Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Year of the Horse

Well, Friday marks Chinese New Year and the Year of the Horse.  I suspect this would make Louis Zukofsky smile, although I don't know.  I look forward to reading Zukofsky and reading about Zukofsky and writing about Zukofsky over the next year.  He loved horses, and I think about him when I see horses.  Last night I saw some zebras on TV, and I wondered if they would have delighted Mr. Z.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Zukofskymas Eve

Welcome.  Tomorrow marks Louis Zukofsky's 110th birthday.  Ten years ago I had my tenth graders memorize his poems for extra credit for his 100th birthday.

Last month a wonderful classical piano CD came out from Jai Jeffryes: .  It reminded me of a conversation I had with Jai thirty years ago about Zukofsky's definition of poetry as an integral from speech to music.  Jai commented that that definition put poetry in a central position in the arts.  I think Zukofsky would agree, but thinking about it recently, I don't see poetry at the center of my life the I did thirty years ago, and I don't see poetry as playing as central role in our culture as it used to.

Poetry seemed more central in 1922 the year The Waste Land appeared.  I remember in freshman English in college in 1979 my teacher called the 1920's "The Waste Land Decade."  William Carlos Williams said The Waste Land set American poetry back twenty years.  The poem had a decided impact on a culture without computers or television.  Movies didn't have talking, and radio had just come along.   Poetry could still make a big impact.

The closest thing since then seems Ginsberg's reading aloud of Howl with Kerouac sitting on the platform shouting "GO!" at the end of each breath unit in 1955 or 1956.  That reading shows up in things I've read by Ginsberg, Kerouac, Creeley, McClure, Whalen, Snyder, etc.  Last night I glanced at David Byrne's How Music Works and he mentions Burroughs and Ginsberg living in his neighborhood in New York in the 70's.  Ginsberg and the Beats in general certainly marked a lot of the people in shaped the sixties, from Dylan to the Beatles to Zeppelin, etc.  I don't know that poetry plays as great a role in 2014.  We live in what Eric McLuhan calls a post-literate age.  Reading and appreciating novels seems a step back to a previous age, the age of the novel.  Many people make that leap, reading Harry Potter or Proust.  Appreciating poetry involves taking two steps back, back to the age of poetry which dominated literature up until 250 years and the rise of the novel.  Some people still make that leap but fewer than those who appreciate novels.  Eliot, Pound, Williams, and Ginsberg seem some of the last poets to really mark the mass culture.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


The old song goes "Who do you love?"  The English teacher in me goes "Whom do you love?"  Reading A Test of Poetry today, which begins with Robert Herrick's "Trust to good verses, then," I wonder, "Whom do you trust?"  Ibn 'Arabi and Rumi teach to trust God.  When I fell in love with teaching film a few years ago, I often thought "Trust to good movies, then," echoing Herrick and Zukofsky.  I have less faith in either poetry or film today.

I also think of Elvis Costello's Trust and the idea of a trust in the world of finance.

"I don't ask for much, I only want your trust
And you know it don't come easy." - Ringo Starr

The trees outside look lovely in the breeze.  I feel tired listening to Schubert.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Sawhorse of Oz

Well, I finally finished reading all of the words of "A" - 24, and I found it quite lovely.  The family unit of Louis, Celia, and Paul ring out from how Celia organized Louis's words to Handel's music and to each other.  The final fugue reminds me of Pound's desire to write a fugue in poetry.  I think Pound succeeded best in the passage:

"Some minds take pleasure in counterpoint
             pleasure in counterpoint"

The echo in the second line suggest polyphony.  I also think of the passage from Finnegans Wake "O, my back, my back, my bach!" (pg. 213).

I love how the final fugue "A" includes part of Zukofsky's famous poem about sawhorses.  During this read-through of "A" I became more aware of Zukofsky's love of horses and of how often they appear in the poem.  Reading this final fugue I also thought of the Sawhorse of Oz, which I'd never associated with Zukofsky before, linking one of my first literary loves with one of my latest.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

New Year's Appoggiatura

Celia Zukofsky constructed "A" - 24.  She took keyboard pieces by Handel as well as writings by her husband to construct it.  Four voices read from Zukovsky's Thought (critical prose), Drama, Stories, and Poetry while the keyboard pieces play.  I've almost finished reading through "A" -24, and it has started to make more sense to me.  It reminds me of the footnote chapter of Finnegans Wake.  That chapter contains notes on each side of the main text as well as footnotes.  I've heard people refer to it as one of the hardest chapters to understand in the Wake, but I tend to see it as a Finnegans Wake tutorial, with the notes helping the reader into Joyce's world.  Yesterday for the first time I started to see "A" - 24 in the same way, as Celia providing both a conclusion to her husband epic and a tutorial to assist the reader into his world.