Monday, January 21, 2013

THE FINAL POST: Aimless Reading: The Z's, Part 1.6 (Louis Zukofsky)

Zukofsky, Louis

I guess this day had to come. I imagine Zukofsky would be pleased to know that once again his name had become the hinge connecting the end of the alphabet to the beginning. This book was taken from the shelves of the Just Buffalo library before it was sold. I once had a paperback copy–the newer one with the blue cover. That's the one I actually read. I eventually sold it in favor of keeping a sturdier, if older, hardcover.

It's hard to know where to begin or end this post. I am sure to follow with some stats and perhaps some appendices, if for no other reason than I have become so used to writing these posts each day that I won't be able to stop. But I did set out using the alphabet and my existing library as constraints, so it makes sense to bring this part of the project to a close.

I began reading Zukofsky's "A" over the winter break my first year in Buffalo, December 1997. I drove with Taylor Brady and Tanya Hollis from Buffalo to Florida. My father had died a year earlier and my mother had moved from Virginia to Sarasota that spring. She bought a house in a new development. It had an in-ground pool inside a screened-in patio that looked out on a manmade pond, replete with sleeping alligators.

I think at least one if not both of my brothers visited, but I could be wrong. I remember going to see movies every night at the multiplex in downtown Sarasota. We saw "Titanic" and "Good Will Hunting" and "As Good As It Gets." I went to the bookstore across from the theater and found books by Susan Howe, Charles Bernstein and Clark Coolidge remaindered and on sale for a couple dollars apiece.

Back at my mother's I swam and ate and smoked. I can recall holding Zukofsky's big book in my lap. I read to myself mostly, but when I was alone I read out loud. I had just gone through a semester of graduate school, where I felt like a salmon swimming upstream. Most of my new classmates were steeped in the avant-garde cannon of American poetry, having read Zukofsky and Olson and the Beats and the Objectivists and the Black Mountain and New York School poets, as well as everything in the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E vein.

I spent the next year or so playing "catch-up." Every time I heard a reference in a seminar or conversation to a poet (or theorist, this being Buffalo and graduate school, after all) I hadn't read, I nodded ambiguously, neither acknowledging my ignorance nor suggesting I'd actually read the work. Then I would write down the name and put it on a list of books to read in my spare time. I read the whole of "A" over the month-long break.

I was skeptical at first about my mother moving to Florida. It all happened so quickly. My father's body was barely cold before she sold the house (not my childhood home, but a townhouse they'd lived in for a few years), the extra car, and the furniture. She moved to a place where she knew no one, leaving behind all of the friends she and my father had made over the years. Frankly, I thought she was having a meltdown.

When I asked her about this, she said, "If I have to start over, I am going to start over completely." I came to like Sarasota, to my great surprise. You could walk downtown and go to the beach and they even had a little art house theatre with a tiny screen and a great video store with a pair of clerks who knew everything about film and were eager to share their knowledge with you.

A decade later, I spent a month in each of two succeeding summers living there by myself, writing while my mother was away. My most recent book, due out later this year from Chax Press, was written mostly in her kitchen. She moved around Sarasota almost as often as I did around Buffalo during that period. The only difference being that she kept making money off the houses she bought and sold, at least until the crash. Now she lives in Nashville, of all places. I've visited her once.

I don't remember much of "A."

I remember the opening section at the concert.

I remember not knowing what the St. Matthew's Passion was.

I remember the musical staves of "A-24."

I remember puzzling over a horse motif that runs through the poem.

I remember being moved by the section in which he addresses his young son, Paul. I think it's "A-12." I guess I liked to imagine my father addressing me that way, so candid.

I remember I bought the St. Matthew's Passion years later, after hearing it in one of Tarkovsky's films.

I seem to be rambling now.

I guess I am looking for a way to end -- or better, a way not to end --  this project. I find myself regretting having purged so many books from my library over the past few years–easily another year's worth of blog entries. I could, I suppose, start writing about all of the chapbooks, reference books, art books, and literary magazines I own. That could easily take two more years. I could also go back and write about all the books I've acquired since I began writing this blog. Six months. Easy.

We've also acquired at least three shelves full of children's books. I imagine in a few years I'll have a lot of memories to share regarding Good Night Moon, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and The Cat in the Hat, but for now those memories are still "in progress."

Perhaps it's time to go back and reread what I have written. That could take at least a year. Maybe a poem or two will come of it.

Anyhow, it seems "I need a new project..."

from "A-12"

These are some things I wanted
To get into a poem
Some unfinished work
I may never finish.
Some that will never be used anywhere
You don't have to type–
That'll be nice
You won't have to type–
Much of it in pencil–blurred–other
                   notes written over it
I can't read back thru the years–
It is worth jotting down
In ink, as sometime
I may be sorry
When the sense is entirely destroyed.
Perhaps an unwarranted loneliness 
                    prompts me to it
For not much in it interests me now
If it can't be turned into poetry.


Stephen Baraban said...

Did you ever come to any conclusions about the "horse motif", which, as you know, is strongly present in Z's short poems as well the epic A?

rdeming said...

How will I organize my mornings now?

Michael Kelleher, North Haven, CT said...


I did not. I just let them trample over the poems willy-nilly.


Alas. I'll be back again soon when I think of what to do.