THE WRITING OF GUILLAUME APOLLINAIRE
(LE STYLE APOLLINAIRE)
by Serge Gavronsky. Wesleyan, 2004. 243pp.
THE CORRESPONDENCE OF
WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS AND LOUIS ZUKOFSKY
Barry Ahearn, ed.
In FlashPoint 4 (Winter 2001)
I reviewed the reissue of A TEST OF POETRY, the first volume in Wesleyan’s
Centennial Edition of the Complete Critical Writings of Louis Zukofsky.
I am pleased to report that with the release of THE WRITING OF GUILLAUME
APOLLINAIRE, the six volume project is now complete. As luck (or
fate) would have it, the APOLLINAIRE (volume V of VI) was delayed.
Instead of being published in 2003, it is now issued in 2004, the actual
Centennial of Louis Zukofsky’s birth. But as if this project were
not enough, Wesleyan has also released a hefty volume of letters between
Zukofsky and William Carlos Williams - two giants of 20th century poetry.
The six volumes of critical writings combined with this substantial book
of letters will no doubt facilitate and inspire more scholars and readers
to take up Zukofsky’s work.
As mentioned above, the Complete Critical
Writings is comprised of six volumes:
I. A TEST OF POETRY
II. PREPOSITIONS + : THE COLLECTED CRITICAL ESSAYS
III & IV. BOTTOM: ON SHAKESPEARE
V. THE WRITING OF GUILLAUME APOLLINAIRE
VI. A USEFUL ART: ESSAYS AND RADIO SCRIPTS
ON TRADITIONAL AMERICAN DESIGN.
A TEST OF POETRY has gone through three previous
editions, first from the Objectivist Press in 1948, then a Jargon/Corinth
paperback in 1964, and finally a paperback edition published by C[elia]
Z[ukofsky] in 1980. As such, it is not the most difficult of Zukofsky’s
critical works to find used, but it is an important book to have in print,
as it is much easier to use in the classroom when new copies can be purchased
in bulk. PREPOSITIONS has also been through previous editions, but
in this case each edition has contained additions. The second edition
issued by California in 1981 contained several essays not in the first
edition of 1967 (NY: Horizon Press; London: Rapp & Carroll).
PREPOSITIONS + yet again goes a step further by including several uncollected
essays, including those from the rare 5 STATEMENTS FOR POETRY issued privately
in 1958. Due to its length, BOTTOM: ON SHAKESPEARE takes up both
volumes III. & IV. The original Ark Press edition of 1963 was
issued in two separate volumes, the first containing Zukofsky’s prose and
the second a musical setting of Shakespeare’s PERICLES by Celia Zukofsky.
The California reprint of 1987 did not contain the setting of PERICLES,
and so did not accurately present BOTTOM as Zukofsky intended. Wesleyan’s
edition, however, DOES include both volumes issued in one very large paperback.
While it is a dense and unusually created work, anyone wanting to understand
Zukofsky’s writings needs to access BOTTOM, a masterpiece of indeterminate
genre and experimental writing. If we stick with order of publication,
we skip to volume VI: A USEFUL ART. In 1936 Zukofsky wrote descriptions
of folk objects and decorative arts for the Index of American Design, an
important WPA project to document American culture. General readers,
and perhaps all but the most determined scholars, will not be familiar
with Zukofsky’s writings from this project, and as such this represents
their first separate appearance as a Zukofsky monograph. While the
topic might not seem of immediate interest, if we take Zukofsky’s attitude
towards ‘objects’ (as the ‘subjects’ of poems, as well as the poems themselves),
the book becomes much more insightful and important. As the press
Zukofsky’s deep admiration for these handicrafts - grounded in their time
and place. As a writer who champions traditional handicraft, Zukofsky
highlights in words how Americans lived and worked centuries ago.
Just as the vases and quilts captured for Zukofsky the artisans’ ethos
of the 18th and 19th centuries, A USEFUL ART captures for modern readers
Zukofsky’s inspiration to write a sense of community, time and place.
Zukofsky, with his careful attention to detail,
was perfect for such a job, and no doubt the experience honed and expanded
his knowledge of the American people and the objects they produced.
