Z-siteA Companion to the Works of Louis Zukofsky
I’s (pronounced eyes) (1963)
The title of this collection almost certainly relates to Bottom, which LZ was finishing during the period he wrote these poems. The section “Definition” in Part Three, which runs through the entire Shakespeare canon picking out passages as evidence of the theme that “love sees,” is presented in the form of a dialogue between the Son and I, who is first introduced as, “I. (pronounced eye)” (266). Internal evidence indicates that “Definitions” was written, compiled or finished in 1959, the same year as most of the poems in I’s (pronounced eyes) were composed. One might usefully consult Bottom’s index under “I,” which in particular directs attention to LZ’s interest in Ludwig Wittgenstein’s definition of the subject or “I” in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus; see particularly quotations at 51-52.
16 Dec. 1960 / Origin (April 1961)
Corman, Cid. “Ryokan’s Scroll” Sagetrieb 1.2 (1982): 285-289.
Parker, Richard. “Louis Zukofsky’s American Zen.” Modernism and the Orient. Ed. Zhaoming Qian. 2012. 235-237.
Title Ryokan’s scroll: Cid Corman (1924-2004), with whom LZ was in frequent correspondence at this time, bought a scroll that was a reproduction of the famous running style calligraphy of the Japanese Zen poet Taigu Ryokan (1758-1831) and wanted to share it with friends to whom he loaned it for a year each. LZ wrote Corman on 11 Dec. 1960 that he had received the scroll and asked for a translation. Corman wrote back that he believed the poem was from the Manyōshu, the oldest classical collection of Japanese poetry, and gave the following literal translation, reading from top to bottom, right to left: “For the first time in a long time snow falling: petals of the cherry.” Corman adds: “Ryokan uses a very unusual script: only a few Japanese could read it at all. Each character is used as a syllabic note rather than, as it might seem, a word: in fact, the literal meaning of the words are only ‘incidental’ (but used as ‘dripping’ is by our contemporary painters, for ‘incidental effect,’ to let it occur) […] For me the dance of the hand as it moves the eyes down the paper is absolute delight” (letter dated 13 Dec. 1960; HRC 22.4). LZ sent his poem to Corman in a letter dated 16 Dec. 1960, remarking that “eyes is a verb” (HRC 18.3). The poem typographically attempts to suggest a sense of a scroll as well as of dripping.
Ryokan’s scroll was reproduced on the cover of the original publication of I’s (pronounced eyes) by Trobar Press, but printed up-side-down, as noted in “A”-14.325.7 (the cover is reproduced with this note).
17 Jan. 1959 (draft in notebook dated 9 Jan. 1959, HRC 3.13)
Her Face the Book of—Love Delights in—Praises
18-19 June 1959 / Nation Review (Nov. 1962)
Title Her Face the Book of—Love Delights in—Praises: as LZ indicates, this title splices together phrases from two plays of Shakespeare, Pericles and The Two Gentlemen of Verona.
From Pericles I.i; spoken by Pericles on the entrance of Antiochus’ daughter:
See where she comes, apparell’d like the spring,
Graces her subjects, and her thoughts the king
Of every virtue gives renown to men!
Her face the book of praises, where is read
Nothing but curious pleasures, as from thence
Sorrow were ever razed and testy wrath
Could never be her mild companion.
From The Two Gentlemen of Verona II.iv:
Proteus. Enough; I read your fortune in your eye.
Was this the idol that you worship so?
Valentine. Even she; and is she not a heavenly saint?
Proteus. No; but she is an earthly paragon.
Valentine. Call her divine.
Proteus. I will not flatter her.
Valentine. O! flatter me, for love delights in praises.
205.2 “will you give yourself airs / from that lute of Zukofsky?”: these quoted lines as well as 206.1 are from Robert Duncan (1919-1988), “After Reading Barely and Widely,” probably written early 1959 and collected in Opening of the Field (1960): 88-92. Duncan had been responsible for LZ’s residency at San Francisco State College in the summer of 1958 and presumably the Zukofskys’ sent him a copy of Barely and widely on its publication in Sept. 1958.
206.5 Henry Birnbaum..: American poet (1922-1993), who published an eight page poem, “Orizons,” in Poetry 94.3 (June 1959): 156-163, in the same issue that CZ and LZ’s first Catullus versions appeared. At the time LZ did not know Birnbaum (postcard to Niedecker June 1959). LZ quotes the first few lines of the third section of Birnbaum’s poem at 206.9-12 and 206.16, which in full reads:
I ought to thank
a wonderful voice,
That makes me eclectic
but I don’t care
and neither should he
so long as we
walk out on cartels
and make sounds
that sound uncom
in parlor chairs.
206.19 Unstring insensible judges / In their mid-century…: for much of the rest of this stanza, see following quotation at 206.26.
