Louis Zukof­sky
  • Review
By – December 19, 2011
Carl Sagan once said that in order to make an apple pie, you must first invent the uni­verse. A touch melo­dra­mat­ic, per­haps, but an effec­tive way of say­ing that we live in a world where noth­ing can exist with­out an unfath­omable num­ber of pri­or and ongo­ing caus­es and effects, rela­tion­ships, and devel­op­ments. Regard­ing Louis Zukofsky’s extra­or­di­nary, forty-six-years-in-the-mak­ing, eight hun­dred page poem A” (in twen­ty-four sec­tions, or move­ments), Sagan might have said that in order to read it, you must first read every oth­er book ever writ­ten. Or at least, Zukof­sky had to read every book ever writ­ten in order to write his poem. A Shake­speare schol­ar before he was a teenag­er, Zukofsky’s child­hood in a Russ­ian-Jew­ish immi­grant house­hold in Brook­lyn in the 1910’s and 20s formed ear­ly in him a poly­glot pas­sion for lan­guage. His pen­chant for pun­ning can make Joyce seem like a but­toned-down prose styl­ist. It is impos­si­ble in this brief review to give you a sense of the full sweep and sor­cery of this mas­ter­ful, mag­is­te­r­i­al, majes­tic work, which begins with a per­for­mance of Bach’s St. Matthew Pas­sion at Carnegie Hall in 1928 and ends with a choral set­ting of mul­ti­ple Zukof­sky texts by his wife Celia to Handel’s Harp­si­chord Pieces.” At times stren­u­ous, pedan­tic, eso­teric, and puz­zling,A” is also ecsta­t­ic, inspir­ing, poignant, and will stand as one of the great lit­er­ary achieve­ments from the 20th cen­tu­ry. Zukofsky’s bril­liant, heart­felt treat­ment of every­thing from music to Marx, astron­o­my to Hen­ry Adams, his mag­net­ic com­mand of sound and image make for edi­fy­ing, exhil­a­rat­ing reading.
Jason Myers is a writer whose work has appeared in AGNI, BOOK­FO­RUM, and Tin House.

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