How integral this side work is to Zukofsky’s poetry will only be established
once this volume has been more fully digested, but everything points to
this being far more than ‘completist’.
This brings us to the
last published volume, number V, THE WRITING OF GUILLAUME APOLLINAIRE.
It is interesting that this is considered to be the first full book by
Zukofsky (preceded by a translation of a biography of Einstein, to which
Zukofsky did not want his name attached), and yet it is the last now -
by coincidence - to be published. The first edition of 1934
was published in French as LE STYLE APOLLINAIRE, translated by Zukofsky’s
friend René Taupin. According to Celia Zukofsky, a warehouse
fire broke out destroying all but six copies Taupin had brought back to
the States, and as such it is among the great rarities of the modern movement.
At least two sections in English (with French quotations), titled THE WRITING
OF GUILLAUME APOLLINAIRE, were published in the WESTMINSTER REVIEW in 1934.
The APOLLINAIRE has never been reprinted in seventy years - it seems unthinkable!
The Wesleyan edition
faces a technical problem with awkward grace. There are, after all,
three main source texts: 1. LE STYLE APOLLINAIRE, the 1934 edition, entirely
in French. 2. The sections in THE WESTMINSTER REVIEW in English
with French quotations. 3. The original manuscript titled THE WRITING
OF GUILLAUME APOLLINAIRE in the Zukofsky archive at Texas, written in both
English and French (which trumps the WESTMINSTER REVIEW appearance to my
thinking). This muddles choices a bit. On the one hand, the
French text could be utilized, with a wholly English translation on the
opposite page. One might also use the original manuscript, but as
this is a dual language manuscript, it will still not be practical for
all audiences. It is nearly as complicated as choosing a quarto or
folio version of a Shakespeare play...
Here is the compromise
made in this edition: the dual language (I say ‘dual language’ rather than
‘bi-lingual’, as the latter tends to suggest a text in one language accompanied
by a translation in another; the manuscript is written in two languages)
manuscript version - seen as the one closest to Zukofsky’s intentions -
is printed on the left hand pages. As it alternates between English
and French, with all of the quotations from Apollinaire in French, the
right hand pages translate the opposite of whatever is on the left hand
page... in other words, let’s say the manuscript version (on the
left hand page) has Zukofsky moving along in English, with a few quotations
from Apollinaire in French. What you see on the RIGHT hand page is
a mirror image, and thus inverted: the prose by Zukofsky will be in French,
while the quotations from Apollinaire will be presented in newly translated
English versions. What is the result? Well, if you are equally
well versed in French and English, you can read the left hand pages only,
and experience the text as Zukofsky wrote and arranged it in his
original manuscript. If you want to read the 1934 French edition,
you have to switch your eyes back and forth across the pages whenever Zukofsky
is writing in English in order to catch the French translation on the opposite
page. Likewise, if you want to read the entire work in English (a
fantasy text, one that was never published in Zukofsky’s lifetime), you
must do the same ocular gymnastics.
It takes a little time
adjusting to jumping across the pages with your eyes -easier for longer
sections, but more annoying for mere phrases and fragments quoted in French
within an English paragraph. On the one hand, it is really awkward.
On the other, it is a practical way around choosing only one text when
the history of the APOLLINAIRE is clearly made up of several. An
entire picture is given, but due to the formatting it feels somewhat fractured
and distorted. This surface difficulty may never disappear, but for
me it fades significantly after reading a few pages, much like the ticking
of a new clock, which can seem untenable until your mind allows it to fade
into the background as white noise.
Moving on to the matter
of the book, there is a forward (in French) by Jean Daive and a lengthy
introduction by Serge Gavronsky. The introduction deserves attention
here for what it does say, but perhaps more importantly what it does
not. We must admit here that THE WRITING OF GUILLAUME APOLLINAIRE has
at least two audiences: those interested in the work of Louis Zukofsky,
but also those interested in Apollinaire. To be realistic, however,
the text is rather more historical than current for readers of Apollinaire.
