Section 22 - History 1931-1934
I. An “Objectivists” Anthology
Zukofsky wished to improve upon his Poetry issue. Pound performed a small editorial function for Samuel Putnam’s New Review in Paris. And so Zukofsky wrote on 25 April 1931 to ask Pound to convince Putnam to publish an anthology of “Objectivists” which he would edit—and also, to improve Zukofsky’s reputation, a book of his poetry.1
Putnam would not have been antagonistic to the idea. Zukofsky had included his sonnet in the “Symposium” of the “Objectivists” issue, and Putnam had already accepted for publication in the spring issue of the New Review Zukofsky’s “‘A’, Third and Fourth Movements,” and “Imagism,” Zukofsky’s review of René Taupin’s L’Influence du Symbolisme Français sur le Poésie American (de 1910 à 1920).2 This issue also included a poem by Donal McKenzie, criticism by Pound, and a long editorial by Putnam, “Black Arrow.”
“Black Arrow” set forth Zukofsky’s issue of Poetry as one of a few publications marking 1931 as a “turningpoint” [sic] from the age which began in 1914 with the death of Cubism to a new age in which is chosen “the Magic of the Object,” a “White Magic” which “consists in drawing aside the veil of Reality, in revealing what the Greeks called the sacra of life . . . in conferring a sacramental significance upon the object, which is more satanic than any Word, revolutionized or not, could ever be.” Putnam described to Zukofsky as “the best, the most important critic that I am able to think of in America,” but he did not really understand that the denotation of Zukofsky’s “Objective” was primarily in the writing, not in the world. Putnam wrote: “The thing, in any case, is the thing. And this is the meaning of that new contenutismo, or stress upon content as opposed to the overstress on form of the past decade, which we hear being called for all over Europe.”3 Although the “Objectivists” felt they were reacting against a formlessness which prohibited effective communication of serious content, their “thing” was not just content; it was also form.
The second mention of Zukofsky’s anthology comes in his letter to Pound of 26 August 1931, where he demanded that Pound contribute a Canto. To make his anthology seem a more proper home for a Canto, he said he had gained from the experience of his Poetry issue: the anthology would be more conclusive and its poems would not lack objectification. Since he would exclude published work, eight writers in the issue might not qualify for the anthology. Finally, he offered Pound a veto on all submissions, beginning with work, if he could please obtain it, by Bunting and Carnevali.4 Pound, however, did not give him a Canto. Zukofsky included instead two parodic and bawdy song lyrics by Pound, the chorus of the first being “Mit der yittischer Charleston Pband,” and the second titled “Words for Rondel in Double Canon ( Maestoto e triste).”5
By 18 September 1931, Zukofsky had set the deadline for the anthology: 15 October 1931. He also perhaps had received from Putnam some sort of promise of compensation, with the idea that the anthology would be printed as an issue of New Review, but he complained to Pound because Putnam had neither confirmed his offer to publish the anthology nor paid Zukofsky for his expenses, time, and effort.6
Zukofsky had already been working with Rakosi. He had been responsible for the publication of work by Rakosi in two previous issues of Pagany. The spring issue contained “Three Poems: Revue; Death Song; Dolce Padre and Ephebus,” and the summer issue “The Founding of New Hampshire.”7 In addition, two more groups of three poems were to be printed in the fall and winter issues,8 and a group of seven numbered poems titled “A Journey Away” was printed in the October-December issue of Hound and Horn.9 Zukofsky included in An “Objectivists” Anthology this later group, rearranged and expanded by two poems, and “Parades.”10 (On 15 September 1931, he returned “Parades” for Rakosi’s approval, relineated.11 It appeared in the anthology in the form Zukofsky suggested.)
