Friday, April 2, 2010

Prepositions +: The Collected Critical Essays

Zukofsky, Louis. Prepositions +: The Collected Critical Essays. Hanover, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2000.

Zukofsky's collected essays spans the poet's career, beginning with the early 1930s and continuing on through 1970. The subject matter of the writings deals with poetry and poetics, specific poets (e.g. Pound, Williams, and Carroll), philosophy, history, and art. Of particular interest are the essays within the section subtitled “For”; these pieces provide a framework for Zukofsky's poetic thought and the Objectivist movement in general. In the essay “An Objective,” the poet defines two terms, “sincerity” and “objective,” that are particularly relevant for understanding his poems. Zukofsky explains the former of these two terms to be the moment when “shapes appear concomitants of word combinations, precursors of...completed sound or structure, melody or form,” while he defines the latter as the “desire for what is objectively perfect, inextricably the direction of historic and contemporary particulars” (12). Within the aforementioned essay, the author also outlines the components of a poem, which are a) the poem “as object,” b) “the materials which are outside...the context,” c) “the context based on a word,” d) “the object in process,” and e) the “'musical' shape” of the object (15-6). In “Poetry: For My Son When He Can Read,” Zukofsky makes some more generalized statements about poetry, such as verse is determined by “a precise awareness of differences, forms, and possibilities of existence” (7), that poems are “Phases of utterance,” which should “avoid clutter,” and the reciprocal nature of the auditory and the visual; “what is sounded by words has to do with what is seen by them—and how much what is at once sounded and seen by them cross-cuts an interplay among themselves” (8). Of importance in this collection is not just the content, but the form of the essays as well. Take, for example, the piece titled “Henry Adams: A Criticism in Autobiography”; Zukofsky composes the majority of the text using direct quotation through collaging Adams' language into an argument of the subject's understanding of history, offering an example of how the written word alters itself through re-presentation, similar to Benjamin and his Arcade Project. Finally, regardless of what one reads about poetry, Zukofsky realizes that one must read poetry to understand it: “The best way to find out about poetry is to read the poems. That way the reader becomes something of a poet himself...because he finds himself subject to its energies” (23).

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