Section 9 - History 1929-1930
Pound’s letter to Vogel on 23 January 1929 stated his hopes that the projected magazine Blues would take the place of the Exile:
If it is any use, I shd. be inclined not to make an effort to bring out another Xile until one has seen whether Blues can do the job. . . .
I don’t see-that there is room or need for two mags doing experimental stuff . . . at present moment. If Blues can bring out a wad of Joe Gould it seems to me it wd. about cover the ground.
. . .
I personally don’t want to write any prose for the next year or two or three. If you get Bill Wms., McAlmon, Joe Gould and the authors you’ve got, there ought to be enough solid core to carry the thing.1
Blues published neither Gould nor McAlmon; however, its editors, Charles Henri Ford and Parker Tyler, were, as Kenneth Rexroth wrote, open to young and radical members of the avant garde: “The number of people Ford and Tyler discovered or published when they were still practically unknown is astonishing. They discovered Erskine Caldwell, Edouard Roditi, and me in one issue.”2 Blues published fourteen poems by Zukofsky and work by several writers whom Zukofsky selected to be in the “Objectivists” issue of Poetry: Williams, Tyler, Herman Spector, Harry Roskolenkier, Rexroth, Pound, Norman Macleod, Richard Johns, Horace Gregory, and Ford.3 The magazine ran through nine issues, from February 1929 to the fall of 1930. The second issue came out with prefaces by “contributing editors” Pound and Williams.
When Ford asked Pound for a literary program for the new magazine, Pound responded with essentially the same advice that he had been offering Zukofsky:
Dear C. H. F.: Every generation or group must write its own literary program. The way to do it is by circular letter to your ten chief allies. Find out the two or three points you agree on (if any) and issue them as program. If you merely want to endorse something in my original Imagist manifesto or the accompanying “Don’ts” or in my How to Read that has just appeared in the N. Y. Herald “Books,” simply say so. Or list the revered and unrevered authors you approve or disapprove of.
(Pound’s three grounds for association: (1) two or three points of agreement, (2) endorsement of prior manifestos, and (3) common influences, positive and negative, would justify the “Objectivists” as a group.) In spite of his apparent reluctance, Pound enclosed a brief program for Ford which repeated invectives from the Exile against the inutility of government, customs, and the copyright laws. His letter to Ford continued:
Re my “Program” enclosed: A man’s opinions are his own affair. When writing a poem he shd. think only of doing a good job. But a magazine is a public matter. It is there as mediator between the writer and the public. A magazine shd. think of the welfare of literature as a whole and of conditions in which it is possible to produce it. I shd. like you to print my “Program.” Note it is civic NOT political. Not a question of messing into politics but of the writers or intelligentsia raising hell all day and every day about abuses that interfere with their existence AS WRITERS and that represent an oppression of literature by the stinking sons-of-bitches who rot the country.
As to magazine policy: Most “young” magazines play ostrich. They neither recognize the outer world nor do they keep an eye on contemporary affairs of strictly literary nature.4
Williams wrote Zukofsky on 4 December 1928 that as a contributing editor he wanted to publish in Blues Zukofsky’s “poem beginning ’A.’”5 Williams’ title for the poem is perhaps not a misnomer; the first movements of “A” at least were intended, wrote Zukofsky, to make good the promise at the end of “Poem beginning ’The.’”6
Zukofsky’s sense of “The” as reaction against The Waste Land was another point of agreement with Williams. Although Williams had expressed some of his objections to Eliot’s work in Spring and All (1923), Zukofsky might not have been aware of Williams’ argument until after they met in 1928, whereas Zukofsky wrote “’The’” in 1926. But the influence of The Waste Land was so pervasive that every poet had to deal with it. Williams remembered:
Then out of the blue The Dial brought out The Waste Land and all our hilarity ended. It wiped out our world as if an atom bomb had been dropped upon it and our brave sallies into the unknown were turned to dust.
To me especially it struck like a sardonic bullet. I felt at once that it set me back twenty years, and I’m sure it did. Critically Eliot returned us to the classroom just at the moment when I felt that we were on the point of an escape to matters much closer to the essence of a new art form itself—rooted in the locality which should give it fruit.7
Kenneth Rexroth corroborated: “Within a couple of years the influence of The Waste Land had become enormous, but only on the English-speaking literary bohemia. Soon little Waste Lands were sprouting everywhere.”8
Williams and Zukofsky were on the losing side of the controversy. And their position worsened as the disillusionment of the twenties moved into the Depression of the thirties, and those who favored Eliot’s academicism found support in the universities.
