Wednesday, June 01, 2005

LZ by RS

Ron Silliman has a ruminative post on how he would go about making a selection from Louis Zukofsky's “A”, if such an assignment were posted him. It’s a daunting idea – how do you go about representing an 800-page long poem, if you’re given something like 250 pages to work with? Of course, only 530-odd pages of “A” are strictly speaking LZ alone, since “A”-24, Celia Zukofsky’s “L. Z. Masque,” takes up almost the final 300 pages. Ideally, one should include a scene or two of the Masque, but realistically only maybe one in twenty readers is going to be able to read music ably enough to “hear” what’s going on; so barring the inclusion of a CD of twenty minutes or so of “A”-24, I’m okay with leaving the movement out. But Ron’s final total of 256 pages, it turns out, equals almost half of the strictly text portion of the poem.

Ron’s writing on “A” in The New Sentence has radically influenced my own reading of the poem over the years. I think he’s right in seeing “A” as composed of blocks of movements in which deep shifts in attitude, form, and poetics take place (as opposed to the much more homogeneous movement of The Cantos), and I’m in absolute agreement with him that the most interesting stuff comes in the second half. Probably our only real differences lie in the valuation of “A”-21, which I think is largely a success – and at least as worthwhile as “A”-10 or much of “A”-8. I’d want to see at least a scene or two of “A”-21, and some of the “voice off” sections, included. Beyond that, however, Ron presents a selected “A” that I think I could live with (though if it were all I had on the proverbial desert island I’d probably feel pretty ripped off).

But what if one gets challenged to come up with a real selected, one that realistically can’t go beyond 250 or 300 printed pages? And that includes selections from the short poems? In other words, how would one go about cutting Ron’s 250-page “A” down to say 175 or 150 pages, in order to accommodate a selection from ALL and 80 Flowers? (The poetics of 80 Flowers is already in place in “A”-22 & -23, but the radical compression of the Flowers, it seems to me, marks another step forward in LZ’s practice.) Yes, for me as for Ron, “A”-12 would be the first to go; then I’d cut “A”-11 – it’s a very lovely, intricate poem, but the familial love there celebrated (in perhaps too tender a form – the term "schmaltzy" come to mind) is also evident in “A”-13; “A”-14 could be cut, but I’d retain –15 and –16; after that, it’d almost be a tossup between “A”-18 and –19 – “A”-18 has penetrating meditations on Vietnam, -19 has the snazzy thinking about Mallarmé – but one or the other would have to go by the wayside. And then, tho this part would hurt, I’d include only the opening of “A”-22, followed by the whole of “A”-23.

I’m not counting, but that might well get us closer to a 175-page mark. My challenge to Ron, then: What, if you were given a hundred pages to play with, would you include of the short poems? It’s pretty clear how much “A” influenced writers of various long poems (like The Alphabet, to pull one out of the hat), but my sense is that LZ’s short poems, and perhaps especially the sequences of the 1950s, were terrifically important to a goodly number of writers coming of age in the 1960s and 1970s.

John Tipton, Surfaces. Chicago: Flood Editions, 2004. 37 pp. $13.
Jennifer Moxley, Often Capital. Chicago: Flood Editions, 2005. 61 pp. $12.95.
Ronald Johnson, Radi os. Chicago: Flood Editions, 2005. 107 pp. $14.95. (Expect a RonJon entry soon…)

On the earbuds:
Painkiller, Execution Ground (Ambient) and Live in Osaka.


JOT said...

Glad that you like 'Rudens' too--I would myself if pushed take just it to the desert island, though maybe that would be a bit too 'white on white'!

Here for the first time, but certainly looking to return. The new Lucas has Not Been Well Receieved critically in the UK either, but at least the whole enterprise is over and done with.

You write, 'Somebody once remarked that it seems every poetic revolution bills itself as a return to the common speech – certainly Burns, Crabbe, and Wordsworth thought that’s what they were up to. But no-one in English did it as radically and convincingly as Williams....' I suppose that's true except for the ones that don't! In particular, such writers as Zukofsky, Ronald Johnson, and indeed much Langpo can be construed as 'common speech' only with some, um, difficulty!

Ron said...

My take on the shorter poems is on my weblog today.