By 26 September 1931, Zukofsky had begun to despair. He wrote to Rakosi that he was in distress, worrying that he would not find six alive writers, that contemporary poetry was dead, and that his anthology would be its own memorial service. Since this was to be an anthology of “Objectivists” and not Rakosi’s collected poems, Zukofsky wished to memorialize one coherent and unified presentation of Rakosi’s achievement rather than his range or diversity. Zukofsky then copied all nine poems of the proposed group, beginning with the note that their unity should be recognized by a common title, like “Chanson sans Paroles” (song without words), which was Rakosi’s title for the first poem in the group—and ending with the note that the poems be merely numbered. The group’s unity, he suggested, was that of a travel journal, a description of the times. As such, it was “epic” and would be included in the epic part of the anthology, rather than in the lyric part or (unless Rakosi disagreed entirely with Zukofsky’s plan) the collaboration part.12
The group, titled “A Journey Away,” was, as Zukofsky wished, included in the epic part, and “Parades” was included in the lyric part. The distinction between epic and lyric was made by Zukofsky in “‘Recencies’ in Poetry,” which served as a preface to the anthology (Section 21). Zukofsky described the whole anthology for Rakosi on 7 October 1931, and commented that Rakosi was the preeminent writer of the epic in the anthology, and that the epic was distinguished by its subject, not its size.13
Zukofsky sent to Pound the dedication on 12 October 1931, and the anthology was finished 21 October 1931,14 but as late as December Zukofsky still had no commitment from Putnam. Williams wrote to Pound on 8 December 1931 that Zukofsky “has just completed (during the past month) an anthology which Putnam has. Now I don’t know Putnam well, but I’ve written to him and had no answer after having been led to believe that he might answer very substantially, etc., etc.”15 On 17 December 1931, Zukofsky wrote Pound that Putnam offered to publish “A” and that he liked the anthology, but nothing had been done by Christmas, and on 11 February 1931 Zukofsky received Putnam’s rejection, whereupon, as he wrote to Pound on 15 March 1931, Zukofsky decided that he would no longer submit work unsolicited or without pay, especially for editors like Putnam. Zukofsky chastized himself for sacrificing his money, time, and energy.16
II. To Publishers
Meanwhile, on 22 January 1931, when the “Objectivists” issue of Poetry was at the press, Pound reviewed the “super book club” idea, sending Zukofsky a list of names of those who might be counted on, including Dahlberg, Ford, Joseph Freeman, Gregory, Johns, Kirstein, Macleod, Mangan, MacLeish, Price “(who impd. Xile . . .),” Rakosi, Reznikoff, Tyler, Wheelright, and Zabel, with this note: “add list of men willing to WORK.”17
Zukofsky responded on 5 February 1931 to say he was not a salesman; however, he commented on Pound’s list and added Rexroth. At this time Zukofsky was occupied with being both a poet and a graduate assistant at Madison, teaching and writing a thesis on Jefferson.
Pound replied on 18 February 1931:
I suggest you stick mainly to Jeff. and yr/ pome; but for conversational purposes you cd. stress need of MACHINERY for printing and distributing 6 vols. McAlmon; Bill’s inedits; and my Prolegomena (collected prose to up last year).
I mean that cd. be a nucleus. When the mcHinery is constituted it wd. find plenty more to work on.
I suggest stuff be cheaply but clearly printed in europe and sold unbound (broché) at lowest possible price. Idea of small but quick return, small and q. to authors and 6% to pubshr. or financier. Overhead negligible.
