“Objectivists” 1927-1934 Section 14 - Notes Contents

Section 14 - Editing the Poetry Issue

I. Stray Manuscripts

Zukofsky edited the “Objectivists” issue of Poetry in November and December 1930, beginning with “all the stray mss/” that Pound could find, including work by Carl Rakosi, Howard Weeks, Ernest Hemingway’s “They All Made Peace—What is Peace?” and Emanuel Carnevali’s translations of Rimbaud (which Pound thought “ought to go in”).1

Writing to Pound on 9 November 1930, Zukofsky relied on the critical principles he expressed in “American Poetry 1920-1930” and on Pound’s distinction between voices to comment on the qualities of Carnevali (his smooth voice), McAlmon and Hemingway (their rough voices), Eliot (his fiddling with the iambic in The Waste Land—not without success—and his natural incorporation of the Latin), and Bunting (his masterful attention to verbal quantity). Furthermore, his letter shows that he had begun the work of editing the issue with the kind of aggressiveness recommended by Pound; he noted that he had slaved over McAlmon’s “Fortuno Carraccioli” omitting lines, and, parenthically, that the poem satirized the Italian immigrant—apparently modelled on Carnevali.2 On 15 November he added that he had been receiving manuscripts but, after working like a dog to discover the little good in them, had had to return them to court the writer’s favor.3 Zukofsky not only detailed revisions, he negotiated with the writers for their acceptance. Their correspondence is a record of Zukofsky’s personal and critical perceptiveness.

Some contributors required much work to qualify as “Objectivists.” Zukofsky wrote Pound on 12 December that he could save Harry Roskolenkier only by filtering through many manuscripts and combining lines from different poems.4 During a brief trip to New York, Zukofsky left a note for comrade Roskolenkier on the back of a State Bank of Wisconsin check which said that he was including in Poetry “Salvation Army” but without its first strophes and with the final line from “Photograph of Time.” It also noted that he had given the rest of the manuscripts to Johns of Pagany, which, if published, would be paid for.5 Yet Zukofsky’s struggle with Roskolenkier was not over. On 1 December, he returned further manuscripts complaining that after editing there were not enough lines left to publish.6 And on 4 December he asked Roskolenkier not to send any more manuscripts that needed editing, and not even to send finished work after 12 December. And he added humorously that the Workers Party should hire him to teach a poetry writing workshop, because if a few workers could learn how to communicate to the masses, the revolutionary aim might be improved.7

When the issue was finished, Zukofsky sent Pound his “Program: ‘Objectivists’ 1931,” commented on each of the contributors, and noted that he had learned that his generation were mostly children in need of a mother.8

Pound consistently refused to allow Zukofsky to publish him as an “Objectivist”; however, he permitted it to be known that he was invited. Moreover, “if Harriet will let you git away with it,” Pound requested, “Two pages to face each other, blank on left and note on right; preferably ‘centered’; breaking habitual format so possibly dear to ’Arriet’s ’eart.” The left-hand page was to have born the legend “SPACE RESERVED FOR E.P.” in “Large type poss’bly sans serif,” and the right-hand page an editorial by Pound to chastize the United States for “impediments to literary life.”9

Pound’s pages, along with work by lesser “Objectivists,” were left out due to lack of space. Zukofsky sent the issue to Monroe on 15 December 1930, noting that if, as he thought, there were a few extra pages of poetry, he could advise omissions, and that Monroe if she wished could save the work by Johns, Mangan, Gregory, Champions, and others for later issues.10 Zukofsky’s telegram of 22 December 1930 and his letter of 31 December 1930 gave Monroe permission to accept Horace Gregory’s “A Tombstone with Cherubim,” Richard Johns’ “The Sphinx: for WCW, Henry Zolinsky’s “Horatio,” Jesse Loewenthal’s “Match”, and Martha Champion’s “Poem” for subsequent issues of Poetry. Only Gregory’s poem, published in the March issue, was so accepted; the rest were left in the February issue. Zukofsky’s end notes for the issue apologizes that Gregory’s poem would “appear in a later issue” and that “the limitations of page-space” prevented “presenting contributions by Helene Magaret, Herman Spector, John W. Gessner [an error for “Gassner,” the drama critic], William Lubov, B. J. Israel, Chrystie Streeter, Sherry Mangan, Donal McKenzie, and Jerry Reisman.” Furthermore,

the editor also regrets the omission of a blank page representing Ezra Pound’s contribution to this issue—a page reserved for him as an indication of his belief that a country tolerating outrages like article 211 of the U.S. Penal Code, publishers’ “overhead,” and other impediments to literary life, “does not deserve to have any literature whatsoever.” Mr. Pound gave over to younger poets the space offered to him.11

Space was also made by dividing Zukofsky’s translation of René Taupin’s essay on André Salmon between this and the March issue.