Williams did not get “A” into Blues; he had entertained the possibility of continuing the Exile to publish the poem, but the publisher, Covici, was not willing to sponsor another issue. Williams wrote Zukofsky: “My proposal was to pay for one more Exile, or rather to be responsible for any deficit – in order to have your new thing in it, etc. But if Covici is off the whole thing so am I.”9
II. Private Presses
On 28 January 1929, Zukofsky asked Pound for submissions for a projected magazine based in Philadelphia and to be called the States Quarterly. He wrote that four people would choose what to print: himself, Kay (the printer), Tibor Serly (a Hungarian musician and composer and student of Kodaly), and a man who wanted to remain anonymous (although Pound had once responded favorably to his manuscript submitted under a pseudonym).10 The printer was the “Kay” in “A”- 2, 5, and 6. Serly also remained a friend, and no doubt fed Zukofsky’s growing interest in music. The fourth apparently died in anonymity as he wished. The magazine was never published, so that Zukofsky was stuck with the manuscripts that he had edited for it through the spring.
Since Zukofsky lacked the financial backing to publish these manuscripts himself, he proposed a possible partnership with Williams, but in his letter to Pound in 18 September 1929 he reported Williams’ response: “Printing anything ourselves seems a mad idea to me just now. I may quicken to it later however. We’ll see. Yes, it may be the only way.”11 Zukofsky also offered to distribute the Exile, hoping that Pound would continue it. If Pound could get Williams to share the expenses, he wrote, he would commit the labor. At this point, Zukofsky was without a job and had no prospects of getting published by the Dial, Hound and Horn, Transition, or Criterion, but Blues had accepted something and he wondered whether it would appear.12 He offered to send Pound manuscripts left over from the States including Williams’ January: A Novelette and his long poem “The Flower,” selected work by Reznikoff, poems by Oppen and Jesse Loewenthal, a short story by T. S. Hecht, and music by Serly.13 A11 these writers except Serly were published in the “Objectivists” issue of Poetry.
When on 22 November 1929 Zukofsky sent Pound three books published by Reznikoff himself—Nine Plays (1927), Five Groups of Verse (1927), and By the Waters of Manhattan: An Annual (l929)—he listed the work he selected by Reznikoff for the defunct States: the play “Coral” and thirteen poems including the unpublished “Idyll.” Zukofsky also recommended that Pound read “Editing and Glosses” and the plays “Meriwether Lewis” and “Rashi.” Finally, he gave Reznikoff’s age (35), claimed that his work was more than intelligent, and commented that Reznikoff had a hand in writing his mother’s autobiography in the annual.14 The work in these three books and Zukofsky’s study of them formed the basis of Zukofsky’s essays on Reznikoff, which he began for the Menorah Journal by 19 December 1929.15
Pound wrote Williams on 2 December 1929 that he was interested in buying a little printing press, if Williams could send him the particulars:
And now to speak of something conskrucktive: Since my progenitors cum over here, l don’t see any god damn American magazines cos nobody sends ’em. And I shd. like to see the advertisement of one of those latest smallest lightest printing presses again. The kind advertised fer bizniz houses: “Do your own printing.”
. . .
Damn it, I oughtn’t to bother with the thing at all; but the rest of the world is so lousy lazy that I may as well look into the matter. . . . Couldn’t cost too much as wd. certainly be idle most of the time; and no chance of “merchanting” the products in any conceivable case. . . .
Drawback mainly the feeling that if I buy the damn thing there will for eight years be nothing to print on it.16
By 9 December 1929, Pound had read enough of the books writand printed by Reznikoff that Zukofsky had sent him to comment:
The Reznikoff prose very good as far as I’ve got at breakfast. BUTT if the blighter has a press and can set type why the hell is it up to me to find a printer fer all the etc.......
Capital idea that next wave of literature is Jewish (obviously) Bloom cast shadow before prophetic Jim. etc.
also lack of prose in German due to all idiomatic energy being drawn off into Yiddish.
