time to another is what is seen and what is seen depends upon how everybody is doing everything.” [1].

Lydia Davis is a writer who is a great influence and inspiration to “everyone,” when everyone includes readers of experimental fiction as well as a myriad of poets “doing everything.”

La poésie au format Zuk

Interview: Claude Royet-Journoud by Jacqueline Pluet, trans. Abigail Lang

from Zuk No. 18, March 1989
from Zuk No. 18, March 1989

This interivew accompanies the Reissues launch of the complete run of Zuk, 1987-89 (edited by Claude Royet-Journoud).

Below is a substantial extract of “La poésie au format Zuk,” an interview of Royet-Journoud by Jacqueline Pluet on the subject of Zuk, published in issue 5 of La revue des revues in the spring of 1988. The interview can be found in full in Eric Pesty's Claude Royet-Journoud. Une Bibliographie Tome 1, 1962-2003. For more information on that publication, see here.

The Jacket2 edition of this interview is excerpted and translated by Abigail Lang.

Zukofsky performs Stevens

On April 29, 1971, Louis Zukofsky gave a lecture on Wallace Stevens, and a reading of Stevens’s and his own poems in honor of Stevens, at the University of Connecticut. This recording has long been available through the Zukofsky PennSound page, and we are, as ever, grateful to Paul Zukofsky for giving us permission to use them for non-commercial, educational purposes (and, as stipulated by Paul, they cannot be used for any other reason). Recently Anna Zalokostas went carefully through the one-and-a-half hour presentation, listening for which poems by Stevens Zukofsky read on that occasion. I was delighted to hear that among these is a beautiful reading of “The Planet on a Table,” a Stevens poem of meta-poetic retrospection. Here are the five poems performed:

  1. reads Wallace Stevens’s “From the Misery of Don Joost” (1:42): MP3
  2. reads Stevens’s “Extraordinary References” (1:22): MP3
  3. reads Stevens’s “The Planet on the Table” (1:11): MP3
  4. reads Stevens’s “Puella Parvula” (1:40): MP3
  5. reads Stevens’s “Song of Fixed Accord” (1:03): MP3

Remembering the objectivists

Norman Finkelstein (left) and Harvey Shapiro

In the fall of 2005, Harvey Shapiro and Norman Finkelstein came together — to read their poems in tandem, and to talk about the objectivists, which, in Harvey's case, entailed remembering them through years of personal as well as aesthetic interaction. Bob Perelman moderated the discussion, and here are audio recordings of a few highlights:

on the Jewishness of the objectivists
on reading Zukofsky
on Lorine Niedecker.

And there's more. Consult PennSound's Shapiro-Finkelstein page.

Transcript of Zukofsky PoemTalk

PoemTalk episode 22 was a discussion of the twelfth poem in Louis Zukofsky's Anew series. Recently Michael Nardone made a first-pass transcript of the discussion and here is a piece of that (a draft). We pick up just after we've heard a recording (dated 1960) of Zukofsky reading our poem. And then:

FILREIS:
Peter Quartermain, who has written a close reading of this poem, says about the beginning that is sounds almost like doggerel. And he was on his way to praise the rhythms, very striking rhythms. Anybody want to say something about how the poem sounds, of course, now that we’ve heard Zukofsky reading it. What does it sound like at the beginning there?

PERELMAN:
Well, I remember the first time I read this poem, and being delightfully bollixed by the first line, thinking, now wait a minute, what did I just read? And it was because of the punning, and yet it’s about seeing and thinking, but clearly sound is in play as well, and the interplay between all the senses and the trans-sensual waves that he is talking about are all there in a nutshell in that opening line.

Bengali poetry/electro-magnetics guy

The Cincinnati-based engineer Aryanil Mukherjee has built a web site featuring translations of Bengali poetry. Aryanil listened to the recent PoemTalk episode on Zukofsky and responded as someone knowledgeable about electro-magnetics. Word from PennSound's Managing Editor Mike Hennessey is that we will soon have a Aryanil Mukherjee author page (readings of translations). So stay tuned.

poetic electricity

Writing in response to PoemTalk #22 on Zukofsky,the Cincinnati-based engineer Aryanil Mukherjee, whose site featuring translations of Bengali poetry we admire, sent us some helpful observations:

I thought I would share this with you if it makes any sense or sheds any new light with which certain aspects of the poem might be reviewed. The opening line [Its hard to see but think of a sea condensed..] made me think of exactly how an electrical condenser [ also known as a capacitor] works. Although, in the next line Zukofsky moves on to the transmission of light and waves, refers to electric stress, finally conditioning it with "unless the space the stresses cross is air". I thought that the construction and functioning of an electric condenser remains central to these lines.

Condensers build voltage and store energy [electric stress] with no real "material" actually conducting electricity. Their construction shows an air gap between the two walls across which the voltage or voltaic stress is preserved. In physics, when we compare electric circuits to elastodynamic spring-mass systems the condenser is equal to a damper which plays a similar role of dampening/amplifying a force [by reducing acceleration].

George Gamow, the Russian born American nuclear physicist, wrote a great deal of popular science. In one of these books [can't remember the title] he describes wave propagation comparing the sea to an electric circuit [and a mechanical spring-mass system] with several layers of capacitors or condencers in parallel. I thought Zukofsky's description of the sea came very close to Gamow's model especially where he talks about "many condensers large and small"...etc.

That a great deal of electric stress [and light] can be stored in between the surface waves and the seabed in layers and all of that can be actually "transmitted" without a real "felt" medium in between is perhaps not just scientific truth but also poetic electricity.

