Section 11 - History 1930
Pound wrote on 14 February 1930 to ask Zukofsky to send him manuscripts of criticism: “What has Reznikoff lying about?” Also “Bob McAlmon” and “Bill.” Pound hinted of a fee if Zukofsky would translate “Paideuma” by Frobenius, and asked if there were any works including Yiddish which needed to be “traduced or summarized in english.” All this was to be a basis for a new movement:
am thinking of starting a intellexshul movement in amurika, above questions apply to prose (critical, root=ideas if any, and at a stretch to fixshun that can be considered (very briefly) as having some relation to the Devil upment of writing.1
At the same time, Pound was plying Lincoln Kirstein with letters to try to divert Hound and Horn from its Harvard limitations to become the medium for this new movement.2 Kirstein, however, complied to only Pound’s letter and not his spirit, and so Pound’s proposal was put in abeyance until 1931.3
Feeling the effects of the depression, Zukofsky asked Pound on 10 March if the Frobenius translation was to be his unemployment compensation. Nine days later, he sent Pound a piece by Gould, but he was now concerned more with his own writing than with Pound’s movement. In addition to poems published in Blues and Pagany, Zukofsky’s long essay on Henry Adams was accepted by Lincoln Kirstein.4 It was serialized from April-June 1930 to Winter 1931.5 Also at this time Zukofsky was negotiating with Eliot for the publication of his essay on the Cantos (see Section 9).
Williams congratulated Zukofsky on the Hound and Horn acceptance,6 and after its first installment wrote that the piece was “delightful”; however, Williams was more concerned with the last Imagist Anthology. Published 10 May 1930, it included an incomplete version of “Della Primaverra [sic] Transportata [sic] al Morale,” and five other poems, but its typographical errors took away Williams’ pleasure in it. Page 229 listed books by Williams: “Tempera [sic], 1913 / Kora in Hell, 1920 / Four Grapes [sic], 1921 / In the American Grave [sic], 1925.” As Williams observed, ’—and Spring / is yeomen in! &%$£jesus§1/4* What a cocksucking mistake THAT is!”7
Williams had given a fuller response to Zukofsky’s thesis on Henry Adams on 12 July 1928 after he had read it in manuscript:
I finished the “Henry Adams” yesterday before breakfast. It interested me greatly both as an introduction to the life of an American of extra-ordinary significance to my way of thinking – which is not putting it half firmly enough – and as the work of another American . . . I enjoyed your work. All through the reading I came upon lines of real distinction . . . To me your thesis shows a worthwhile subtlty of style indicative of a mind of fine grain and selective power of thought which is unusual . . . You seemed to hold the damned subject up from the table as a whole with clean hands. That’s the gist of your power to me. I don’t feel any shit – smell, would be better. You have power that is real, penetrant and (so far) flexible enough not to crack irritably the way the thing usually does in the people I have to do with most often.8
Williams admired Zukofsky’s thesis not merely out of friendship. It, like his In the American Grain, was the result of a need to establish roots in America by a first generation American and shows in doing so “a grain and selective power of thought which is unusual.”
Zukofsky wanted to follow his study of Adams with one of Thomas Jefferson. Pound found value in the idea if it was to be “a POPULAR book on Jefferson’s fight for freedom of the press.”9 Such a study would promote the “Objectivists” struggle against the inertia of the publishing industry. In spirit Zukofsky began planning a trip to California before settling that fall in Wisconsin for the winter to be a graduate assistant on a small stipend at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. There Zukofsky was to capitalize on his Jefferson interest by presenting it as his graduate project. Quickly disenchanted with the labor of being a poet, critic, and teacher, however, little came of it except a poem, “Madison, Wis., remembering the bloom of Monticello (1931).”10
Zukofsky’s letter to Pound of 27 May 1930 mentioned the completion of “American Poetry 1920-1930” (see Section 14), and that he had received from A. and C. Boni a contract to translate from the German Albert Einstein: A Biographical Portrait by Anton Reiser, Einstein’s nephew.11 This is the kind of hack-work that appealed to Zukofsky. Although Reiser idolized his uncle and his skill as a biographer was limited, much of the book was devoted to explaining Einstein’s theories. Zukofsky must have rushed the translation because he needed the money; after it was finished, he asked that he not be credited as translator.12
Some of the data from this work, however, surfaced in “A”, beginning in “A”-6 whose composition took from early summer up to 19 August 1930.13
- Asked Albert who introduced relativity—
- “And what is the formula for success?”