While it certainly contains insights into Apollinaire, the insights into
Zukofsky are, to my mind, far more significant. Gavronsky’s introduction
attempts to find the ‘link’ between Zukofsky and Apollinaire, and investigates
the substance of Apollinaire’s work and what it meant for Zukofsky.
While he supplies notes and references for many of his contentions, from
the beginning he makes assumptions about the origin and nature of the text
that inform - in possibly an inaccurate or misleading way - the direction
of the entire introduction.
The origin of the text,
as Gavronsky posits, can be summed up thus: The APOLLINAIRE is called
a ‘collaboration’ between Zukofsky and René Taupin. The nature
of this collaboration might be seen in light of Zukofsky’s notation on
the cover page of the original holograph manuscript: ‘This collaboration
was written entirely by L.Z. and the French quotations are also his arrangement.
It was subsequently translated by R.T. [René Taupin] into French,
and the French version was published by Les Presses modernes, Paris, France,
1934’ (APOLLINAIRE 2004 xiii). Gavronsky continues, ‘As a result
it is simple to discover at least one origin of THE WRITING OF GUILLAUME
APOLLINAIRE...’ (ibid). In a note below, Gavronsky gives a fairly
detailed biography of Taupin, a good friend of Zukofsky, who was a French
language scholar at Columbia University (where Zukofsky had received his
BA and MA). Taupin, it is also noted, wrote L’INFLUENCE DU SYMBOLISME
FRANÇAIS SUR LA POE’SIE AME´RICAN (1910-1920) (pub. 1929)
[trans. THE INFLUENCE OF FRENCH SYMBOLISM ON MODERN AMERICAN POETRY.
pub. 1985], an early volume to assert the influence of Symbolism on American
verse. Beyond this, Taupin’s degree of involvement other than
translating (some or all of?) the APOLLINAIRE is left vague, as Gavronsky
in another note quotes Hanna K. Charney, ‘an admirer of Taupin’s work’:
‘La nature de la collaboration ... restera sans doute un mystére.’
Gavronsky adds, ‘[the level of Taupin’s involvement] is indeed a mystery,
given Louis Zukofsky’s formal disavowal of any help in either the writing
of the text or the selection of the Apollinaire quotes’ (ibid xiv).
This note also informs us that Taupin’s book on the influence of French
Symbolism on modern American verse mentions Apollinaire only a handful
of times, thus to Gavronsky’s mind suggesting Apollinaire was not a main
interest of Taupin’s.
From the evidence
outlined above, Gavronsky develops an introduction assuming that Zukofsky
was solely responsible for the manuscript of the book (from the ‘formal
disavowal’ written by Zukofsky on the holograph), and therefore pursues
‘The principle question [...]: why was Zukofsky attracted to this particular
poet?’ This leads to speculations on the possible connections between
Apollinaire and other figures important to Zukofsky, such as Mallarmé,
and discussions of particular theoretical terms and ideas associated with
Apollinaire which could have influenced or interested Zukofsky... Much
of the notion of Zukofsky’s interest in Apollinaire can be explained through
Gavronsky’s citing of Barry Ahearn: ‘The Frenchman [Zukofsky] most admired
in his early years was someone who championed the work of Picasso and Braque
- Guillaume Apollinaire’. (ibid n.2). This is from Ahearn’s
early monograph ZUKOFSKY’S “A”: AN INTRODUCTION (California 1983); I say
‘early’, as this really was the first critical monograph on Zukofsky by
a single author. After the bit quoted by Gavronsky, Ahearn goes on
to write: ‘We do not know when Zukofsky first became excited about the
author of CALLIGRAMES, but in 1932 he wrote a long critical essay titled
“The Writing of Guillaume Apollinaire”’ (ZUKOFSKY’S “A” 28).
On the surface this makes absolute sense. What reader, investigating
Zukofsky, would fail to notice he wrote an entire book on Guillaume Apollinaire?
To have gone through that effort, we must assume Zukofsky had a real interest
in his subject; why else would he do it? Ahearn’s 1983 book makes
this assumption, and in 2004 Gavronsky willingly adopts it. But it
is flawed reasoning, and there is evidence - if not to overturn Gavronsky’s
assumption entirely, at least to give us pause before we ourselves accept
It comes back to Ahearn
- not, however, to his book on “A”, but POUND/ZUKOFSKY: SELECTED LETTERS
OF EZRA POUND AND LOUIS ZUKOFSKY, which Ahearn edited, published by New
Directions in 1987, in other words four years after his monograph on “A”.
