Friday, April 2, 2010

Complete Short Poetry

Zukofsky, Louis. Complete Short Poetry. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press,

This collection anthologizes all of Zukofsky's non-“A” work, beginning with 1922's “I Sent Thee Late” and concluding with 1978's 80 Flowers. As such, the volume encompasses most of the aesthetic tendencies that were staples of Zukofsky's poetry. For example, the early poem “Poem beginning 'The'” uses quotations from a variety of sources in each one of its three hundred thirty lines. Other notable aspects of Zukofsky's poetics are counted verse, such as in 80 Flowers wherein each piece contains eight lines, with each line composed of five words; extensive use of homophones, which finds its pinnacle of expression in his collaborative translation (with his wife, Celia) of Catullus that “follows the sound, rhythm, and syntax of...Latin” (243), instead of adhering to the semantic meaning of the content; and serialization, in which some poems have as many as twenty-nine separate sections within one piece of writing. Furtermore, Zukofsky's poems use elision rather often, primarily in an effort to enhance the sonic qualities of a particular poem. This can be seen quite clearly in the sixteenth section of “29 Poems”: “Crickets'/ thickets// light,/ delight:// sleeper's eyes,/ keeper's;// Plies” (48). While the poet truncated much of the connective grammar within the poem, it is done for the sake of developing a specific cadence and rhyme scheme that attempts to embody the cricket's song. With regard to content, Zukofsky will provide observation in the manner of an Imagist, such as “Gleams, a green lamp/ In the fog” (24) or “Blue sealed glasses/ Of preserves—four—/ IN the window-sash/ In the yard on the bay” (77). Meta-poetic commentary regarding the function of music and sound in relation to verse is another staple; for example: “Comes a flow which/ if I had called a song/ is a song/ entirely in my head// a song out of imagining” (52), or, likewise: “a voice not a meter/ but sometime a meter's voice” (224). The most obvious example of meta-poetic statements occurs during the poem “Mantis.” The first portion of this work is a sestina concerning a praying mantis that finds its way onto a subway car in New York, while the second portion of the piece is an interpretation, in verse, of the previous section's meaning. Zukofsky, by the end of the interpretation, parses the poem out at the line-level: “Of the last four lines/ Symbolism,/ But the simultaneous,/ The diaphanous, historical/ In one head” (73). Other, less frequent (but no less interesting) techniques he uses are: incorporation of staff ledger (i.e. “Motet”), hyper-hyphenation (80 Flowers), self-reflexivity (e.g. “I's (pronounced eyes)/ the title of his last// followed by After I's” (222)), and multi-lingual texts, some of which weave English, Yiddish, Spanish, Latin, and French into the fabric of a single poem.

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