(not concerned with the “truth” of these suggestions but only with the dynamic.)17
Zukofsky wrote on 19 December 1929 to discuss Reznikoff. He confirmed that Reznikoff owned a printing press, but complained that it was not stored in New York City. The address printed on his title pages, 5 West Fourth Street, was that of a relative and a matter of business. Anyway, Reznikoff was too busy—committed to revise legal definitions for the rest of his life and occupied with his own writing and with his daily study of the Bible, Homer, and Dante—to waste money on unfortunate writers like Zukofsky. Reznikoff could not even sell his own books. Nevertheless, he once mentioned the possibility of moving his press back and working part-time so that he could use it as a diversion; he also mentioned doing other writers’ booklets, if he had the money. He would prefer to take the risk himself—such was his nature.18
Zukofsky also mentioned that in the article on the work of Charles Reznikoff which he was writing he quoted Pound’s capital idea above. This brought the following response on New Year’s Eve:
I DONT think the publik shd. be taken so far into one’s confidence. After all it is a dangerous animal to be guided, and can only be guided by the toe of the boot applied with vigour. You may use footnote saying that
Mr. P. has expressed a suspicion that
1. whether the next wave of lit. will be Jewish
2. whether lack of prose in Choimun is due to drawing off the idiomatic energy into yiddish.
You say that these speculations rose from reading Rez.
That’s much better than a cliche about my saying he was “good” & elicits much more interest.19
These points were included in a footnote, showing Pound to be one of the three exceptions to a “‘literary market’ not interested in sincerity as craft.”20
Reznikoff’s press interested Pound as much as his work. Pound’s letter of New Year’s Eve continued, recommending that Zukofsky and his group use it to publish a series of contemporary authors:
Stuff must be done IN SERIES with enough authors to do a bit of runnin rahnd.
There’s you; Bill, Bob while he stays in Manhattan, a couple of culchuld yng. damsels recently come into N. Y. from the provinces. (Vogel if he gets forgiven).21
Pound further recommended printing and not binding the books, in imitation of the French brochures, at a time there were no paper-backs printed in America. The price of binding a book in hardcover seemed to Pound an unnecessary burden on the writers. This factor eventually influenced the Oppens to establish To Publishers in France.
Pound wrote on 10 January 1930:
Have read Reznikof’s [sic] verse. Good; but he shd. have got into the gang; i;e; sent it to me in 1918 instead of now.
perhaps it was printed in Poetry or somewhere at the time he wrote it ???? and only needed his own printing for the book ?? very difficult to do anything about it so late in the history of the world.22
And Zukofsky, on 12 January 1930, wrote that he was to meet Reznikoff within hours, and would attempt to discuss business. Maybe everyone could combine resources and rent a place for Reznikoff to work. Reznikoff, he commented, was exactly like Williams, only Jewish: if Pound could imagine that. Also, Zukofsky was continuing work on his essay on Reznikoff, except that he was temporarily stymied trying to define two terms—sincerity and objectification.23 These letters are evidence, over a year before the “Objectivists” issue of Poetry, of an incipient group, with predecessors, a purpose and a poetics. We observe mention of their affinity with Pound’s “gang” of 1918; we see Williams and Reznikoff compared by Zukofsky to Pound; we see that they realized the necessity of cooperative self-publication, and we observe mention of “sincerity and objectification”—the core of the “Objectivists” poetics, then being formulated in Zukofsky’s essay on Reznikoff (see Section 8).
However, the times were difficult. Williams wrote Zukofsky on 14 January 1930 that he thought that Pound’s proposal to establish a private printing venture was not quite feasible; Williams had money but no time. Instead, he asked Zukofsky if he would recommend putting an advertisement in the New York World for some old printer.24 At the end of January 1930, Zukofsky wrote Pound of possible arrangements and, more to the point, of the drawbacks of using Reznikoff’s press.25 With this note the idea was dropped altogether.