Despite the fact Gavronsky utilizes extensive footnotes and references
a number of relevant texts, there is not one mention of this important
book of correspondence. Zukofsky, after all, had a complex father/son
relationship with Pound: energetic, exciting, and often tumultuous.
Pound, as ever, sees in Zukofsky the potential for publications, and prods
the younger poet to organize and put things into print. It should
be no surprise, then, that the particulars of the APOLLINAIRE are given
to Pound. In the following excerpts of letters from LZ to EP we can
see the project from inception to completion:
From a letter dated 10 October 1931: THE ‘RACKET’:
Since times are
hard & fast Taupin and I are taking propulsion of a new racket.
I will write on Apollinaire & the period & other loci when I know
something about ‘em. He will appear with me as the author - or the
entire author in French (without me) & then I’ll ‘translate’ my work
or book into the original English. For which I’ll get $50 a month
(and, probably, Taupin’s other liabilities). Not a word of this to
anyone. I don’t know why he asked me to tell you this, but we both
think it’s amusing. Literature is best when anonymous. Any
other principles of yrs. we can live by, Mr. Pound? If Columbia Univ.
finds out we’ll both lose our jobs - René with the univ. & I
with René. Taupin can work on this racket because Columbia Univ.
has given him leave of absence beg. Feb. 1932 & full pay. (Ahearn
1987 106-7 n.)
From a letter dated 12/17/31: APOLLINAIRE PROCEEDING:
is proceeding. Wish it were done. On the whole, T[aupin] has
been reliable with his $50 per month - tho goddarn our economic syphilization
he hates like hell, profligate tho’ he is, to write out a check - and I
never ask, - but when he realizes that I may have coyly dispensed
with two meals on a certain day & limited myself to a 15¢ breakfast,
his heart melts. It’s funny - and I don’t expect nuthin. Except
that I fear the month of Feb. when I’ll have to do the writing. And
he’s a strict boss, tho’ very worshipful of my talents.
Incidentally, if you know of anyone who has some rare items of Apollinaire
[...] could you have ‘em lent to me till - the latest - April 1st?
Great difficulty of work is that it must sound as if it came out of one
consorted mind - Taupin’s - that is, his next on inspiration &
mine must show the same woof of thought. Ergo, I’ve been outlining
bibliography, ideaology [sic], etc for his own volume. [...].
Not a word, of course,
about this to anyone - unless Basil [Bunting] can keep a secret & be
amused by it.(ibid. 108-9)
From a letter dated 12/15/32: COMPLETION; PAID
(The Writing of
Guillaume Apollinaire, p 110 of yr. MS., in English by L.Z. & R[ené].
T[aupin]., in French by R.T. & L.Z., the greatest critical work in
any language since De Vulgari Eloquentia, and written in no less than three
tongues, Apollinairise, New Yorkese, pidgin-yiddish, i.e. französich-french)
No, it’s not René, as you will see when you see his adaptation entirely
in French (remarkable what a difference), but it’s L.Z. alright painstakingly
obstructing the technique of FLOW. (ibid. 138) [Pound in the previous
letter had written, ‘I don’t know if it is YOU or René/ BUT in anny
kase you MUST now at once start on study of technique of FLOW (POUND/ZUKOFSKY
The Apollinaire paid well, but R[ené] could have used that money
- paid very well, considering what I turned in was a post mortem of my
Hen Adams, the first Joyce in French (vide chap II) and three chapters
altogether doing their best to approximate in weirdest langvidge Debussy’s
Quartet in G Minor. You’re right: no one will read it (except maybe
in French). But poisonally, I see no use of any other way of writing
criticism, except yr. own or a variation of it i.e. along the lines of
clarity which is conscious of concentration. (ibid. 139)
The information above, NOT included in Gavronsky’s
introduction, suggests the following: When it is asked, ‘Why Apollinaire?’,
the answer is less literary than a matter of simple economic necessity:
‘Since times are fast & hard...’ 1931 was, after all, during
the depression. In the letter dated 12/17/31, moreover, Zukofsky
tells how he sometimes would skimp on meals when short of cash, which would
make Taupin feel sympathetic towards his ‘collaborator’. According
to Zukofsky’s account, Taupin needed the money as well. We can also
find another reason ‘why Apollinaire’: according to the scheme outlined
in the letter of 10 October 1931, the idea was to ghost write a book for
Taupin, therefore it had to be on a topic plausible for Taupin to author.