Another telegram from Zukofsky on 22 December 1930 instructed Monroe to cut from “Program: ‘Objectivists’ 1931” certain lines dealing with university administration and students.12 These comments, no longer available and perhaps deleted after Zukofsky more carefully considered the reactions of the professors at Madison, might have been inspired by Pound’s complaints to Zukofsky on 8 November 1930 about the American University system. Instead, the “Objectivists” bitterness against academics incapable of appreciating significant innovation survives in a poem Zukofsky quoted in full for Pound on 16 December 1930 and 5 January 1931:

The poem and the identity of “Joyce Hopkins” stimulated occasional notes, queries, and explanations between Pound and Zukofsky through January 1932.

“Joyce Hopkins” was a pseudonym. The poem is from a letter from Roger Kaigh to Zukofsky. Kaigh wrote that his wife, D. (Dorothy) was in Napa (California) training those whom the state had sterilized (to get them pensions). Zukofsky combined initial and verb, put the city in lower case, and titled it, implying allegorical and anagogical meanings to tease the academics. It was meant to describe Zukofsky in the university as Dis, the god of the underworld, chasing sterilized invalids; it also meant, said Zukofsky, that they might be saved by evil.14 But the academics at Wisconsin could not interpret it, and even Pound thought Zukofsky “could have expressed the same subject matter in a more simple and lucid manner without losing one jot of the meaning.”15

“University: Old-Time” was a small part of the real challenge to the status quo that the “Objectivists” represented. Zukofsky, an underling within the English department at Madison, felt discomfort in expressing his vanguard position. In spite of Pound’s commendation in the English Journal and in spite of the impressiveness of Monroe’s gift of the editorship of Poetry, Zukofsky’s relations worsened with the Department which it could be said he did not by this time highly regard. In March 1931 he wrote Pound that the professors could not comprehend his issue of Poetry and his essay in Symposium and therefore imagined he was corrupting their students.16

The relationship between Pound and Zukofsky was surprisingly close. Although they were very different in character, they shared common beliefs about poetry and its role in the world.

II. Rakosi

Zukofsky had asked Pound for the latest address of Carl Rakosi on 13 October 1930 (Section 13). Pound responded, 24 October 1930: “I am glad you asked about Rakosi. The chap was feelin blue as sombohillbo in his last letter, I wudn’t be sprised if he’d shot himse1f.”17 Zukofsky thereupon wrote a letter to Rakosi, inviting him to submit work for the issue of Poetry. This letter reached Rakosi in Houston, where he was teaching English in a high school. Rakosi replied sending a collection of manuscripts.18 Zukofsky was so excited by these that he wrote Pound on 17 November that Pound had been right again—the work received from Rakosi was better than everything else by him. He also wrote that Rakosi claimed that he had quit writing in 1925. Zukofsky did not know what Rakosi was doing, but gave Pound his address in Houston and his legal name, Callman Rawley, and supposed that Pound knew that Rakosi once studied at the University of Wisconsin.19 (Rakosi had in fact changed his name legally to Callman Rawley, but of course Carl Rakosi was his “real” name and the name by which he published his poetry.)

Zukofsky’s delight with Rakosi’s work published in Exile 2 and 4 and with the leftovers he received from Pound attested to a fundamental ground of poetic agreement. In addition, both Zukofsky and Rakosi suffered the position of alienated writer, as Williams wrote of Shakespeare, “unable to employ himself in his world.”20 Rakosi wrote of Zukofsky:

He had just come on as a teaching assistant in the English Department at the University of Wisconsin and had discovered immediately that this was the wrong medium for him, the wrong place, the wrong responsibilities, the wrong people, and began almost at once to send out feelers on possible jobs back in N.Y. . . .

I was in somewhat the same situation. I was beginning my second year as an English teacher in a Houston high school and was crushed by the teaching load and the disciplinary problems, and sick from alienation from it all. We had the same desperate psychic problem, therefore, and consequently instant rapport.21

Their poetic and personal rapport meant that their correspondence immediately exceeded the necessary business of editor and contributor and extended beyond the deadline for the “Objectivists” issue. Zukofsky was editing Rakosi’s work in January just as he had in November and December. They had become friends—coworkers and confidants, partners in a common effort.