III. Critical Management
Pound once wrote to Zukofsky: “My Dear Ni Hon Jin/ . . . Considering myself something as yr. ring manager in this question of the fly-weight belt contest. You have a nice tidy little gloire de cenacle; & it wd. [be] a shame to waste it.”26 In addition to taking on Reznikoff and the rest of Zukofsky’s “cenacle” on Zukofsky’s account, Pound acted as Zukofsky’s literary agent for a series of critical works. Zukofsky sent Pound his long essay “Henry Adams: A Criticism in Autobiography,” which he had begun as his masters thesis in 1924 at Columbia and had revised and extended with a review of A Voyage to Pagany, “Beginning Again with William Carlos Williams.”27 Perhaps encouraged by the publication of two poems by Zukofsky in the Criterion of April 1929,28 Pound replied 31 October 1929 that he was sending it to T. S. Eliot by the next post, and commented: “With this display of capacity; seems to me you have a chance to live by pen. IF you can connect with Times Lit. Sup. I don’t know what there is in America that wd. support you. Get the Guggenheim thing of course if poss.”29
Nothing was heard from Eliot about “Henry Adams.” Zukofsky had already applied for a Guggenheim, requesting recommendations from both Pound and Williams. Pound had replied on 20 September 1929, and Williams sent Zukofsky on 14 November a copy of his letter of recommendation which read, in part, “that he is endowed with a rare insight into the conditions, difficult for many to realize, surrounding modern writing.”30 There followed only a long silence, until 10 March 1930 when Zukofsky wrote Pound of his rejection.31 After receiving the editorship of an issue of Poetry, he renewed his application, with as little success, in spite of Harriet Monroe’s recommendation:
I strongly endorse this candidate even though I am not yet exactly intimate with his work. He is a member, perhaps the leader, of a “new group” of poets who are doing very interesting, more or less experimental work in poetry and in aesthetic criticism. He seems to me, judging from certain recent essays, to be searching profoundly the fundamental principles of poetic art, and I think it is important to the progress of modern literature that young minds of his calibre should be given a chance to work out their ideas and publish the results.32
Zukofsky also sent Pound his article on the Cantos. In September 1929 he sent emendations to it.33 In November Pound asked whether Mark Van Doren, Zukofsky’s old professor at Columbia, could get it published in America.34 In December Zukofsky asked Pound if he could get Eliot to publish it in the Criterion, and Pound sent it by 6 May 1930 when he acknowledged receiving René Taupin’s French translation of it.35 This was published in Paris as “Ezra Pound: Ses Cantos” in Echanges, 1, 3 (1930).36 Zukofsky knew of Eliot’s offer to read the English version in January 1930, and was told of its partial acceptance in June.37 “The Cantos of Ezra Pound (One section of an long Essay)” was published in the Criterion in April 1931 under the spelling “Zukovsky.”38 Meanwhile, Pound arranged to have Emanuel Carnevali, then convalescing from encephalitis in Italy, translate it from Taupin’s French into Italian. This version was serialized in L’Indice, 10 April, 25 April, and 10 May 1931.39
Although the Exile was not continued, and although the States Quarterly was never published, these ventures encouraged Zukofsky to begin gathering a group of writers who satisfied the criteria he was developing in his critical articles on Henry Adams, A Voyage to Pagany, the Cantos, and Reznikoff’s work.
Zukofsky’s criteria were also partly based on Pound’s critical work. Back on 12 February 1929, Pound responded to Zukofsky’s request for submissions to the States by withholding judgement and manuscripts; however, he wrote:
There is plenty of stuff in my printed work that hasn’t yet been digested by the am. pub. . . . Faintly to discern that in How to Read PLUS my previously printed stuff there is the BASIS of a new critical system. Not mere impressionism or Eliotic or other academicism etc.40
Pound referred to his ideogramic method of criticism, which he summarized in 1938 in Guide to Kulchur (dedicated to two “Objectivists,” Zukofsky and Basil Bunting)—Chapter 5: “ZWECK or the AIM”:
I mean to say the purpose of the writing is to reveal the subject. The ideogramic method consists of presenting one facet and then another until at some point one gets off the dead and desensitized surface of the reader’s mind, onto a part that will register.
The “new” angle being new to the reader who cannot always be the same reader. The newness of the angle being relative and the writer’s aim, at least this writer’s aim being revelation, a just revelation irrespective of newness or oldness.