The fact that Taupin’s book on French Symbolism and American poetry did
not include many references to Apollinaire SUPPORTS this reasoning.
After all, if his previous book did not cover Apollinaire at length, then
it would be perfectly logical to fill that gap with another book.
This suggests calculation on the part of the duo.
In light of this, it
is possible Zukofsky had NO knowledge or interest in Apollinaire prior
to the creation of the scheme. No doubt he had heard of him, but
the fact he states he will write ‘as soon as I know something about ‘em’
hardly suggests a previous relationship of any depth with Apollinaire’s
writings or their historical and literary context. Either Zukofsky or Taupin
could have brought up Apollinaire as subject; just as easily, the final
choice could have been the result of mutual brain-storming. The real
fact is: we don’t know. And what we DO know suggests - whether one
or the other threw out the name ‘Apollinaire’ - it was a practical decision.
There is also the question
of the ‘collaboration’: did Zukofsky really write the entire book?
The evidence from the Pound/Zukofsky letters seems contradictory.
While the note, quoted by Gavronsky, on the holograph manuscript says ‘was
written entirely by L.Z.’, we have the strange statement in the letter
dated 12/17/31: ‘Great difficulty of work is that it must sound as if it
came out of one consorted mind - Taupin’s - that is, his next on
inspiration & mine must show the same woof of thought.’
This refers to something written on ‘inspiration’ by Taupin, that must
‘show the same woof of thought’, as Zukofsky’s (‘mine’). What is
referred to here? Chapters in the APOLLINAIRE? Can we read:
‘...it must sound as if it came out of one consorted mind - Taupin’s -
that is, his next [chapter] on inspiration & [my next/other chapter]
must show the same woof of thought.’ It is also possible that it
is referring to another essay or book by Taupin’s altogether: [his next
book/essay on ‘inspiration’ & my writing of this Apollinaire book must
show the same woof of thought]. Yes, there are yet other possible
readings of this gnomic statement, but again, it is enough to make us question
the ‘fact’ that Zukofsky was responsible for everything in the original
manuscript. After all, when Zukofsky states ‘entirely written by
L.Z.’, we can see, literally, that it is: it is written out in his handwriting...
The letters between Pound
and Zukofsky also show an essential element to all this: humor. When
laying out the scheme for EP, LZ writes, ‘I don’t know why [René]
asked me to tell you this, but we both think it’s amusing,’ and in the
following letter, ‘Not a word, of course, about this to anyone - unless
Basil [Bunting] can keep a secret & be amused by it.’ Basil Bunting,
the other ‘struggler in the desert’, would no doubt have had a laugh about
this project. So on the one hand, the two culprits resort to a ‘racket’
to earn some much needed income, but at the same time they take a certain
delight in pulling a fast one on the University.
Possibly, because this
is notwholly a subject of Zukofsky’s choosing, it becomes a very
interesting piece of writing. Let me explain this apparent paradox.
He allows himself to develop playful strategies which he feels are efficient,
but possibly ‘cheap’ methods for the ‘good money’ received for the job:
‘...paid very well, considering what I turned in was a post mortem of my
Hen Adams, the first Joyce in French (vide chap II) and three chapters
altogether doing their best to approximate in weirdest langvidge Debussy’s
Quartet in G Minor.’ One would have thought he would be paid MORE
money for the work described! But as stated by Zukofsky, it appears
he felt he was doing his darnedest to make an outrageous and eccentric
work - in short having fun - and nearly as odd that he should be paid $50
a month to do so.
