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A selection of Louis Zukofsky's correspondence (1930-1976).

Louis Zukofsky carried on an energetic correspondence from the late 1920s until his death in 1978. He seldom allowed a letter to go unanswered, and he often wrote quite lengthy ones. The range of his correspondents is striking: Paul Blackburn, Kenneth Burke, Robert Creeley, Guy Davenport, Diane di Prima, Robert Duncan, T. S. Eliot, Robert Kelly, Hugh Kenner, Lincoln Kirstein, Ezra Pound, Henry Rago, Jerome Rothenberg, Gilbert Sorrentino, Frances Steloff, Charles Tomlinson, Mark Van Doren, Yvor Winters. And that list only represents a fraction of his correspondents.

Among the Zukofsky papers at the Humanities Research Center in Texas are several drafts of letters. They attest to his care in arriving at the precise expression he wished to convey. (There were presumably many drafts long since discarded.) Almost all his letters were handwritten. Occasionally in the 1920s and 1930s a letter to a publisher or some eminent person would be typed by a friend; after their marriage Celia did the typing as it was needed.

Even though many letters must have been drafted at least once, the final versions frequently are marked with inserted afterthoughts or qualifications. In this respect they bear a similarity to the drafts of other work to be found in the HRC. Both letters and drafts reflect an intellect not content to rest until the statement had been accorded maximum accuracy.

The letters selected here spotlight moments ranging over Zukofsky's whole career. The sole deletion is indicated by ellipses within square brackets; angle brackets indicate Zukofsky's insertions.

to Ezra Pound | 10/13/1930 | Madison, Wisconsin

Dear E: One might not think it would happen again for months and months and months--but you've moved things again. I.e. evidently under your influence, Harriet Monroe has asked me to take charge of a number of "Poetry" and to present my "new group." Naturally, I haven't a "group" or know one, but I have new work on hand by Wm. C.W., Chas. Reznikoff, Geo. Oppen etc. "Perhaps" you know of a new group. Any material received before Dec. 20 (for the Feb. 1931) issue will be welcome. I should like the latest addresses of Rakosi, Loomis, etc. for instance. There will probably be enough material by murkns, but I've no tariff on English goods, say Bunting or MacLeod (of the Zodiac) if you can get him.

Who is Edmund Covelesci--or something of that sort--I heard you sponsored him, but have never come across his volume.

Did you ever act nice to Mr. E. E. Cummings and returned his photos of Self-Portrait and Gould with a charming letter, after Varietes went back on us--I mean do I dare ask him for a poem?

Incidentally you write some "new" poetry yourself occasionally--say a line of a Canto or something.

I can fill in the prose with maybe my "Reznikoff" which contains general references to the history of the subject. The Am. Poetry 1920-1930 would be better, but, I'm afraid, "Symposium" has accepted it. If H & H doesn't print my review of XXX Cantos, I'll have a review. Any sentenshus remarks in prose-rodeo by Mr. E. P. should be speeded on to me. I shall probably translate Monsieur Reenay Toppin's late essay on Andre Salmon--and introduce (following an honorable tradition) a Frenchman into English.

Incidentally, where is L'Indice published--I mean what burg? Please send me a copy--No Echanges no. 3--yet. No news from T. S. E.

Have been talking "How to Read," "The Education of H.A.," and "XXX Cantos" to my 3 classes--1 advanced Frosh English, 2 Surveys in English Lit.! Your reccomdashe tellung um I was too good for 'em--knocked 'em all cold. They didn't know what a "nice" person they were going to meet till they met him and they're not sorry I think, even if they are embarrassed to blushes everytime they speak to me (even the oldest of the confessors)--God knows why!

Reading Jefferson and stuck trying to decide what he invented and what he took over. I want to study his langwidge & then cap three chapters or so (on movement, image & logo--if he has any, or just call it his anthropology, his time & place (not space) with a chapter on the freedom of the press, his respect for language naturally making him see the need for free communication in the growing little union. More than a two years job, I'm afraid--but, then, why hurry?



Loomis: Payson Loomis (1904-74), an American poet whose work Pound had published in the third issue of The Exile.

MacLeod: J. Gordon Macleod, British poet and literary critic.

Zodiac: MacLeod's The Ecliptic (London: Faber and Faber, 1930). The poem is structured around the signs of the Zodiac.

Covelesci: Edmond Kowalewski, author of a book of poems, Deaf Walls (Philadelphia: privately printed, 1928).

