Editor’s Notes

Some Notes on the Current State of the Notes


•           At present the Z-site primarily includes:

  a comprehensive set of annotations to “A”, the shorter poems and the major prose works.

  online publication of The Selected Letters of Louis Zukofsky, edited by Barry Ahearn (2014). 

— online republication of Celia Zukofsky’s American Friends (originally published in 1979), along with several further works she assembled after LZ’s death: L.Z.’s notes to 80 flowers, Marginalia by Louis Zukofsky and 1939-1978.

  bibliographical information, including a full chronology of composition and publication dates, as well as criticism and reviews on LZ.

  textual variants in “A” 1-8 and “A” errata.

  information on the “Objectivists” publications and LZ’s library.

  under Z-Notes, extensive commentaries on the individual movements of “A” and other major aspects of LZ’s canon (ongoing).

•           To begin with, a primary task of this website was to pull together the basic information and annotations that have been done on LZ’s work, which have been scattered and often difficult to find. Scholarly work on LZ began in 1969 with the publication of CZ’s A Bibliography of Louis Zukofsky and L.S. Dembo’s interviews with LZ, Oppen, Reznikoff and Rakosi, which were conducted in association with a conference on the Objectivist poets organized the previous year. However, it would be yet another decade before substantial critical work began to appear in mainstream academic venues, with the publication of the essays in Louis Zukofsky: Man and Poet (1979), edited by Carroll F. Terrell, Barry Ahearn’s Zukofsky’s “A”: An Introduction (1983) and a more or less steady trickle of articles, particularly in Sagetrieb since 1982. The centennial of LZ’s birth in 2004 seemed a good time to consolidate what had been done, which also makes apparent the unevenness of the critical attention the larger body of LZ’s work has received so far.

•           The notes attempt to stick to reasonably objective annotation, background, source identification and cross-references, while avoiding more speculative interpretation, although recognizing there is no clear demarcation and that in some cases speculation may be all we have. Throughout “A”, LZ incorporates a considerable amount of contemporary, newsy references, much of which is quite ephemeral, although how ephemeral will often depend on the reader’s own personal history. Many of us can readily recall various images LZ evokes in the 1960s sections, but increasingly more readers cannot. There is unquestionably more such detail of this nature that could be added to these notes.

•           Dates of composition: From early on, LZ was in the habit of meticulously dating and preserving his manuscripts and typescripts (he never typed himself), although prior to World War II notes and manuscripts are spotty. The specific dates I have noted for given works are usually from these documents as recorded in Booth and Henderson, but they should be taken with some care because it is often not clear precisely at what point in the composition process these dates refer. Most often the dates indicate the completion of the original version, and sometimes but not always LZ will date significant revisions. The sources for composition dates are CZ’s A Bibliography of Louis Zukofsky (1969), updated in Terrell (1979), which gives a year by year chronology of composition, and Marcella Booth’s A Catalogue of the Louis Zukofsky Manuscript Collection (1975), which including specific dates written on manuscripts and is updated by Cathy Henderson’s “Supplement to Marcella Booth’s ‘A Catalogue of the Louis Zukofsky Manuscript Collection’” (1987).

•           Translations: LZ relied heavily on translations, frequently adopting or adapting the wording of specific renditions. I have tried to indicate wherever possible the specific translations LZ used, which in most cases can be identified either from internal evidence or from such sources as the partial lists of LZ’s library books. When offering translations of untranslated passages in LZ’s works, I have preferred to use renditions that are as literal as possible and follow the syntax closely, in some cases jury-rigging my own versions.

•           Although there are some exceptions, I have largely avoided hyperlinks outside of this website in order to avoid the interminable problem of dead links. In most cases, sources are quoted extensively enough that it is an easy matter to search for the fuller texts. However, among the bibliographies there is a listing of sources, most of which can be found online. The Internet Archive in particular often has the precise editions LZ used. 

•           Scholars using this site should be cautious and double-check quotations, references, etc. Aside from the inevitable errors that creep into any project of this size, the fact that I have been based outside the U.S. imposes limitations on my access to libraries, and frequently I have had to rely on internet texts or second-hand sources for quotations or references. In many cases it has not been possible to track down or identify the precise editions used by LZ, although the latter question is helped by the partial list of LZ’s library. Please let me know if you spot any errors or inaccuracies.