- “X=work, y=p1ay, Z=keep your mouth shut.”
- “And what about Johann Sebastian? The same formula.”14
Zukofsky’s translation of his source for this in the biography reads:
The school of German music from Bach to Beethoven and Mozart best manifests for Einstein the essence of music. . . . On one occasion when asked to answer a questionaire about Bach he said briefly, “In reference to Bach’s life and work: listen, play, love, revere, and—keep your mouth shut!”15
Although Zukofsky’s version is not scholarly accurate, it is more revealing than Reiser’s. Zukofsky cast Einstein’s quip into a formula and must have applied it to his own as he applied it to Einstein’s success. Zukofsky shared with Einstein interests in music (Bach) and mathematics (to whose terms he reduced many of his descrip~ tions of the poetic process). The theoretical discipline characteristic of music and mathematics was for Zukofsky a necessary balance to the inaccuracy of the art against which he struggled. The “Objectivists” were among the first to adapt to their art the advances of modern physics, particularly field theory and the theory of relativity.
Charles Reznikoff was also working for Boni. His novel, By the Waters of Manhattan, was published in Charles Boni’s Paper Books series in June 1930, with an introduction by Louis Untermeyer and a cover by Amy Drevenstedt featuring people on a New York tenement street below the Brooklyn Bridge in the background. The novel is in two parts, both revised from By the Waters of Manhattan: An Annual which Reznikoff had published in 1929 with a third part—”Editing and Glosses.”16 This revision changed the first person autobiography of his mother, Sarah Yetta, into the third person, and the story of Joel Stein into the story of Ezekiel, Sarah Yetta’s son. “Ezekiel” was Reznikoff’s Hebrew name.17 Ezekiel, like the young Charles, was not content with work that deprived him of the peace of mind necessary for his interest in literature. Unlike Reznikoff, however, Ezekiel avoided a job in the factories and a distraught home life by opening a modest bookstore, success with which, as with the women he met there, was only close enough to jade him to his real desires.
Untermeyer’s short introduction to the novel began:
It is a long time since I have read a story so obviously sincere—so tellingly simple. The simplicity, from the first paragraph to the last, is not an incidental virtue or a trick of technique; it is essential. It bears no relation to the over-cu1tivated monosyllables which have come as a reaction to our over-cultivated (and belated) Eighteen Nineties. Here is nothing falsely naïf in story or in style.
Reznikoff’s essential simplicity was the result of direct treatment, the method by which Pound countered the errors of the decadents. He avoided all “literary” ornament and affectation; he presented the life, which is more meaningful than any authorial interpretation, any faddish or falsely sensational fabrication. Untermeyer continued:
There is, in fact, no “style.” The style is in the story —quiet, always serious, and cumulatively impressive. It builds up in little blocks of incident until events attain a dignity far beyond the statement.18
The same virtue is apparent in the works of Reznikoff (Section 8) and Williams (Section 10). Details of sincerity suggest the wholes of which they are parts.
Having sent Pound his future address, a set of Adams letters, and mention of meeting Basil Bunting,19 Zukofsky traveled at the end of July 1930 by train from New York to California, where he stayed with Roger Kaigh in Berkeley until mid-September, when he traveled to Madison. Zukofsky took notes en route to write “Train-Signal” and, with the volume of the economist Thorstein Veblen that Kaigh loaned him, “Immature Pebbles.”20 “Immature Pebbles” begins with an epigraph from Veblen that challenges one to banish “lmponderables” by “a course of unsettling habit.” The poem is an account of an observation of the change in seasons which brings “the expected to the accustomed / in this place”—”young men and women / bathing in a lake.” Zukofsky’s course was to move on “before one’s an accessory to these ways.” “In our day,” it ends, “impatience / handles such matters of photography / more pertinently from a train window.” Zukofsky’s travels this summer, which brought him for the first time far from the city of his birth, rendered his perceptions more free from “axioms of settling habits.”