Am. Poetry: "American Poetry 1920-1930" appeared in The Symposium in January 1931.

my review: "A Draft of XXX Cantos by Ezra Pound," Front (June 1931).

late essay: "Three Poems by Andre Salmon," Poetry (February 1931 and March 1931).

Reading Jefferson: Zukofsky planned a work, tentatively titled How Jefferson Used Words, but never got beyond planning it.

to Robert Creeley | 10/29/1955 | Brooklyn

Dear Bob:

Here's the <original of the> recommendation--I think you can read it, i.e. make it out. If not I'll read the <typed> carbon to you when you get here. Don't show it around--i.e. let it drop out of your pocket or what--since it's supposed to be confidential.

Anyhow, I couldn't sleep if I didn't send it. [...]

Best luck etc etc


Robert Creeley's accomplishment in the short story [begin strikethrough]impresses[end strikethrough] affects me as the most [begin strikethrough]original[end strikethrough] circumspect and searching in American fiction since Henry James. Rooted in New England, where he was born, Creeley carries [begin strikethrough]the[end strikethrough] its morale to wherever the [begin strikethrough]incidents[end strikethrough] incidence of histories [begin strikethrough]might[end strikethrough] occurs--and that may be any point in the world that the mind shapes as it does because it must always be logical in [begin strikethrough]facing[end strikethrough] considering what is illogical. His narrative never talks about this metaphysical approach. In that he is different from James <(cf. Creeley's "The Path" in his collection The Gold Diggers)> His stories present, or rather shape <themselves> into metaphysical questions, whose answers are: there: the questions have told!

This poetic approach to life <--that of making it--> makes it always more important than the mere record of a chronicle. In a criticism of Francis Parkman, Creeley points out that by telling stories Parkman isolated the human contents of history and so made his [begin strikethrough]history permanent[end strikethrough] record permanent. Creeley's Preface to [begin strikethrough]his[end strikethrough] The Gold Diggers explains his intention with lucidity and wisdom for a writer in his twenties.

Personable, sensitive poet, ready conversationalist and listener, a fine teacher--I am told--at Black Mountain College, where he edits the excellent Black Mountain Review, Creeley deserves the grant he needs. I am sure that he will repay it [begin strikethrough]with[end strikethrough] in effort and work that [begin strikethrough]you[end strikethrough] the Guggenheim Foundation will be proud to have sponsored.

to David Ignatow | 11/12/1959 | Brooklyn

Dear David,

I don't follow you. Poetry, whatever the "subject" isn't political--and it wouldn't make sense to me to appear under that standard. People can read me as they wish--and that's another matter, but I can't think or see myself a "member" or affiliated under a slogan. It all sounds like classification of literature into social, religious, nationalistic, etc. I'm just orthodox: poetry is poetry. As for politics, Mrs. Lee in Adams' Democracy said: "I have got so far as to lose the distinction between right and wrong. Isn't that the first step in politics?"


P.S. You say even in this country "political poetry has been appearing in disguised forms." And if it's disguised it isn't form. A wrong "observation" unmakes the poem.

This letter replies to poet David Ignatow's request for a contribution to an issue of Chelsea (number 8) that Ignatow would edit. As Ignatow wrote to William Carlos Williams, he wanted the issue to feature "the political poetry of our best poets."

to Henry Rago | 4/21/1962 | Brooklyn

Dear Mr. Rago,

Thank you for the wishes and the acceptance. You have my consent, as of this note, to print your selections from "The old poet--. I don't want to intrude on Poetry's typographical style, but I would like to keep the title-prelude (I'll call it that, and I see you've felt my intention) as four lines above and to the right of 1, the first of the sequence; and also, to make it clear that there are 14 poems in the sequence, to retain the original numbering of the items you selected. If you renumber* your selections in sequence, the 14 in the title-prelude doesn't round out the sense.

Wouldn't this do it--i.e. adding for title 11-point Roman caps: FROM "THE OLD POET--; and the FROM would logically take care of the leap from 2 to 9, and also the dots indicating the omissions.

One more thought, hard as it is for me to think of cuts and feel the "whole" sequence: tho I know you're crowded for space, I think if you could include number 4 with those you've accepted the "metaphysical" dimension of the sequence would be strengthened pretty near to what I intended for the whole sequence. In that case you'd need another set of dots, so the arrangement would run so: 1, 2 ... 4 ... 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14.

