Bradford Haas


Louis Zukofsky
Introduction by Serge Gavronsky. Wesleyan, 2004. 243pp.

Barry Ahearn, ed.
Wesleyan, 2003.  574pp.

    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:


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 release states,

Sincerity underlies 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.
     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:

The Apollinaire 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 WELL:

(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 137).]
     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: ‘ 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:

     10/1 [1941]
     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 right?
     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 and cordiality.
     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:

     First reaction:
     “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:

Not Ezrachen!
What’s to be
decided shall
be [decided]here.
Mark up the
script ad lib.
 (ibid. 97)

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:

     Oct. 15, 1958
     Dear Louis:
     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.
     Affectionately yours
     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 Press, 2003.


---.  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.