Until this time, Rakosi was unaware that he had been published by Pound in Exile. Rakosi speculated that Pound may have thought he had informed him and when he received no response feared, as Zukofsky reported, that Rakosi had killed himself.22 Zukofsky’s letter to Rakosi of 17 November 1930 opened with some confusion as to how Rakosi (or Rawley) should be addressed, but then begged to claim that Rakosi’s work was better than any American work that Zukofsky had read in years. Zukofsky asked with incredulity whether it were true that Rakosi had quit writing. Since he guessed that Rakosi did not know his work was published in the Exile, he reviewed the facts. Zukofsky had read Rakosi’s four poems (”Characters,” “Wanted,” “Superproduction,” and “Revue”) in Exile 2 (Autumn 1927), edited by Pound whom he described as the sole prophet of the new dispensation. In spite of the influence of Eliot and Cummings in Rakosi’s work, Zukofsky determined that it had a core of sincerity. Furthermore, Zukofsky identified the six poems of Rakosi’s “Extracts from a Private Life” which appeared in Exile 4 (Autumn 1928), mentioned three poems by Rakosi which he highly admired, and said that, based on these, he had included Rakosi among the significant few in “American Poetry 1920-1930,” which was in the upcoming issue of Symposium. Next, Zukofsky intended to include in Poetry five to seven pages by Rakosi among thirty-two pages of the most significant work written in the previous decade. Zukofsky foresaw difficulty finding more than six writers of Rakosi’s quality, although he said he would like twelve. He was considering Rakosi’s “Washington Lincoln in the Tropics,” “The Founding of New Hampshire,” “Fluteplayers from Finmarken,” “Chanson Sans Paroles,” “Unswerving Marine,” “Dolce Padre and Ephebus,” “Orpean Lost,” and “Panels for a Victrola,” and perhaps also “News,” “Death Song,” and others whose indirect and ornamental leanings marked them as different from Rakosi’s best work. If Rakosi allowed him, Zukofsky would submit anything he did not use to Hound and Horn, Pagany, Morada, or, if his issue did not alienate Monroe, later issues of Poetry.23 Zukofsky asked Rakosi’s opinion of a few revisions by which Zukofsky clarified and objectified Rakosi’s manuscripts. Among these, Rakosi’s “green theme” (in “Washington Lincoln in the Tropics”) broke Pound’s rule in “A Few Don’ts” against synesthesia, and his “drums of evil / pursue the canny atomic stars” (in “Orphean Lost”) mixed an abstraction with the concrete.24 Rakosi’s revisions heeded Zukofsky’s suggestions. Zukofsky indicated that Williams, Pound (hopefully), McAlmon, S. T. Hecht, Oppen, and himself would also appear in what he called Rakosi’s issue, repeated his question about Rakosi’s alleged abstinence from writing, asked Rakosi’s preference of pen-name, said Rakosi’s check would come in the mail with the magazine, inquired about Rakosi’s private life, and finally, requested a brief note of bibliography.25

Zukofsky’s letter of 24 November gave more suggestions for revision of “Washington Lincoln in the Tropics,” suggested omitting three lines from “News” which showed Eliot’s influence, and responded to three concerns that Rakosi had expressed. First, in response to Rakosi’s protest against Zukofsky’s assertion of his genius, Zukofsky wrote that one’s special abilities should no more be doubted than one’s ability to eat, walk, or sleep; it should be a fact one recognizes, no matter what anyone else says. Second, in response to Rakosi’s concern about repaying Zukofsky for his great interest in Rakosi’s work, Zukofsky claimed (humorously astonished to consider that Rakosi had been so poorly treated as to believe a return necessary) that Rakosi could do nothing to repay him—except to tell him sometime about Rakosi’s life experiences, and to give him the poems he had not yet seen, including the poems in Little Review, Nation, American Caravan, Two World’s Quarterly, New Masses, Broom, Palms, Echo, Liberator, and so on. And, third, in response to Rakosi’s statement that he could not write to Pound because Pound was too much of a hero to him, Zukofsky claimed that Pound would be more pleased by a letter than by being a hero and that it was useless to idolize the man when one could work with him.26

Zukofsky’s next letter, 3 December 1930, said he liked “Out of the Egg” except where the lines, in discord with the rest of the poem, assume the iambic cadences of Eliot. Yet, even there, Zukofsky admired Rakosi’s distinctive diction.27 In fact, however, the iambic was probably directly from Wallace Stevens, who had a strong influence on Rakosi at this time. Zukofsky’s consideration of Stevens, wrote Rakosi, “was always luke-warm and reluctant.”28

From the beginning of his correspondence with Rakosi, Zukofsky attempted to tease and flatter Rakosi into writing more poems. Rakosi later wrote, when he re-read Zukofsky’s letter of 17 November 1930:

