Spontaneous Poetics – (Zukofsky)

Louis Zukofsky (1904-1978)

Student: Allen, what about (Louis) Zukofsky‘s metrics? In A? What was that? Was that quantative measure?

AG: Well, he was aware of that, sure. I (frankly) don’t know enough about him to reach him well (but) I’ll bring some in and we can sound some aloud..

Student: Allen?

AG: ..later on.

Student: I’ve been studying that book and working with that music, if that’s any help.

AG: Ah, but I got the book in New York, I think.

Student: No, I gave it to you and you said you’d bring it up here

AG: I did?

Student: You did.

AG: Yeah, (so) I’ll have to have it mailed (to Boulder, Colorado). We’ll get it in (about) a week. I don’t know enough about Zukofsky actually – because he’s really difficult, or, I find him difficult. I love a lot of what he does. Do you know much about his work?

Student: Well, I mean, I just came to him through (Basil) Bunting

AG: Pardon me?

Student: Bunting talks about Zukofsky

AG: Yeah .. [Allen –  to another student] Do you know Zukofsky’s work at all?

Student: Umm

AG: I mean how…

Student: I read through A

AG: You have, okay.

Student: And the Collected Short Poems and…

AG: I’ve done about that, but I haven’t been able to analyze it. (Robert) Creeley will be here at the end of the summer and Creeley knows his work best. I’ll see.

Student: I got the impression that Bunting respected Zukofsky for music.

AG: Oh sure! We better explain… Louis Zukofsky was a friend of (Ezra) Pound and…

Student:  Pound had bad hearing..

AG: Not so! Williams said Pound had “a mystical ear”, it was so good.

Louis Zukofsky was a member of a group of friend-poets – Bunting (whom I mentioned the other day), Pound and Louis Zukofsky (living in New York, whose wife was a musician, and whose son is Paul Zukofsky, the avant-garde fiddler, who’s around now (1976), and who might wind up at Naropa sooner or later). Pound and Zukofsky and Bunting were three major 20th Century poets who built their poems on some sense of quantity or vowel-length measurement. Zukofsky’s wife, Celia, was a trained musician and so they worked together setting songs. I don’t know enough about the structure of A, his long work. He has a long poem called A which is as long as Pound’s “Cantos”, practically, I guess, built on “St Matthew’s Passion”, modeled (on it) to some extent. There are sections of it which are pure sound. Zukofsky’s main conception is that speech should approach pure sound, that poetic speech is best heard on a primary level as just sound, without meaning, without association, without intellect, without pictures, without story, without content. Pure sound, like abstract painting, almost.

Student: Allen? One gets the sense that (he)…

AG: Yeah

Student: .. like totally, you know..bursts the scene, energy-wise, because of the concentration of sound, and..

AG: Yeah, well, one thing he did was translated the Hebrew psalms, and he also translated,[along with Celia], I think, all of Catullus into their English equivalent sounds without regard to the sense.

Student: Yeah,right.

AG: Just experimenting and seeing if he could find the words in English that sounded like the Hebrew psalms just so that English readers, if they read the English words, would get the “Aaach” sounds of the Hebrew.

Student: In your reading in Catullus, Zukofsky would end up with something like “Molest me Hercules”, because..

AG: Yes. Right. Yes. “Malest Cornificus” – “Ill” is.. “Cornificus” – “tuo Catullo/ malest, me hercule” –   That is, “sick by Hercules” – So it’s “Molest Me Hercules”, I think.  Is that his translation?  – “Molest me Hercules”? – Yeah. “Molest me, Cornificus”. “Molest me, Cornificus” – I guess.

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