At any rate; start keeping a list of those with either
acquaintance with either or possible purchasers or people
with DAS KAPITAL18
Zukofsky discussed this matter with Rexroth (who had just moved from Chicago to California), Oppen, and possibly Rakosi. By the end of August 1931, he had enough of Rakosi’s work for a book. On 24 August he wrote Zabel that R M R, a new paperback press in Los Angeles with which Rexroth was associated, might publish Rakosi.19 Zukofsky also understood that R M R was interested in publishing Pound, particularly How to Read,20 but nothing became of this possibility.21
Fortunately there was another possibility in the works. The notes at the end of the February Poetry said that George Oppen was living in Belvedere, Ca1ifornia.22 He and Mary had moved there in the fall of 1930.23 But before Zukofsky left New York in July, as Mary Oppen wrote in her autobiography:
Louis, George, and I agreed on a plan for publishing books: Louis would be the editor, arranging and getting the books for publication, while George and I would go to France in a year to set up a household and find a printer. We would see the books through the printing and ship them back to Louis, who would market them. The plan was to print paperback books, reasonable enough in price that students and others could buy them. At that time no paperback books existed. We could pay for the cost of the enterprise, and Louis would be paid $100 a month. Louis chose the name To Publishers—“to” in the sense of “to whom it may concern,” as on a bill of lading, or as in usage before a verb to indicate the infinitive, “to publish.”24
The Oppens spent the year in California “writing and assimilating our New York experience and getting together the money for the To publishing venture,” and they left “on a small French freighter from San Francisco, destination Le Havre, a thirty-day trip,” around the middle of April 1931.25 From Le Havre, the Oppens journeyed slowly across France and settled outside Le Beausset, in Var. That fall, they were ready to begin arrangements with the printer in Toulon to publish what Zukofsky would send them.
Zukofsky wrote Pound on 15 October 1931 and described their arrangements and plans. Zukofsky proposed printing a volume of miscellaneous prose by Williams and then Pound’s critical prose in a sequence of volumes, which would be sold cheaply in paperback. He claimed Oppen would pay $100 for each book plus possibly royalties.26 The plan differed from Pound’s recommendations only in its exclusive dependence on the Oppens as publishers and financiers and on Zukofsky as editor and distributor.
On 27 November 1931, Pound wrote Zukofsky that Oppen had agreed to publish Prolegomena I, the first volume of Pound’s collected prose. He suggested also publishing Bunting’s translation of Tozzi’s “Tre Croce,” and concluded:
At any rate the O/Z appears mos; sa” zisfakory” or mos’ likely pub:ng propstn since the Egoist of blessed memory.27
On 7 December 1931, Zukofsky was already speculating on the publication of Pound’s complete works,28 and on 10 December he forwarded to Pound Oppen’s royalty arrangements, plans to publish all of Prolegomena in folio after the series was completed, and a list of their planned publications.29 Zukofsky also wrote a letter on To Publishers stationary to Zabel on 29 December 1931 describing their arrangements and outlining the sequence of volumes he wished to publish. After Williams’ A Novelette and Other Prose and Pound’s Prolegomena I might come Bunting’s “Tre Croce,” a book by Zukofsky, and Reznikoff’s Testimony (then titled My Country ‘Tis of Thee). After these, Prolegomena II and books by Rakosi, Rexroth, and others. Zukofsky wished to publish at least six volumes each year.30
Meanwhile, Zukofsky finished editing Williams’ A Novelette and Other Prose by the middle of November 1931.31 Williams received letters from Oppen concerning the publication of the book, for Williams wrote to Zukofsky:
I like immensely the tone (it isn’t exactly that) of the Oppen’s letters. A man like that can be trusted to do anything he decides on as necessary. you’re lucky to have him to work with.32
Also, showing that Zukofsky’s “group” had begun to share poetic principles, Williams later added:
I want that Oppen phrase (in his letter) about sincerity being not in the writer but in the writing. I hope you haven’t destroyed it. Send it to me please. I want to make use of it no matter how for the present.33
Pound’s letter of 23 December 1931 to Oppen and, in carbon, to Zukofsky, approved of Oppen’s folio design, with the print in two columns. He added:
Oh/ Yes/ my items/
- How to Read, with first part of Spirit of Romance (revised)
- early medieval studies.
- Spirit of Romance, part 2, revised
- studies of later middle ages.
- 3. Limbs of Osiris34
Work began in France with Williams’ volume. Mary Oppen wrote:
We made frequent trips to Toulon to the printer. The books were printed in English, but they were typeset by non-English-speaking French printers. We read proof after proof, each time finding more mistakes. . . .