This should not suggest
that Zukofsky did not make a real effort. The APOLLINAIRE, after
all, had to pass for a book by a formidable expert on French literature.
Years later, in 1945, Zukofsky wrote to William Carlos Williams concerning
a recent article by Taupin: ‘His article in Literary Quarterly is eloquent,
intelligent history of literature etc, but [...] what he says was said
better under our joint names in “Le Style Apollinaire,’ English aboriginal
in the Westminster Magazine (georgia) back in 1934 or thereabouts [...]
said more truthfully & I’m afraid I’m still the only one who thinks
said with more fun, which has its pernt [sic], too’ (Ahearn 2003
357). In short, Zukofsky, at least, felt his version of literary
history to be not only better, but ‘more fun’.
That Zukofsky was writing
the APOLLINAIRE for money, and having ‘fun’ doing it, does not suggest
Zukofsky didn’t take anything away from the project. In fact, it
seems certain that he did - how could he not? As Gavronsky rightly
points out, ‘[the APOLLINAIRE] is in fact an analysis of oneself-in-the-other’s
writing, or again, to quote John Cage, in the way Zukofsky “wrote [himself]
through” Apollinaire’ (second brackets are Gavronsky’s) (APOLLINAIRE
2004 L). This brings the APOLLINAIRE close in stylistic conception
and execution to Zukofsky’s ‘Henry Adams: A Criticism in Biography’.
In the Adams essay, too, LZ found himself mirrored in his subject, and
reading it reveals as much about Zukofsky as it does about Adams.
Likewise it is connected stylistically, the format of the Adams essay also
formed largely of quotations, with slender amounts of connecting material.
We see these traits in the APOLLINAIRE (which explains why Zukofsky took
pains to let people know HE was responsible for choosing the quotations
and their arrangement, and not Taupin; it was, after all, his ‘method’).
While we see a clear
link with the Adams essay in both style and attitude, we might also call
to mind another work by Zukofsky, the aforementioned translation of a biography
of Albert Einstein by Anton Reiser in 1929. Zukofsky disliked the
job and the book, and asked that he not be given credit for the translation.
How might this shed light on the APOLLINAIRE? Zukofsky certainly
took more delight - in terms of the money, the experimental style, and
the ‘racket’ - writing the APOLLINAIRE, but both the Einstein biography
and the APOLLINAIRE were jobs undertaken out of economic necessity, not
out of sheer artistic desire. Also, like the Einstein, the APOLLINAIRE
dropped from public notice, even after Zukofsky began to have a wider readership
late in his career. Why, for instance, would an important essay not
be reprinted in PREPOSITIONS: THE COLLECTED CRITICAL WRITINGS OF LOUIS
ZUKOFSKY? If too long for inclusion in a book of essays, then why
didn’t Zukofsky push for its re-publication as a separate book? While
this question cannot be answered here, it seems that Zukofsky would have
found some way to see the APOLLINAIRE into print if he felt it represented
an important facet of his oeuvre. Could we, perhaps, divine more
importance in the work than Zukofsky himself? If he viewed the APOLLINAIRE
as a job and a joke, maybe he didn’t see its importance in his canon.
At this point it impossible to say.
It can be said, however,
that THE WRITING OF APOLLINAIRE would be a wonderful survival for historical
purposes alone. But it is also a stunning piece of experimental criticism,
an excellent opportunity to see Zukofsky at work, bridging between his
MA thesis on Henry Adams and BOTTOM: ON SHAKESPEARE. In highlighting
some of the integral history surrounding the APOLLINAIRE, I do not want
to suggest that Gavronsky’s introduction has nothing to offer. While
the absence of any reference to the Pound/Zukofsky correspondence is unfathomable,
his discussion of the background of Apollinaire is helpful, and the connection
with Zukofsky interesting, if not at times based on misguided assumptions.
It seems a shame that the lengthy introduction of this reissue did not
take the opportunity to do more primary fact finding and resolve some of
the questions surrounding the text. Looking at the true inception
and context of the work, let us enjoy THE WRITING OF APOLLINAIRE for what
it is, rather than for what it is not.
