Zukofsky’s Music

Louis Zukofsky (1904-1978)

Celia Zukofsky

AG: I took part in a.. Louis Zukofsky was an Objectivist Imagist friend, poet, of (Ezra) Pound, (William Carlos) Williams (Pound and Williams), a great man from the (19)20s to the (19)70s, and, after he died, there was a memorial to him at the PEN Club in New York. So Robert Creeley and I and..Celia (Thaew), his wife, took part in a little symposium, and during this symposium, she explained the relation between his music and poetry.

Many… One book of his, called Autobiography, had been published, which had all of his early lyrics (or a sequence of crucial lyrics of his lifetime) set to music by his wife, so, put into music-staves and notated. A nd, at the end of h is publishing career, there was one giant volume of his of Pericles, a play, Shakespeare’s Pericles, set to music syllable-by-syllable by his wife, and, certain poems he’d asked her to set to music (She was a musician – and their son, Paul Zukofsky is a famous (nowadays) [1980] famous young classical avant-garde violinist – genius – you know, boy-genius).

Well, she explained that actually Zukofsky was tone-deaf ! He couldn’t carry a tune hardly, but, he liked to hear music and he did speak sensibly, sensitively, with pitch, when he read his lyrics aloud to her. So he would read a little lyric to her aloud and she would note, first, the cadence, which, as a musician, she could translate into 4/4 time or 3/4 time, or whatever time she felt it was – it was some specific cadence that she could find the musical equivalent for, or the notational equivalent for – but she listened especially to his tones, (whether his voice rose or fell, syllable by syllable, whether the pitch of the vowel went up or down, up or down). So, from that, she derived her notion of the melody. So that’s the practice I had been using with setting (William) Blake’s songs, and I was amazed to find that’s precisely the practice she used.

I don’t know what the ancient practice is but I suspect it must have something to do with that.

So a number of us here are involved with, involved in music – guitar or lyrics.. And so I was talking with Jim Cohn [sic] about it before, and, apparently, this general idea, the practice of this, the practicality of this, was a clear idea but a novelty to him, (he hadn’t heard it (really) spoken of before) – [Allen to Jim Cohn] – Is that so? – You see, that’s why I’m trying to clarify it here, or repeat it again, in class. [again, to Jim Cohn] – Is there anything I’ve left out that we were talking about? basically?

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately sixteen-and-a-half minutes in and concluding at approximately nineteen-and-a-half minutes in]

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