I was astonished and could hardly believe that I had begun to shrink back, or been forced back, from writing as long ago as 1930. My memory had set the date at 1939 or 1940, which was, in fact, when all writing stopped (until 1965), but my memory, apparently, had deleted a whole decade in which I was struggling to make a living and to write at the same time, and was losing.29

Zukofsky’s letter of 3 December continued by urging Rakosi to write again.30 Under this persuasion, Rakosi wrote a poem and sent it to Zukofsky who subsequently sent it to Pound, on 9 December, with great exclamations.31

On 7 December 1930, in addition to noting strengths in and suggesting revisions of the poem which he suggested be titled “Before You,” Zukofsky described his “Program: ‘Objectivists’ 1931” as a “standard” around which the writers in the issue could rally, and mentioned that he might send it to Rakosi for his approval, but on 16 December 1930 wrote that he had no extra copy of it.32

Zukofsky’s admiration of and relationship with Rakosi established Rakosi as an “Objectivist” as surely as had Pound’s discovery of Rakosi in The Exile. Yet in Zukofsky’s aggressive editing process, Rakosi’s work was brought even more in line with “Objectivist” principles. Rakosi was now established as a partner in the efforts of writers with whom he could share more than space in a magazine issue.

III. A Standard

Louis Zukofsky has insisted that “the only reason” for using the term “objectivist” was “Harriet Monroe’s insistence when l edited the ‘Objectivist’ number of Poetry. Pound was after her,” and so: “Well, she told me, ‘You must have a movement.’ I said, ‘No, some of us are writing to say things simply so that they will affect us as new again.’ ‘Well, give it a name.’”33 But Monroe’s insistance was the reason for using a term, not the term.

Zukofsky wrote to Pound on 9 November 1930 to complain that the group should not be circumscribed by the personalities of either McKenzie or himself. He thought it better to name them by their number, time, locale, or common trait, and gave seven possibilities, asking for Pound’s suggestions, but then stated that one of these, namely “Objectivists,” if it could be divorced from its philosophical connotations, should serve, since it would describe poems which were themselves things or objects.34

Once the term had helped give the work a sense of coherence, he wrote Monroe that his issue definitely would present more of a “group” than he had predicted, since even though his contributors—so far McAlmon, Rakosi, Hecht, Oppen, Williams, and himself—had never met as a group for discussion, their work cohered as a whole.35

“Program: ‘Objectivists’ 1931,” a miscellany of editorial statements, was written about 7 December 1930, when Zukofsky confided to Rakosi that it should rouse the stupid and sterile masses and give the writers in the issue something to rally around.36 Zukofsky’s low opinion of the reading public was by this time compounded by his alienation as a teaching assistant at Madison. Pound’s and Monroe’s insistence that he conduct and lead a popular movement was almost unpalatable.

Two days later, his letter to Pound mentioned that he was including a little trash concerning “Objectivists” (with quotation marks to distinguish the term from its meanings in philosophy), which would possibly stimulate criticisms of the work in the issue.37 This was his concession to Pound’s advice of 25 October 1930 to invite attack, since “it will implicate you into a reply in later issues; which is all to the good.”38 Unfortunately, the reason for the quotation marks was not given in the issue. This oversight was made up in a letter by Zukofsky to Stanley Burnshaw published in the April issue of Poetry and in Zukofsky’s preface to An “Objectivists” Anthology, but these were too late and too little noticed. From the first the term swelled like a balloon, as Zukofsky complained, “and a lot of mad people” went “chasing it.”39

The section headed “COMMENT” at the back of Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, 37, 5 (February 1931) includes, first, “Program: ‘Objectivists’ 1931,” a brief description of objectives, mention of the contributors, and a poem by Hemingway, second, “Sincerity and Objectification: With Special Reference to the Work of Charles Reznikoff,” a shortened version of his essay on Reznikoff, third, “Symposium,” a critical dialogue between Zukofsky and the two editors of Blues, and, fourth, an essay by René Taupin translated by Zukofsky, “Three Poems by André Salmon, I,” the second half of which appeared in the subsequent issue, Poetry (March 1931). In a note to Monroe, 22 December 1930, advising what could be omitted, Zukofsky warned that “Program,” “Sincerity and Objectification,” “Symposium,” and “Three Poems” were all necessary; together they comprised one manifesto.40

Permission to quote the letter by Ezra Pound at note 1 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.

Permission to quote the letters by Ezra Pound at notes 14, 15, and 38 from POUND/ZUKOFSKY, copyright © 1981, 1987 by the Trustees of the Ezra Pound Literary Property Trust. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.