In “A”-6 we find a more complete record of his journey:
- N. Y., and then desolation.
- The steel works of Gary.
- Stopped by Lake Michigan, Chicago,
- And left a note he was going to Berkeley.
- Desolation. Brush. Foothills of the Rockies.
- Green sea roof: desert shack in Nevada—
- 120 degrees in the shade—
- Far away in the heat the monument of a city.
That was Salt Lake City behind him. To speak of unsettling habits, he continued:
- Was, divorced from himself,
- Advised in the night-life of Reno.
He was advised a number of things, everything from the relation between road and the prohibition to a song that reflected a word of Bach’s Passion:
- Outside the voice of one word in a chorus
- A sole, a sole
- A soldier boy was he
- Two pis two pis
- Two pistols on his knee
- So everyday’s a love day to a sailor
- And who’s the boy who would not see the wurrld,
- Wand’r a sailor (example he of paler
- Than haller ’gainst his bunting flag unfurrled.
These things which on the trip Zukofsky was advised by the acquaintances of his circumstances are the details which illumine for him America:
- A country of musty, inherited grants
- And aged Indians,
- Indians employed to establish
- Proof of the grants to the white men,
- “Not 150, that can’t be your age?”
- asked cautiously the Indian’s counsel,
- “No... No...! That wrohng! lheast 200!”
- San Francisco’s hills and fogs;
- In one of its newspapers—
- “Some of our best and largest dowagers
- almost do the split”;
- Sing Fat Co.—merchants.
This was America—the land of the free to be free to complain, swindle, shock, and amuse.
After a few passages like this are located in historical time, Zukofsky’s whole poem seems renewed in fact, and the reader is more willing to puzzle out the meaning that can survive time and the poet’s ruthless omissions. For example, Zukofsky’s preferred brand of cigarette was apparently in short supply in the land of Sung Fat Co. He wrote: “Achieved: / Three thousand miles over rails, / And adequate distribution of “Camels”—meaning that California was three thousand miles from adequate distribution.21
In Berkeley, plans were made to publish a book of criticism by Zukofsky and Kaigh: Four Essays and Paper.22 The four essays were Zukofsky’s on Henry Adams, the Cantos, Charles Reznikoff, and American poetry 1920-1930. “Paper” is Kaigh’s criticism of those such as logicians and philosophers who depend on “static or categorical meanings” credible only on paper:
‘Yes’ and ‘No’ are categorically distinct upon paper, but either may mean anything from emphatic ‘Yes’ to emphatic ‘No’ when spoken. For the context, gesture, intonation and pronunciation give words a stamp of meaning which a written form will lack.
Zukofsky quoted this in “American Poetry 1920-1930” to argue not against those who wish to ignore the infinite but against those who indulge in it, against poets “who, as some one has said of Matthew Arnold, have put on singing robes to lose themselves in the universa1.”23
While in Berkeley Zukofsky briefly visited the Oppens in Belvedere, received an offer from Echanges (which was publishing the French version of his essay on Pound’s Cantos) to be American correspondent, and, by 19 August 1930, finished “A”-6 and 7.24
In Madison by 17 September 1930, Zukofsky set about being a graduate teaching assistant, and temporarily abandoned his efforts to have the poets in whom he believed published. But then he received an offer from Harriet Monroe to guest-edit an issue of Poetry.
This history not only reveals the foundations upon which the “Objectivist” poetic structure was built and suggests the uses it served, but also confirms the relations between foundation and structure. The “Objectivist” wrote of things which they had experienced to satisfy needs which they personally felt.
Permission to quote the unpublished letters by Ezra Pound at notes 1 and 9 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.