To put it another way: it does not matter a two-penny damn whether you load up your memory with the chronological sequence of what has happened, or the names of protagonists, or authors of books, or generals and leading political spouters, so long as you understand the process now going on, or the process biological, social, economic now going on, enveloping you as an individual, in a social order, and quite unlikely to be very “new” in themselves however fresh or stale to the participant.41
Guide to Kulchur summarizes the “BASIS” of Pound’s ideogrammic method of criticism that Zukofsky had previously studied in Pavannes and Divisions (1918), Instigations (1920), and How to Read (1929). I have suggested that Zukofsky defined “An Objective” after Romains’ Unanimisme, which Pound urged him to study (Section 1); Pound’s method, too, was influenced by Romains. Zukofsky’s “historical and contemporary particulars” and Pound’s “facets” are both the perceptual and conceptual details of what is “now going on,” and particulars of the present which are relevant to the past and to the future.42 Both Pound and Zukofsky had a sense of the coalescence of this data into a revelation which is “aimed at.” Whether “the process biological, social, economic” or “a thing or things as well as an event or chain of events,” the objective of neither was the simple sensual image of the free verse movement. Both realized that revelation and revolution are analogous—each must be related to the new that stays new. But where for Pound the process was critical—the revelation of the process from a new angle, for Zukofsky the process was creative— the “objectification” of the poem, the complete resolution of the process into new structure appearing as an object in itself. Also, Zukofsky’s object required more precision than Pound’s barrage of facts. In 1933, Zukofsky wrote in reply to an unfavorable review of An “Objectivists” Anthology that the revolutionary objective will not materialize unless it is aware of the grounds upon which it either acts or reacts, and that each piece in the anthology provides explicit or implicit awareness of these grounds. It does so because it is a revelation of human truth and perception.43
Zukofsky’s criteria were also refined during his continued editing of Williams’ writing. While Pound was managing Zukofsky’s work, Zukofsky was managing Williams’. In October 1929 Williams wrote to thank Zukofsky for the return of Williams’ “Stein thing” with Zukofsky’s “pencilings,” and again in November to note that they were “of great assistance.”44 “The Work of Gertrude Stein” was first published in Pagany in Winter 1930, and Zukofsky eventually included it in A Novelette and Other Prose, published by the Oppens in 1932.45 Williams enclosed in the October letter his poem “The Flower,” which he asked Zukofsky to submit for him to a “Philadelphia venture.” It was published in U. S. A., 1 (Spring 1930), 31, and later included by Zukofsky in Williams’ Collected Poems 1921-1931.46
Meanwhile, on January 1929 Williams wrote Zukofsky that he had composed a novelette:
While tearing around tending the sick I’ve composed a Novelette in praise of my wife whom I have gotten to know again because of being thrown violently into her arms and she mine by the recent epidemic – though not by the illness of either of us, quite the contrary.47
Williams soon sent January: A Novelette to Zukofsky with this note:
Here she is. I’d like to see her in print. I had put her away so carefully it took me two days to find her.
And will you be so genteel as to scribble me down (on the script) the changes you so generously have suggested. I’m for ’em—i.e. the changes. Then send the thing to me to be recopied – I’ll cross my heart I’ll return it pronto.48
By 4 March 1929, Williams (as well as rushing through with his mother their translation of Philippe Soupault’s Last Nights in Paris, due at the printer by 15 April) was revising it.49 Zukofsky wanted to put it in the States before that scheme failed; he also offered to send it to Pound if he wished to continue the Exile, describing it as a novelette of fifty pages in the style of Kora in Hell and The Great American Novel, well-written and centered on a common theme—concerning Williams, his wife, his work during the influenza epidemic, and his writing—the “novel.”50
At this point in their history, the “Objectivists” were securely established as a literary group with healthy working relationships. Their efforts to promote their work and ideals were evident in the plans of Pound and Williams as contributing editors to Blues, in the plans of Zukofsky for the States Quarterly, in their opinions of Reznikoff’s work, in their consideration of using a private press, possibly Reznikoff’s, to print work in which they believed, in their mutual services as literary agents, and in the similarities of the principles of their critical and creative works.
Permission to quote the letters by Ezra Pound at notes 19, 21 22, 29, 29, and 40 from New Directions Pub. acting as agent, copyright © 2015 by Mary de Rachewiltz and Omar S. Pound. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.