Thursday, August 30, 2007
Index to Poetry 37:5, the Objectivist Issue
While there are many narratives of artistic development, there are fewer events, by which I mean single isolated moments that draw together a large number of artists. The Armory Show might be the most famous example. (Obligatory comix reference: Rudolph Dirks, the creator of the Katzenjammer Kids, had stuff at the Armory Show.) One such moment in literature would the Poetry’s February, 1931 issue, which came to be known as the Objectivist Issue.
As with many of the great moments in Poetry (e.g. the publication of “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” in 1911), this event was the result of Ezra Pound talking the editor Harriet Monroe into it. In this case, Pound talked Monroe into allowing the young and obscure Louis Zukofsky to guest editing a single issue. & with this issue, Objectivism, the inaugural second-generation movement of Modernism, was born.
Only to expire almost immediately afterwards. Ron Silliman separates the history of the movement into three phases: (1) “The 1930s, interactivity, optimism, joint publishing projects, critical statements, recruiting, (Niedecker),” (2) “The 1940s & ‘50s, almost totally receding, with several Objectivists either not publishing and even not writing for long periods of time,” and (3) “1960s onward, the emergence & success of these writers precisely as a literary formation.” Silliman claims that this hiatus in the lineage is a defining feature in the history of 20th century poetry: “The disappearance of the Objectivists in the 1940s – the first major modernist generation to virtually vanish, if only for a time – represents a crisis in modernism that I think we have yet to fully understand.” My only equivocation here would be that this latency extends even further back, to the first generation, in the extreme belatedness of William Carlos Williams’s reputation and the somewhat belatedness of Ezra Pound’s (Hugh Kenner’s The Pound Era had a now lost polemical edge at the end of what had for several decades seem to have been the Eliot Era.)
Some time ago I tried (fairly hard, at least by my standards) to find a record online of the contents of the issue. Poetry’s online “Historical Archive” only lists by author. So last time I was up in Seattle I nipped into the Special Collections Room & jotted down the information. I offer it after the jump as a service to future searchers.
“Orphean Lost,” “Fluteplayers from Finmarker, “Unswerving Marine,” “BeforeYou.”
“A” (Seventh Movement).
“What Furred Creature.”
A Group of Verse I-VI [“All day the pavement has been black,” “From the window I could not see the moon,” “Among the heaps of brick and plaster lies,” “Rooted among roofs, their smoke among the clouds,” “What are you doing in our street among the automobiles,” “Of our visitors — I do not know which I dislike most.”]
“Song of the Turquoise People.”
“Last Page of a Manuscript.”
S. THEODORE HECHT
“Table for Christmas.”
“1930’s” [“Thus / Hides the / Parts…,” “The knowledge not of sorrow…”]
“Supper in an Alms-House.”
“October 21st, 1926.”
“The Word” [“Nothing / Substance utters or time / stills…”]
“Wakes III,” “To One Reason” [Tr. by Emanuel Carnevali].
“Poem (There are places we will not go).”
WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS
“The Botticellian Trees.”
The issue closes with three critical pieces by Zukofsky: “Program: ‘Objectivists’ 1931,” “Sincerity and Objectification: With Special Reference to the Work of Charles Reznikoff,” and “Symposium.” The last is an omnibus review of poems by Parker Tyler, Charles Henri Ford, Samuel Pulman, André Salmon, and Réné Taupin.
I would arrange the poets into three groups:
(1) Those who went on to become The Objectivists: Rakosi, Zukofsky, Reznikoff, Oppen, Bunting, and Williams. Note how the parental figure of Williams is here dancing at his kids’ debutante ball. It took him a really really long time to get recognized.
(2) Those who did not go on to become canonical Objectivists: Rexroth is an interesting figure, as he became famous in San Francisco, as a father (in both the good & bad sense) figure in the San Francisco poetry scene; & there’s that great American, Whittaker Chambers! Chambers and Zukofsky were close friends from college through the 20’s, but fell out over politics in the next decade. Chambers’ poem is an elegy for his brother who committed suicide and a paean to communism.
(3) Those who went on to become Obectivists, but are not here: Lorine Niedecker. She would read this issue, write to Zukofsky, sending along some poems, and the rest, as they say, is history.
In the next few weeks I plan on making a series of short entries on some of these people, going into a little more detail. & when I say a little, I mean a little.
Thanks for this! It comes at an ideal time, as I prepare for my Ph.D. qualifying exams on, among other things, 20th C American poetry & am thinking forward to a dissertation on avant garde movements. Looking forward to the rest of this series!
This is great: many thanks!
By the way, Peter O’Leary is writing a web feature on the Objectivists issue of Poetry which will be up in the near future on the Poetry Foundation website:
At long last, Peter O’Leary’s article is online here:
Thanks for the heads up, Don!