When we shipped the books of To Publishers from France to Louis in New York, he found that he could only get the books by paying a duty. Customs declared them to be magazines, not books, but a loophole existed—if we wrapped them in bundles of twenty-five or less they could come in duty-free. This entailed numerous trips by us and by Louis to the Post Office. Louis hated to carry bundles, and he lived in a rented room, where storing the books was another problem. Charles Reznikoff stored them in his sister’s house, in the basement where he had his press, until his sister sold the house.35
When Pound received A Novelette and Other Prose, he disliked its appearance and wrote Zukofsky in apprehension of his own forthcoming volume: “That is what a god damn printer will do to the neophyte.”36 Moreover, their difficulties with customs and distribution had escalated its price. Mary Oppen wrote:
Financially we had taken on too big a burden; we could not support ourselves, Louis, and the printing and publishing of the books unless at least a small amount of money came back to us. And no money came back to us. The book-sellers called the paperbacks “magazines” and would not give them shelf room. When we returned to New York from Paris in 1933, George went from store to store leaving books on consignment, but the return was negligible.37
In December 1931, Williams had written to Richard Johns: “Oppen is bringing out a book of mine in France somewhere : the novelette and assorted prose bits * about 100 pages. To sell cheap : 35¢ !”38 Zukofsky’s estimate of 50¢ in October 1931 was more realistic, but after publication its price was raised to 75¢.39 When Prolegomena I was published in June 1932 it was priced at $1.00.40
On 15 March 1932, Zukofsky, thinking of having To publish An “Objectivists” Anthology, asked Pound to exert his influence.41 The Oppens agreed.42 Even though Bruce Humphries of Boston had taken over their distribution, by July the Oppens’ financial burden had become excessive. Pound wrote to Zukofsky: “With O’s capital attacked (as he has prob. writ. you) the question of cooperation ??? etc. Also grave question of how it affects yr/ salary.”43 Zukofsky wrote on 8 August 1932, disappointed and apologetic, that Oppen could neither continue To Publishers nor his salary.44 Oppen had paid him $100 each month from November 1931, but after this it was reduced to $50 and ended altogether in October.45
The Oppens published the anthology in August 1932, this time, perhaps because they had already left Var, using a printer in Dijon, and Pound reviewed it in the Chicago Tribune (Paris) on 2 September 1932.46 In September, Bruce Humphries raised the price of To volumes to $1.25, but in vain: the Oppens still received no money from sales. Besides, as Mary wrote: “we had read Pound’s ABC of Economics and discussed it between ourselves. . . . Perhaps Pound could not think clearly about economics; at any rate, we could not agree to publish the book.”47
III. The Objectivist Press
As To Publishers was failing, Zukofsky decided to begin another venture. This one would not rely exclusively on the efforts of him and the Oppens. On 12 November 1932, he asked Pound to read and respond to the two letters he had sent to Basil Bunting regarding the establishment of a union for writers.48 Bunting was living at the time in Rapallo across the harbor from Pound.49
In the spring of 1933, the Oppens had returned from France,50 and Zukofsky had outlined plans for the union. As he wrote to Pound on 17 April 1933, it was to be called Writers Extant, or W.E., Publishers; its board was to consist of Serly, Taupin, and himself, and its members to include Reznikoff and Williams, and possibly Rexroth, Moore, and McAlmon, Mina Loy, Wallace Stevens, and others. He wrote also that Oppen had labored mightily for him, had performed beyond the call of duty; he could not and should not be permitted to do more, though he would likely participate in W.E., Publishers.51
Pound responded with a promise of investing $25 in the venture, and with a public-relations statement titled: “IS AMERICA LOSING HER CHANCE?” The purpose of this document was to call for cooperation and organization to publish contemporary books.52 Williams responded on 28 April with: “What the hell can I say about Writers Extant? I don’t see how it can be done. I think your prospectus is too complex.”53 And, on 6 May 1933, with:
You have made a start & the motion is not lost. We are all searching for the phraseology. Part of the next step, and it may take some time to develop it, come what may, is for you to see the men involved, personally. It will not be until after that that a program can be put down on paper. When you have done this (supposing for the moment that you are the permanent secretary indicated in your project) and after you have seen certain theoretical scripts, including my White Mule. Then we can band together, publish one book, the best we can find, and then, with some solid ground under our feet and a snarl in our voices we can begin. LAST will come what is written down as a contract – after we have had some experience.54
Finally, Williams simplified Zukofsky’s prospectus. Zukofsky sent Pound Williams’ version on 11 May 1933.55 It read:
THE WRITERS PUBLISHERS, Inc.
