Last night, I read Charles Bernstein foreword to Prepositions + : The Collected Critical Essays of Louis Zukofsky (Wesleyan University Press -- Prepositions is part of The Wesleyan Centennial Edition of the Complete Critical Writings of Louis Zukofsky).

Louis Zukofsky (1904-1978) was one of the Objectivist poets, a group of second-generation, mainly American Modernists (Zukofsky, Charles Reznikoff, George Oppen, Carl Rakosi, Lorine Niedecker and the British poet Basil Bunting) who emerged in the 1930s heavily influenced by Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams (the only poet to be published as both an Objectivist and an Imagist poet). Bernstein's essay is only very short, but it’s a useful piece for situating Zukofsky. In it he quotes Zukofsky's famous statement that:

... a case can be made out for the poet giving some of his life to the use of the words a and the: both of which are weighted with as much epos and historical destiny as one man can perhaps resolve. Those who do not believe in this are too sure that the little words mean nothing among so many other words."

Zukofsky's provocation made me think, again, about language, poetry and truth: issues far too big to say much of worth about here and now. But the care with which a good poet tends to language, even to the tiniest words, is instructive. Between the definite article and the indefinite article there is an entire universe; infinity lies between a and the.

Readers Comments

  1. Lovely post, Mark.

    If you're interested in Zukovsky, you might also check out the Zukovsky issue of the Chicago Review (Winter 2004-2005):

    I particularly enjoyed reading the chapters from Mark Scroggin's upcoming bio.

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