What do you think? Please let me know. We do love the sun in this new place--

Yours ever,

Louis Zukofsky

* renumber--forgive the hand!

acceptance: "The Old Poet Moves to a New Apartment 14 Times" appeared intact in Poetry (March 1963).

to Mary Ellen Solt | 10/31/1962 | Brooklyn

Dear Mary Ellen,

I lapse too. Any consolation? Leo's health worries me (like my sister's troubles, my brother's etc about which I can do nothing), but I know you're doing the right thing--So it comes down to the old question why should a good guy have to be annoyed, even if the pain and nuisance will be as if it hadn't been as soon as he's well again. <Give him my love.> So keep him away from colleagues etc & the b.p.'ll go down, sure. The place in the country is a good idea--no advice I can give you on that score except what you know: don't buy something that will own you (remember the Coke fires!). For the rest, I could stand a john in the country myself. Two months passed & only 28 lines of Cat. 65 translated is nothing to say for the life that is lost in them. The waste of "teaching", papers, jabber sickens--a country john would be a quiet place. That's Wordsworth signing off with Ca. pre-Frost iambics. Resigned?--as you to the Holy Father. O.K. yr. attitude makes sense. SRM came--my feeling that he's the most consistently good of the whole gang justified. If I'm not lifted beyond good serious poetry as I am by Ez's Canto 116 (Paris <Review No.> 28)--that's something else: after a certain age--not life but a grasp of how little it means besides this other state <of realizable goodness> lifts. (I've said more detailed things to Cid about it--so this is between us. No life complicating affairs of only ecumenical import. He'll, I have hopes, deepen). As for the "misfortunes" attending the printing of books--speaking of lavishness--please mind your business, which means there is no reason why you should feel a place for Leo & you to rest up deprives the world of one-lady foundation for letters. Somehow they do get books printed <this includes Scotland & Japan> and are on the whole more peaceful than we are. // What's the matter with Ann McFarrell--Sorry.

No I didn't read in Washington, was just invited. As I said I went only because I was curious as to how Poly would react to my request after all the duplicity of the last 5 years. I take it in appropriating $50 they were "Sensitive" <like an ohmmeter? or is it with 2 m's?>, my chairman waiting until the last minute to <quoting him> "advise" the Dean of the Faculty, who of course hadn't probably noticed the request, tho it's the Dean of course who approved. I can imagine a conference in which they decided, well, we can't brush him off; to send him for 3 days would cost too much; so (Dean to pratt boy) you tell him we can't let him go <to all of it> because it involves 8 hrs of teaching--but Tues. he has only one hr., that should involve no hardships, taking over classes, <u.s.w. (the Dean speaks Viennese)>,--& would, to show him we're generous, $50 do it? So it did--because C. was nearby when the phone rang & she said hello to the every busy pratt--& before she handed it over said a hair from the praetor's rump is O.K. too. Otherwise my inclination would have been to say well, thanks, but it's too late to make arrangements. But I'm not sorry I went--the making it all in one day & coming back in a roomette all night to a morning class isn't exactly gymnastics for me.

I was there at two sessions: readings in the afternoon, & Frost's reading in the evening. As I entered the Lib. of Cong., there was Mark Van Doren talking to some youngsters, & presently I was introduced to Quincy, the Librarian, Ransome etc. The readings well--gave me a chance to see <the faces> & hear the voices, Eberhart, Rago, <Tate etc>--never had seen any of 'em. But to make a short story long--after the reading Mark wanted to go off with me, was "so glad I had happened to come" & we had supper together & then he had to go to the Biddle's party (Mrs. Biddle is the poetess Chapin) & again asked me to come with him, tho I made a point of <not> "barging in" etc--& I must say the Jamesian hostess was really Jamesian--not like our beats. And by gosh from Tate to Delmore Schwartz (whatever alphabet that makes) everybody gave me the feeling they were glad to see me & talk. Maybe my "softness" as to people (& the isolation of a lifetime's lack of someone to speak to [begin strikethrough]about[end strikethrough] <not about--but in> the "craft") is responsible for my good feeling--but then Tate spoke like an old friend (the first time I saw him) everybody was frank <(I didn't flatter 'em)> etc--&, after all, that Eberhardt showed me his kid's color photos if more interesting than the poetry. Rago has a good face--kind; and his poetry also has something--So I'm glad you've sent him stuff. You'll see you'll be making $13 or sumpn. Did you see the Oct. no? I still don't have it, but saw one there hastily. [paragraph] This story ought to amuse you. Delmore Schwartz <(whom I haven't met before)>: "O, L.Z.--Gosh you're responsible for my new poems!" (You can imagine how I felt*; the last time about 20 yrs ago when I sent him second half of "A"-9, he rejected <it> with a long letter of advice etc--which I answered by saying he could spare himself <his> criticism, but I would have appreciated a prompt rejection instead of having to wait two months for a letter which didn't interest me). And what do you think the drat poem of mine is <that is> responsible for D.S.'s latest long line (which well, well--you know what I think)--"Lines for a Thing by Bach"--which appeared in some old "Pagany"--ca 1926 at the latest--& which won't if I can help it be reprinted.