In discussing THE WRITING
OF GUILLAUME APOLLINAIRE, it becomes very clear how important collections
of letters can be, especially when they are between poets of the caliber
of William Carlos Williams and Louis Zukofsky. Barry Ahearn edited
the selection of Pound/Zukofsky letters which appeared in 1987. That
volume, evidenced by some of the selections quoted above, is a mine of
pithy information throughout its 255 pages. THE CORRESPONDENCE OF
WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS AND LOUIS ZUKOFSKY at 574 pages is nearly twice
as long, and this handsome hardcover is just as rich with 728 letters and
notes dating from March 1928 to December 1962 (although the selection at
times is skewed more towards letters by Williams, Zukofsky’s having been
thrown out or lost). Taking the Pound/Zukofsky (New Directions, 1987),
Pound/Williams (New Directions, 1996), and the Williams/Zukofsky (Wesleyan
2003) letters together now gives us a full circle of reference in this
triumvirate. What we need now are the volumes ‘Pound/Bunting’ and
‘Zukofsky/Bunting’ - what interesting reading these would make!
The relationship between
Williams - a poet of Pound’s generation - and the younger Zukofsky is a
stark contrast to the relationship either had with Pound. As
evidenced in POUND/ZUKOFSKY, the father/son relationship between LZ and
EP focused mainly on Pound’s comments on Zuk’s texts, and Zuk’s defense
of the same; discussions of publishing strategies; and political arguments
and rants, which result in some absolutely acidic letters in the mid 1930s.
The relationship between LZ and Williams was much different. It was
at Pound’s suggestion that Zukofsky contacted Williams, and the good doctor
and Zukofsky seemed to form an immediate appreciation of each other.
Williams was, of course, a different temperament altogether from Pound,
and noted often Pound’s disparagement of his poetic methods and mentality.
As Pound struggled with Zukofsky as well, it makes sense that LZ and Williams
could comment on Pound’s odd mixture of generosity and crabbiness together
- Pound made for a common source of reference. The friendship between
Williams and LZ was also physically different, as Williams lived in New
Jersey, not far from New York, and therefore they were able to see one
another quite often. In this typical short note, we can see
discussions of visits between the Williamses and the Zukofskys, reference
to Pound, and of some small exchange of literary matter:
Sorry I didn’t know you were in town Sat. eve. We weren’t far &
should have like to have seen you.
The “walk” we’ve planned is for the weekend of 10th & 11th isn’t that
Enclosed herewith is my shot at dear Ezra - he once, in his stupidity &
awkwardness almost put my eye out with the end of his cane. I hope
this doesn’t hit so high.
Maybe you let me have back the play & mag back in a week express C.O.D.
Bill (Ahearn 2004 297)
While Williams was close by, Pound was self-exiled
in Rapallo, and Zukofsky only saw him a handful of times. The strong
relationship of EP and LZ was based on correspondence, on words and ideas
- and might have been equally as strong if Zukofsky had never met Pound
in person. The connection with Williams was far more domestic and
intimate in a conventional way, and with the exception of one period of
‘falling out’ (over a project to write a ‘libretto’, and not about the
politics of the world, as with Pound), the correspondence shows great fondness
Ahearn provides an excellent
introduction which summarizes general observations found in the letters.
For example, he notes the fascinating reliance of Williams on Zukofsky’s
editing prowess. Zukofsky’s brilliance and attention to detail could
not be called into question, and Williams took full advantage of this facet
of his friendship with LZ, often sending him drafts of his work for correction,
emendation, and comment - and all this despite the fact LZ was the younger
poet. When Williams sent a group of poems to Zukofsky for his comment
in August 1931, Zukofsky wrote back:
“He certainly knew his stuff - did Uncle Bill”
If I felt rotten before the volume came (and I did), I’ve been overhauled
now for 2 days.
I am reminded of what you said of Mei - Paraphrase: You make me (as a poet)
feel like the aboriginal cave-man.
Whatever suggestions I’ll have later - shd. merely be pleasant.