•           As a reader, LZ is possibly the most canonical American poet of the 20th century—he loved reading classics. The immediate advantage of this is that the majority of LZ’s sources are readily available on the web, which has made this project much easier than might have originally been anticipated. Particularly because LZ so often composed by reworking found materials in various ways, it is important to identify as precisely as possible the editions or translations he used, which I have tried to indicate whenever possible.

•           Shakespeare: Not surprisingly, quotations, allusions or reworkings from Shakespeare crop up in LZ’s work from beginning to end. LZ’s primary Shakespeare edition was the New Cambridge edition of The Complete Poems and Plays, ed. W.A. Neilson and C.J. Hill (Houghton Mifflin/Riverside, 1942). However, LZ used various different editions—modernized editions in most cases but sometimes old spelling versions (particularly for Pericles). As he indicates in some later sections of “A” and particularly in Bottom, LZ was interested in textual problems in Shakespeare and often preferred the earliest readings to variants accepted by most modern texts. LZ owned a copy of the First Quartos of Shakespeare’s Poems and Pericles, for which he thanks Mark Van Doren in Bottom (4); this is Shakespeares Sonnets, Lucrece, Passonate Pilgrim, Pericles Being a Reproduction in Facsimile of the First Editions, edited by Sidney Lee (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1905), from which he quotes extensively as well as responding to Lee’s introduction to Pericles in Bottom (293-294, 322-324,328-329). He also often uses first Quarto texts of the non-dramatic poems.

•           Dictionaries: As is well-known, in his later life LZ acquired and was fond of using the Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia in ten volumes, from which he used both etymological information and sample quotations. Happily, this dictionary is freely available online, and I have used it often for definitions and etymological information in the notes for “A”-12 and following, since LZ mentions that he acquired the Century around 1950 (Prep+ 35). While the Century is a marvelous work, at times its definitions can be quaint and quirky, so occasionally for the sake of lucidity I have opted for a more standard dictionary definition. In writing Thanks to the Dictionary off and on during the 1930s, LZ used two different dictionaries: Funk and Wagnalls Practical Standard Dictionary (1930) and Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (1917), and images of the relevant pages are reproduced with the annotations to that work. It should be kept in mind that LZ also used various foreign language dictionaries, particularly in relation to his late work where homophonic transliteration becomes an increasingly important compositional method, especially from Greek, Latin and Hebrew. Although my personal view is that LZ’s reliance on etymological suggestions has been exaggerated by some commentators (more important is homophonic suggestion in the later work), 80 Flowers is an exception which draws primarily on a range of reference books including many dictionaries or related word books. The annotations to 80 Flowers include a full list of the sources LZ used, which include over a dozen dictionaries and thesauruses. 

•           “A”-22 and “A”-23 pose special problems for the annotator, since they are almost entirely stitched together from numerous reworked sources that are often compacted or blended together. My own perspective is that the identification of sources in these sections is of limited value in actually reading the poems. This is at odds with a number of commentators, who argue that these poems cannot be competently read without going back to LZ’s workbooks, identifying his sources and reconstructing the meanings of these allusions. There is something irresistible in attempting to uncover the sources behind texts that by and large are almost entirely constructed from prior texts, however complex and peculiar their transformations, and this does require going to LZ’s not always legible workbooks at the Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas, Austin. The notes to these movements incorporate the source identifications made by prior scholarship, but predominately reflect my own work with the notebooks. They are certainly not complete, however that might be conceived, but the sources of the large majority of lines have been identified so that the overall shape and organization of the movements with regard to their use of materials is evident. More importantly, these source materials reveal the range of methods by which LZ transformed them for generate his poems. Nevertheless, even a definitive identification of a given source text that he is reworking will not in itself fully account for LZ’s text, as all manner of other associations, recurrences or intersecting texts—sometimes highly subjective and buried—are always possible. For my take of what LZ is doing with his sources in “A”-22 & -23, see commentary in the Z-Notes. Perhaps what is ultimately required is the digital reproduction and transcription of LZ’s working notebooks and reading marginalia (see Paul Zukofsky’s note on the latter), which would be a very large and challenging task.


Last updated 19 March 2024