Just begun to learn (PoemTalk #22)

Louis Zukosky, "Anew" 12

LISTEN TO THE SHOW

One of the signal steps forward in the PennSound project--the gathering of recordings of modern and contemporary poets reading their own poems--was the release of the recordings of Louis Zukofsky, thanks to the generosity and cooperation of Paul Zukofsky. The recordings on PennSound's Zukofsky author page are being made available for non-commerical and educational use only (in line with PennSound's mission), and any other use can only be done by permission of Paul. (If you need to contact him, just write us and we'll put you in touch: poemtalk [AT] writing [DOT] upenn [DOT] edu.)

The Zukofsky recordings are remarkable! One of them was made in 1960 by Zukofsky at home, on a reel-to-reel tape machine. It was meant for the Library of Congress. It includes readings of some sections of the long poem Anew. PoemTalk 22 is a discussion of the gorgeous twelfth poem in the Anew series, which is untitled and gets mentioned by its first line, "It's hard to see but think of a sea." One gets a sense of its worked-at density from this first-line sentence alone.

The Anew poems were written between 1935 and 1944 and published in March 1946 at James Decker’s press in the small-format “Pocket Poetry” series. Marcella Booth has dated the writing of our poem precisely: January 16-17, 1944, a week before the poet’s 40th birthday. Several critics have contended that Anew was Zukofsky's attempt at a fresh start. William Carlos Williams, a great supporter of Z and an admirer of these poems, called the writing in this work "adult poetry." Perhaps he meant that Zukofsky was growing up, taking on seasoned topics. Certainly, at least, the end of our poem is quite personal, words coming from the poet's contemplation of his 40th birthday, of mortality's challenge to and provocation of open-ness. As Bob Perelman puts it (asked to compare this poem to others), "The poem is almost conversational. 'Gee, I'm 40. I'm thinking about my entire life.'" Much of our conversation--with PoemTalkers Perelman, Wystan Curnow (visiting us from New Zealand), and Charles Bernstein--is devoted to integrating the first part (full of the language of science) with the second (the personal retrospective).

Wystan, facing a vocabulary of science he didn't understand, wanted to look up the term "condenser" (what, after all, is a condenser really?), but then worried about his impulse to look it up. Is that a productive way of coming to understand Zukofsky's use in verse of electro-magnetism and wireless sound? "Condensed," after all, is an ordinary word--and a term of modernist poetry. (Bob points out Lorine Niedecker's contemporaneous use of condenser to refer to poetry itself, the act of writing in the modern way, in a famous poem that technically imagines the site of the poet-maker as a "condensery": "no layoff / from this / condensery.") "The poem," Charles says in praising its use of the referential language of science, "is not incomprehensible in that it will restore you to the knowledge you already had of what the word means."

Just begun to learn (PoemTalk #22)

Louis Zukofsky, 'Anew' 12

LISTEN TO THE SHOW

One of the signal steps forward in the PennSound project — the gathering of recordings of modern and contemporary poets reading their own poems — was the release of the recordings of Louis Zukofsky, thanks to the generosity and cooperation of Paul Zukofsky. The recordings on PennSound’s Zukofsky author page are being made available for non-commerical and educational use only (in line with PennSound’s mission), and any other use can only be done by permission of Paul. (If you need to contact him, just write us and we’ll put you in touch: poemtalk [AT] writing [DOT] upenn [DOT] edu.)

The Zukofsky recordings are remarkable! One of them was made in 1960 by Zukofsky at home, on a reel-to-reel tape machine. It was meant for the Library of Congress. It includes readings of some sections of the long poem Anew. PoemTalk 22 is a discussion of the gorgeous twelfth poem in the Anew series, which is untitled and gets mentioned by its first line, “It’s hard to see but think of a sea.” One gets a sense of its worked-at density from this first-line sentence alone.

The Anew poems were written between 1935 and 1944 and published in March 1946 at James Decker’s press in the small-format “Pocket Poetry” series. Marcella Booth has dated the writing of our poem precisely: January 16-17, 1944, a week before the poet’s 40th birthday. Several critics have contended that Anew was Zukofsky’s attempt at a fresh start. William Carlos Williams, a great supporter of Z and an admirer of these poems, called the writing in this work “adult poetry.” Perhaps he meant that Zukofsky was growing up, taking on seasoned topics. Certainly, at least, the end of our poem is quite personal, words coming from the poet’s contemplation of his 40th birthday, of mortality’s challenge to and provocation of open-ness. As Bob Perelman puts it (asked to compare this poem to others), “The poem is almost conversational. ‘Gee, I’m 40. I’m thinking about my entire life.’” Much of our conversation — with PoemTalkers Perelman, Wystan Curnow (visiting us from New Zealand), and Charles Bernstein — is devoted to integrating the first part (full of the language of science) with the second (the personal retrospective).

Wystan, facing a vocabulary of science he didn’t understand, wanted to look up the term “condenser” (what, after all, is a condenser really?), but then worried about his impulse to look it up. Is that a productive way of coming to understand Zukofsky’s use in verse of electro-magnetism and wireless sound? “Condensed,” after all, is an ordinary word — and a term of modernist poetry. (Bob points out Lorine Niedecker’s contemporaneous use ofcondenser to refer to poetry itself, the act of writing in the modern way, in a famous poem that technically imagines the site of the poet-maker as a “condensery”: “no layoff / from this / condensery.”) “The poem,” Charles says in praising its use of the referential language of science, “is not incomprehensible in that it will restore you to the knowledge you already had of what the word means.”

Blockbuster Zukofsky

Today PennSound proudly unveils the new Louis Zukofsky page, edited by Danny Snelson and done with the permission of Paul Zukofsky.

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