Sutt guzz.

Fame is coming to us slowly if you want it. Cat. 65, Mrs. Critic, will be troubles for you. 'S troubles for me--I no speakda English no Amerikun anymo--in punning homonyms on the orig. Cat. sounds--mebbe an Eng-Murkn that will, God willin', throw the dart a little further at the eoye of Carus' flaming ramparts into sumpn that might evenchewally be called English or somehow-he-made-it from-The-East-Side

Love to you & Leo & Susie & Cathy

from all of us


* now who said that before--writing the marginalia after correcting 50 papers

Mary Ellen Solt: (b. 1920), American poet, critic, and professor.

SRM: Possibly Stephen Roy Mandell, whose 1975 dissertation examined Zukofsky's work.

Cid: Cid Corman.

Washington: A celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of Poetry was held at the Library of Congress on 21-24 October 1962.

Quincy: L. Quincy Mumford (1903-1982).

Chapin: Katherine Garrison Chapin (1890-1977)

to Hugh Kenner | 7/29/1967 | New York

Dear Hugh,

Your letter is good for the aches and the silence here. I should have thanked you for Carroll's use of your say in their circular and look forward to reading your pages (!) for Poetry. And as Guy must have told <you> I didn't want to burden you with a letter during the hepatitis--knowing that you'd take it for granted that insofar as they can be assumed the divine orders from here are always, don't ever get it again or any sickness ever. So we're no end relieved you're over it.

"Z. times"? I wish we could get to some vegetation--some green, but we don't seem up to stirring these days beyond some unknown's areaway around a corner. Yes, I wish we could talk.

The Prefatory Note to it should be taken literally--the "changes" almost none--a word here or there, by way of a blush for youth's "style"--but mostly omissions: in the hope to be true to what was said--and that the when as I try to say in Found Objects was also the what. As for omission of some names, either I've handled them better in Bottom, Test or "A"--or as per the Chinese sage, p. 20. Long before I read Henry James with the old man's sympathy of today, I remember feeling always, as to one's literary "position," something like his feeling after G. H. Lewes had in effect 'wielded the broom'--so that I felt very close looking thru "The Middle Years" recently, to: "Never, never save as attended--by presumptions, that is, far other than any other hanging about one--would one so much as desire not to be pushed out of sight." O well, let's say "the collected critical essays of L.Z." have in that sense tried all along to be collected, content despite aches and (as it works out there are and are no) absolutes.--A case in point the passage you see as "from Paterson I 1948 or so" really appeared in my original essay (pubd. in The Symposium Jan 1931): the poem (as per "A"-17) in Bill's inscription to my copy of Paterson I 1946 took a long time coming, but the metaphysics was already bothering him. If I remember the bit I quote in the essay first appeared in an issue of The Dial announcing its award to him, that is some years or at least a year before my essay.

I'm not clear as to which reference to HJ in "A" you're referring to. If to A-12 (<pp.> 154, 155) pure invention or playing with a variation of his qualities (like Igor S., tho I didn't have him in mind, say with Pergolesi)--and the Chassid literally some Chassid whose name if I knew it I forget by way of thanking HJ for getting so close in The American Scene. If your reference is to "A"-13 (Origin I Second Series p 17) what precedes Brother Harry is William--insofar as I'm conscious I've never pried into the family to quote the nephew.

Curiously the first Henry James I ever read was "Gabrielle de Bergerac," prompted I guess by reading in the newspapers of the local East Side library about his recent death, and the pastel boards, I seem to remember day blue on twilight lavender, of the <late> reprint of this early work, rather hard going then for a kid of 12. So I've forgotten the content and should for the fun of it--reread it some day. As for further autobiography--all of it--less than a typed page I recently sent at the request of Midcentury Authors (H. W. Wilson Company) begins: "As a poet I have always felt that the work says all there needs to be said of one's life. But the bare facts are: I was born in Manhattan, January 23, 1904, the year Henry James returned to the American scene to look at the Lower East Side. The contingency appeals to me as a forecast of the first-generation American infusion into twentieth century literature."

Something like I said when you were here--if it's any use to you for The Pound Era--godspeed etc.

No--I didn't receive Spectrum.