- Membership in the group is limited to those writers who have in actual possession an available and complete book manuscript of high quality which is unacceptable to the usual publisher.
- Manuscripts to be published by the group are to be selected (with advice) by a Director who shall be elected by a majority of the group members for the term of one year.
- The business end of the group activities will be under the direction of a paid Secretary-Treasurer, under bond, who shall occupy the office indefinitely—or until removed by a two thirds vote of the existing membership at any time.
- Initial funds are to be contributed by the charter members as may be agreed upon, to be added to later as the business of the group may prove profitable.
- The first membership will be made up of a selected, voluntary group who by a majority vote, after the first requisite is satisfied, will add to their numbers from time to time.
- Resignation from the group may take place at the discretion of the member by which he is absolved from further financial responsibility at the same time relinquishing any claim he has had upon the group’s resources.
- Dissolution of the group as an organization will be conditional upon an equal distribution among the members of all funds and other rights enjoyed by the group under its incorporation.
- Further additions to these rules will be made from time to time.56
Nevertheless, Williams remained skeptical of the success of the scheme in writing Zukofsky on 24 May 1933: “I’ve tormented my soul long enough over our Writer-Publisher proposal: I think it’s no go and we should give it up.”57
Nothing was done about it anyway until the end of the summer. Zukofsky wished to visit Pound in Rapallo. Mary Oppen wrote:
Louis had not been to Europe; he had only corresponded with Pound, and I think it was Tibor Serly who spoke to us of the importance of Louis’ going to visit Pound. The problem was that Louis had no money; the trip required that Louis’ friends help to pay his way. Somehow this was done, and several of us made contributions; Williams, Serly, George and I bore the expenses of travelling, and Pound and Bunting provided housing and meals once Louis was in Rapallo.58
The possibility had been considered as early as November 1930.59 Now, Zukofsky was in Paris on 12 July 1933.60 Charles Norman wrote:
Zukofsky went abroad in June, 1933. He was met at Cherbourg by René Taupin. In Paris he stayed at the Hotel Périgord, near the Bibliothèque Nationale, where Pound himself had often stayed. He called on the sculptor Brancusi and the painters Léger and Masson—at Pound’s suggestion. From Paris he went to Budapest to join Tibor Serly. A reporter for Pesti Napló interviewed him in a coffeehouse on the Danube waterfront. The photograph that appears with the interview shows a long, narrow, earnest face, brown eyes peering intently from behind horn-rimmed glasses, thick, dark brown hair parted on the left side. He was twenty-eight years old. The interviewer noted that he spoke “in a quiet almost whispering tone.” Basil Bunting, in a red jacket, met him in Genoe to escort him to Rapallo. They arrived in time for lunch, which they had with Pound and his wife at the Albergo Rapallo. Pound, Zukofsky said, was very paternal.61
Norman quoted from Serly’s translation of the Pesti Napló interview, ‘Louis Zukofsky: American Vanguard Poet,” including:
“Is there a definite group in America who acknowledge Pound and have definite characteristics?”
“Yes and no. They have broken with the known, customary, successful, banal forms. Each of the group tries in his own way to find means of expression and this very independence holds the group together. Among the most important are William Carlos Williams, René Taupin, Basil Bunting and Carl Rakosi, who will probably interest you seeing he is a Hungarian. I might also mention Charles Reznikoff, Kenneth Rexroth and Forrest Anderson.”
