Zukofsky, Louis (1904–1978) By Jennison, Ruth
Louis Zukofsky was an American avant-garde poet active from the 1920s upto the 1970s. Zukofsky’s masterwork long poem, ‘A’ (in company with his many other shorter works of poetry and prose), had a profound effect on the shape and development of American poetics. His work can be counted as a major influence on the Black Mountain, Beat, and Language poets, and on other contemporary poets working in conversation with the historical avant-garde. Major themes in Zukofsky’s work include the materiality of language, formalism, the place of the poem in history and politics, the musical structure of poesis and vice versa, and translation.
Zukofsky was born to working-class, Orthodox Jewish, Yiddish-speaking parents in the Lower East Side of New York City. His poetic career began following his graduation from Columbia University with an MA in English. A parody of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, entitled ‘Poem Beginning ‘The’’, received the admiration of Ezra Pound. The poem features one of Zukofsky’s signature formal techniques: the strategic parataxis (juxtaposition) of high and low cultures, placed in the service of an anti-reactionary, and sometimes Marxist and revolutionary, avant-garde poetics. Zukofsky’s epistolary relationship with Pound was extensive, and the older poet would be a lifelong object of admiration — and negation — for Zukofsky.