The second volume of "A"--that is 13-21 is promised from Cape next year, I guess late next year--the lag pursues one. But, as for 22-24, I'm stopping for a while and let life take care of it.

So--I have writ myself out for this time.

Our best to you both--as ever


P.S. Prepositions p 67--erratum--I wish I had caught that one--the quote from Ez should of course read "petrifaction of putrification"--but the right text is available.

Carroll: Carroll and Graf, the British publishers of Prepositions.

pages (!) for Poetry: Kenner reviewed "A" 1-12 in Poetry (November 1967).

Guy: Guy Davenport

original essay: "American Poetry 1920-1930"

Spectrum: The spring 1967 issue contained Kenner's essay, "The Invention of China."

to Tom Maschler | 10/17/1967 | New York

Dear Tom,

Much as I dislike saying no to yours of October 11 asking me, I am sure in all kindness, to reconsider "A" 13-21 for Cape Goliard imprint, let us please leave it as the contract now filed here has it--for Cape. Celia says "Cape" and "A" rhyme better. And, in confidence, put my refusal to a quirk of mine, almost a superstitious sense in me, that when a course already set seems right it is best not to change it. Both of us have felt a "sweet content" with your publishing of the poetry--and against this the possibilities of more readers, more money don't lure us--how much more can it be after all, and even if it were "much more" the quirk says no.

But let me come back to Cape Goliard with what I've already offered to you and Tarn: It Was and Arise, Arise. And to top this cornucopia as Catullus might have said, Cape Goliard is welcome even to my Catullus. You know I'm rather modest about my own abundance, but in any case, without being my own tooter, I just want to repeat what I told you here: the Catullus, along with "A" and Bottom are my three "major" works (sure add ALL when it's all in one volume). Each of the 3 (or 4) says in its own way what I'm saying in each of the others--so it's not a case of offering Cape Goliard something less than "A". And since I must know what I've accomplished in the Catullus (otherwise I couldn't go on with "A" 22-24 or whatever else there is yet to write) I can only repeat what I said to you here. If I've made it <at> all, there is no translation like it in English for 1) the poetry (despite the complaints the slow will have of "difficulties"--there are so many especially the young who have already as they say been sent by it, but also the elders, ask Kenner, Rago, Tom Merton etc) 2) the contribution to English & American prosody in its use of Latin quantitative meter, in which it is unique. Or give me years and I'll be listed with the great English translators (i.e. Golding, Douglas, Urquhart, Fitzgerald, E.P.)--and that's a promise not pride.

It all comes down to so many "accidents" come from the sea--I'm not just playing with that image all thru "A"--So we'll <of course.? (lese majeste)> inscribe it, yr. copy of ALL II when it arrives as I take it with the author's <6 (six)> presentation copies. C's best & mine ever Louis

Tom Maschler: (b. 1933), British editor and publisher. He was Managing Director of Jonathan Cape Ltd, from 1966 to 1970.

Tarn: Nathaniel Tarn (b. 1928), British poet, essayist, translator, editor, and anthropologist. He was the General Editor of Cape Editions and the Founding Editor of Cape-Goliard Press from 1967 to 1969.

to Gilbert Sorrentino | 6/10/1976 | Port Jefferson, NY

Dear Gil

Thanks for our three copies just arrived, and this quickie may make it to you by Saturday. As e.e.c. once wrote to me of A Test of Poetry "it's a compliment"--I was worrying then about printer's errors in my selection of him. and he didn't mind: not that the original text is always right but errors mount in quotations etc for the future inverted pyramid of textual scholarship. At least "my words" are there--let 'em make what they want of [illegibile] margination alignment: so be consoled you didn't misquote.

Some errors of "fact" in your first paragraph--no matter except that "A"-24 appeared in 1972 as a book and was performed by Cubiculo in June 1973 along with Arise, arise and I "finally" caught up with C.Z. in "A"-22 & 23 in 1975. As you realize at the end of your third paragraph the word "complex" should perhaps be in quotes as "complex" as your Campion quote (they never see that he's as metaphysical as Donne). And if you ever include your piece in a collected etc it would be nice to end your quote from Bottom with the sentence on conjecture that follows. Nobody seems to catch on that my true song is my skepticism & inside out or vice (in all senses) reversed.

Best, ever to all of you

from us all


three copies: Sorrentino's essay on Zukofsky, "The Handles Are Missing," had just appeared in the Village Voice.






Louis Zukofsky alone and with others

portraits by Elsa Dorfman (

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Author:Ahearn, Barry
Publication:Chicago Review
Date:Dec 22, 2004
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