“Much as we regret it, we have not yet had the opportunity of making the acquaintance of any of them.”
“I can relieve you of some of the regret by saying that few in America know of them.”62
Zukofsky was back in New York in September. A meeting was arranged for 24 September 1933 at the Oppens’ apartment on Columbia Heights, Brooklyn. In attendance were Zukofsky, Williams, Reznikoff, and George and Mary Oppen.63 Williams’ synopsis follows:
Synopsis of suggestions discussed and general agreements arrived at at meeting Sept. 24th. Writers-Pub1ishers to be incorporated:
- 1. A possible list of subscribers to 1 book of poems to be circularized and approached by whatever means possible. The book to sell at $2. and to be the most saleable we can find.
- 2. This book to be published on the basis of whatever advance subscriptions are obtained.
- 3. The proceeds, if any, from this sale to be divided, 60% to the author, 40% to the group which 40% is to be used to publish book #2 and to pay the Executive Secretary who will be the sole officer of the group.
- 4. On this basis books are to be continued to be printed and sold as often and for as long a time as practicable.
Notes: When the first book is advertised it will be put forward as one of a series of four which will all be published and offered, separately, for subscription during the first year.
The original suggestion of E.P. to be rewritten to conform to this plan.
As a feature of the plan distinguished (?) modernists of the day will write introductory pages to these books - their names (with consent) to be given out when the first notices appear : such names as Marion Moore, T.S.Eliot, Wallace Stevens, etc etc. This in effect will be a sponsoring Committee without putting too much of a burden on names.
Harriet Monroe and Poetry to be approached from the first with intent to get as much backing from that source as being the official (?) poetry organization in U.S.
Mr. Zukofsky to be named to Executive Secretary etc. etc. with power to keep records, see individuals, arrange for publishing, correct proofs ? ? ? select format, wrote [sic] letters, devise lists, compose advertising matter, push sales, etc. etc—God help him!64
Details, including the title of the organization (5 October 1933, Williams suggested “Cooperative Publishers”),65 were worked out, and on 23 October Zukofsky wrote Pound to describe their final compromise. The Objectivist Press would publish Williams’ collected poems for two dollars and Reznikoff’s Jerusalem the Golden and Testimony for one dollar each. Subscriptions were requested. The press planned to publish Zukofsky’s 55 Poems and possibly books by Bunting and Rakosi the first year. Zukofsky noted that Reznikoff was paying for his own, $147 for the poetry and $227 for the prose, 200 copies each, that they were using the Harmsworth edition of How to Read as a model for format, and that they had chosen as name The Objectivist Press because of its previous publicity, in order to increase sales. Finally, he asked for Pound’s approval to be named as advisor.66
Reznikoff was responsible for a short statement about the press. Oppen remembered:
When we sat down to write a statement on the book covers, Charles Reznikoff, who had legal training, produced at the right moment his statement: “The Objectivist Press is an organization of poets who are printing their own work and that of others they think ought to be printed.” It was a little beyond the fact because there were differences of opinion on what should be included.67
Special financial arrangements were made for Williams’ book, Collected Poems 1920-1930. Williams put up $250, of which $150 was refunded by the group’s investors, apparently including Serly, Oppen, Rakosi, Taupin, and Reznikoff, and of which the remaining $100 was taken as a percentage of the gross.68 Afterwards, each author (Reznikoff and Oppen) simply paid for his own.
A preface for Williams’ book was secured from Wallace Stevens (see Section 3), and, as Williams remembered, “Louis did most of the work of making the co1lection.”69 Williams was proofing the galleys by 6 December 1933 and 500 copies were printed 20 January 1934 by J. J. Little and Ives Company in New York in hardcover. Its dust jacket carried, on the front, comments by Moore, Pound, and Taupin about Williams, on the front flap a “Biographic Note,” and on the back Reznikoff’s statement, a list of writers “to be published”: Basil Bunting, George Oppen, Carl Rakosi, Charles Reznikoff, René Taupin, Louis Zukofsky, Tibor Serly and others,” the address of the press, and “Advisory Board: Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, Louis Zukofsky, Sec’y.”70 Although Williams remembered that “it didn’t sell at all,”71 Reznikoff remembered that it “was reviewed on the second page of The New Times Book Review and the edition of five hundred copies almost sold out.”72 This would have brought the press a small profit.