One suggestion now - while I ponder the MS. suppose you send a copy to
Ezra and have him ponder it too. Then let’s see if our 2 critical
nuts (E’s & mine) come together. If you don’t like this suggestion,
then forget it [...] (ibid. 96)
To which Williams replied:
What’s to be
Mark up the
script ad lib.
Despite Pound’s reputation (or in this case
BECAUSE of his reputation), Williams preferred to trust Zukofsky to do
the commenting, and to leave Ezra out of it. What is more, Ahearn
points out, ‘The process of editorial suggestion seems to have worked strictly
in one direction: from Zukofsky to Williams’ (Ahearn 2004 xvi). While
Zukofsky clearly sent copies of his new work to Williams, Williams rarely
made editorial comment. Rather he sent general comments of assent,
or dissent, or quite commonly a certain self-proclaimed ignorance: ‘[Zukofsky]
operated in a way that was frequently beyond Williams’s comprehension.
>From the beginning Williams confessed he had difficulty with the logic
of Zukofsky’s poetry’ (ibid). A typical example of this from
William’s pen: ‘Dear Louis: I’m not very bright as you perhap have long
since found out so that I have always had difficulty in following your
poems...’ (ibid. 463) This may be an honest assessment by Williams,
but the claim of ignorance on his part may have been a kind way of saying
Zukofsky’s work was lacking, akin to taking the blame by saying ‘it’s not
YOU, it’s ME...’
The style of the letters
provides yet further evidence of the relationship between the two.
While often playful and including personal material, Zukofsky’s letters
discuss specifics of texts and projects, much as with Pound. Williams’
letters seem dashed off, often poorly edited, on the spur, and as such
portray a casual sloppiness which is either fully reflective of his character,
or which is a complex persona which allows Williams to say what he thinks
without taking full responsibility for the statements. It is most
likely a mixture of these two poles, just as the poems in SPRING AND ALL
are on one level ultimately simple and highly complex on another.
This is not to say Williams does not contribute to the correspondence -
hardly the case, as he is in the fray with Zukofsky when it comes to publishing
ventures and writing. But the letters by Williams show someone, an
‘elder’ poet, willing to delegate the specific work to someone who clearly
shows the ability and desire to be in the trenches while Williams
continues his own writing and full-time work as a doctor. For many
years this is the pattern, but as both poets age, and Zukofsky begins to
have the same bitterness towards publishers that Williams portrayed early
in their correspondence, the relationship becomes more a friendship of
common events, especially as Williams enters the long period of physical
decline, and letters such as this are more frequent, copied here verbatim:
I’ve had another stroke and have been laid up more or less completely for
the last couple of days, confined to my room, Floss more than ever, has
becom the man of the family. But more immediately I’ve had to give
up all my engahements including one to read in Baltimore the first week
in November at poetry festivan at Johns Hopkins which breaks my heart.
I am typing this with my left hand to show that I still have that left.
Nothing more to be said at the moment. Take casr of tourself.
Bill (ibid. 501)
This book is essential to readers of modern
poetry. It allows us to see the working friendship of two highly
influential figures, and surprises with the amount of material that illuminates
very familiar texts to the point, at times, that they are transformed into
something much different, and more meaningful: after reading this book,
go back and read ‘The Wedge’, or ‘Mantis’ and ‘Mantis: an Interpretation’;
more so “A”-17, a movement of Zukofsky’s epic, which documents in his cut-and-paste
way LZ’s entire friendship with Williams (all the more ironic that Williams
did not mention Zukofsky ONCE in his autobiography...). Feeling the
impact of these letters reinforces the importance of publications such
as this, and helps us glimpse the fuller understanding of these master
poets that awaits us.
Ahearn, Barry. THE CORRESPONDENCE OF WILLIAM
CARLOS WILLIAMS AND LOUIS ZUKOFSKY. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University
---. POUND/ZUKOFSKY: SELECTED LETTERS OF
EZRA POUND AND LOUIS ZUKOFSKY. New York: New Directions, 1987.
---. ZUKOFSKY’S “A”: AN INTRODUCTION.
Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983.
Zukofsky, Louis. THE WRITING OF GUILLAUME
APOLLINAIRE (LE STYLE APOLLINAIRE). Introduction by Serge Gavronsky.
Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2004.