Passages of Testimony had been previously published in An “Objectivists” Anthology and in Williams’ magazine, Contact, in each case introduced by Reznikoff’s brief forward:
I glanced through several hundred volumes of old cases—not a great many as law reports go—and found almost all that follows. I am indebted to the reporters and judges not only for the facts but for phrases and sentences.73
This statement appeared in Testimony as a Note” after the title page with the last sentence omitted, with a verse from St. Paul’s Ephesians IV, 31:
“Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and railing, be put away from you, with all malice!”
“The Matter of the Document,” Kenneth Burke’s introduction, was secured by Williams. It begins by comparing two complementary movements in modern art. The first is “a progressive development of fiction towards the ‘case history,’” by which the cases are synthesized to demonstrate preconceived theses, and are “deceptive, not in their general tenor, but simply in their ‘purity,’ their ‘efficiency.’” The second, which we are to understand describes Testimony, is the “movement of ‘the case history’ towards fiction.” “In the end,” as he wrote of both, “any simplification of a human life is a fiction, and any case history is a simplification.” Burke did not share the “Objectivist” perspective; he believed that Reznikoff’s “case histories” are not more “true” than “manufactured or refurbished cases.” If they are more valuable, that is due only to Reznikoff’s skill as a writer, “his sensitiveness of appraisal, his deftness and accuracy in narrative.”
Burke quoted from a statement by Reznikoff on the book, which emphasizes the importance for Reznikoff of the local qualities of particulars he presents:
“A few years ago,” he has explained, “I was working for a publisher of law books, reading cases from every state and every year (since this country became a nation). Once in a while I could see in the facts of a case details of the time and place, and it seemed to me that out of such material the century and a half during which the United States has been a nation could be written up, not from the standpoint of an individual, as in diaries, not merely from the angle of the unusual, as in newspapers, but from every standpoint—as many standpoints as were provided by the witnesses themselves.” He felt that such material could encompass “the life of a people, in mines and on ships, all the activities that the law itself covers, which is pretty nearly everything.”
But Burke discounted the standpoint of the particulars for the standpoint of the whole, the local for the universal:
Whatever individual standpoints they may represent, be they plaintiff or defendant, interested or disinterested witness, slave or slave-owner, brutal sea-captain or recorders of his brutality, these bearers of testimony represent in the large the “law court point of view.” In this respect Mr. Reznikoff’s work embodies in miniature the problem of the “whole truth” as it arises in a civilization marked by many pronounced differences in occupational pattern. There arise the “doctor’s point of view,” the “accountant’s point of view,” the “salesman’s point of view,” the “minister’s point of view,” the “mechanic’s point of view,” and so on. Much of Mr. Reznikoff’s “testimony” is clearly local to his profession; but the vein of sympathy that underlies his work is not similarly local. It is to this quality perhaps, and not to the documentary aspect of his work, that we must look for its measure of ultimate “truth,” that is, its usefulness to living.74
Since Reznikoff did not mention the universal meaning inherent in the work, Burke concluded that he must have taken it for granted, more interested in matters of craft. But Burke is off-base in discounting the function of the particulars: the reader is made curious, confounded, and amazed by the incidents presented—especially since they are true not simply in significance (due to Reznikoff’s skill as a craftsman) but in fact.
After Collected Poems 1921-1931 and Testimony, the Objectivist Press was responsible for two more books by Reznikoff, Jerusalem the Golden and In Memoriam: 1933, and Oppen’s Discrete Series (Section 6). After the end of May, however, the episode was over. On 23 May 1934, Zukofsky told Pound that he had left the Objectivist Press for good.75
It had become obvious that in the Depression publishing excellent work “unacceptable to the usual publisher” would not pay for the work that had to be put into it. An exhausted and depressed Zukofsky wrote to Pound on 12 April 1934 that he was in the hospital, having been working for the Objectivist Press without pay for one to three hours a day.76
Williams, on 1 June l934, recommended to him a free doctor in New York:
Oppen says you didn’t give him the second copy of my criticism of his book which I sent you for him. . . .
How are you anyway? Oppen says not so good. . . . Stop screwing and eat more food. Why in the hell do you want to die young, maybe your book will be published sooner than you think. Come on, live awhile longer.77
Furthermore, Zukofsky s relationship with Pound was slipping. On 6 February 1934, Pound had written Zukofsky to describe Williams’ Collected Series, which he apparently didn’t know had been edited by Zukofsky:
The worst of Wms/ iz in these collected poems/ (and a good deal of the best omitted) HOW ever they contain some I hadn’t seen / two of which are good enough to give me a steamroller answer to the London Banderlog . . . He has puttt in, I shd. think ALL the mos’ grdm sentimental diabetis he ever had.78
By the end of January 1935, the correspondence between Pound and Zukofsky had become bitter and accusatory, dwelling on disagreements over political and economic issues. Zukofsky’s letter of 11 May 1935 claimed that he realized Pound’s intentions were good but since he had a mind and a life of his own he also realized that Pound was entirely mistaken. Since he had read Marx himself, he could not understand how Pound could claim to have read Marx and yet believe that labor is not a commodity. Since the oppressors yet oppressed, labor was still a commodity. Although Pound might have changed his politics since writing How to Read, Zukofsky could not; he could accept neither Social Credit nor President Roosevelt, since both wished to preserve capitalism. Zukofsky made a distinction between Pound’s poetry and Pound’s economics. As for Zukofsky’s own career, he had sacrificed his time for To Publishers and the Objectivist Press, and had written to 152 quasi-poets while editing the “Objectivists” issue of Poetry and An “Objectivists” Anthology, but although he recognized that their good results were valuable he would make no more such sacrifices. Moreover, he had cut off ties with so-called friends, since they reminded him of the bitter experience.79
On “Yooltide” 1935, Zukofsky, enclosing for Pound the first four pages of “A”-8, wrote that he believed all the “Objectivists” of 1931 were involved in or associated with the Communist Party, including himself, although unofficially, since he was working unpaid as a secretary and editor for the New Masses.80 Mary Oppen wrote:
An appeal was made to intellectuals by the seventh World Congress of the Communist Parties in 1935 to join in a united front to defeat fascism and war. We responded to that call, and in the winter of 1935 we decided to work with the Communist Party, not as artist or writer because we did not find honesty or sincerity in the so-called arts of the left. (I could make an exception for Bertolt Brecht and for some Soviet movies.) We said to each other, “Let’s work with the unemployed and leave our other interest in the arts for a later time.” Few in the Party or in the Workers Alliance knew anything of our past, and in a short time we were no longer thinking of Paris or of To Publishers, of poetry or of painting. We also left it to our friends and families to keep in touch with us if they chose. We felt that our political decision was not one in which we wished to involve them.81
Reznikoff kept the legal title to the press. In 1936, he published under its impress his own Separate Way, and in 1948 surrendered it to Celia Zukofsky who published Zukofsky’s A Test of Poetry, which Zukofsky had finished in 1940.82
Meanwhile, James Laughlin, III, founded New Directions Publishing and took up the publication of Pound and Williams, beginning with Williams’ novel White Mule in 1937. In his New Directions anthologies, he published Zukofsky’s “‘Mantis’” with “‘Mantis,’ An Interpretation” in 1936, and “A”-8 in 1938. In 1941, in his pamphlet poets series, he published Rakosi’s Selected Poems.
Permission to quote the letters by Ezra Pound at notes 17, 18, 21, 27, 34, 36, 43, and 78 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.