206.26 Father Huc’s tree / Of Tartary…: Évariste Régis Huc (1813-1860), French Catholic missionary in Asia, best known for his account Travels in Tartary, Thibet and China (1850), translated into English by William Hazlitt. Huc describes seeing the Tree of a Thousand Images at a Tibetan lamasery that sprang from the hair of Tsong-Kaba (1357-1419), the great Tibetan Buddhist reformer and founder of the Yellow Hat School of Buddhism; this tree had Tibetan characters discernable on each leaf as well as its trunk and branches. LZ’s allusion actually comes from James Russell Lowell’s essay, “Shakespeare Once More,” from which he quotes the following passage somewhat abridged in Bottom (192):
“Shakespeare, then, found a language already to a certain extent established, but not yet fetlocked by dictionary and grammar mongers, —a versification harmonized, but which had not yet exhausted all its modulations, nor been set in the stocks by critics who deal judgment on refractory feet, that will dance to Orphean measures of which their judges are insensible. That the language was established is proved by its comparative uniformity as used by the dramatists, who wrote for mixed audiences, as well as by Ben Jonson’s satire upon Marston’s neologisms; that it at the same time admitted foreign words to the rights of citizenship on easier terms than now is in good measure equally true. What was of greater import, no arbitrary line had been drawn between high words and low; vulgar then meant simply what was common; poetry had not been aliened from the people by the establishment of an Upper House of vocables, alone entitled to move in the stately ceremonials of verse, and privileged from arrest while they forever keep the promise of meaning to the ear and break it to the sense. The hot conception of the poet had no time to cool while he was debating the comparative respectability of this phrase or that; but he snatched what word his instinct prompted, and saw no indiscretion in making a king speak as his country nurse might have taught him. It was Waller who first learned in France that to talk in rhyme alone comported with the state of royalty. In the time of Shakespeare, the living tongue resembled that tree which Father Huc saw in Tartary, whose leaves were languaged, —and every hidden root of thought, every subtilest fibre of feeling, was mated by new shoots and leafage of expression, fed from those unseen sources in the common earth of human nature.”
In Bottom and again when the passage was incorporated into “A”-17, LZ explicitly associates this image of Father Huc’s tree with WCW’s “The Botticellian Trees” (see 17.387.28), which he had first published in An “Objectivists” Anthology (1932). See following note relating to Lorine Niedecker, who in her response to this Zukofsky’s poem suggests a connection between Birnbaum’s name (Baum = Ger. tree) and the following tree passage.
206.31 knee deck her: = Lorine Niedecker (1903-1970), poet and long-time friend of LZ. The “drudgery” refers to the fact that at the time Niedecker worked as a cleaner at Fort Atkinson Memorial Hospital, and “daisy” alludes to Niedecker’s mother (postcard to Niedecker June 1959). LZ also indicates that Niedecker had been having problems with a knee. This passage works from and responds to a 16 June 1959 letter from Niedecker, which responded to a LZ letter in which he apparently quotes the opening lines of Duncan’s “After Reading Barely and Widely”: “There are words that rhyme but are never used together. You would never use lute with boot!! Apropos of nothing. It’s my reaction to drudgery […]” (Penberthy 252-253). It is perhaps not irrelevant that James A. Decker published simultaneously Niedecker’s New Goose and LZ’s Anew (1946). Niedecker responds to this passage and poem in a following letter dated 23 June (Penberthy 254).
207.6 eight courses: in sending this poem to Niedecker (see preceding note), LZ added a note explaining “courses” as a musical term: “courses – the lute strings tune in pairs + are called that” (letter dated 19 June 1959).
27 Oct. 1959 (draft in notebook dated 29 Oct. 1959, HRC 3.13) / San Francisco Review (March 1961)
Written during LZ’s residency at San Francisco State College during the summer 1958.
6-7 Feb. 1959 / Wagner Literary Magazine (Spring 1959)
1-2 March 1959
15 Jan. 1937
This poem is a rare case where LZ resurrects a poem written many years earlier.
Title Motet: polyphonic or choral composition sung usually to a sacred text, often without accompaniment; a major musical form during the 13th through mid-18th centuries.
209.1 Maestoso: It. majestic; in music, to perform in a stately and dignified manner.
General Martinet Gem: Martinet means a rigid military disciplinarian, one who demands absolute adherence to forms and rules (AHD); from Inspector General Jean Martinet (d. 1672), French innovator of modern methods of military drills to effectively break in raw recruits. Cf. Général Gene Gem who commands toy soldiers at “A”-8.94.21, which LZ was working on during the time he wrote this poem.
20-21 July 1959 / Poetry (Feb. 1960)
Based on a cross-country car trip from New York to Mexico City with George and Mary Oppen in the June-July of 1959, with the Zukofskys flying back as described in section 5. For political reasons, the Oppens had been living in self-imposed exile in Mexico City since 1950 but at the time of this trip were in the process of returning to the States. During one of their trips up to NYC during this period, they invited the Zukofskys to drive back with them—they left on 30 June, the car trip took about a week and the Zukofskys flew back 16 July. As section 4 indicates, LZ was unimpressed with Mexico City and the Mesoamerican ruins they visited at Teotihuacan, but enjoyed his first plane flight described in section 5. For LZ’s account of the trip, see 20 July 1959 letter to Cid Corman (HRC 18.1) and to Lorine Niedecker (HRC 20.5), while Mary Oppen offers her version in Meaning a Life: An Autobiography (1978): 206-208.
210.13 maid Barbary’s song: refers to a song in Shakespeare, Othello IV.iii sung by Desdemona, which she says she learned from her mother’s maid Barbary:
The poor soul sat sighing by a sycamore tree,
Sing all a green willow;
Her hand on her bosom, her head on her knee,
Sing willow, willow, willow:
The fresh streams ran by her, and murmur’d her moans;
Sing willow, willow, willow:
Her salt tears fell from her, and soften’d the stones;—
Sing willow, willow, willow:
Sing all a green willow must be my garland.
Let nobody blame him, his scorn I approve,—
I call’d my love false love; but what said he then?
Sing willow, willow, willow:
If I court moe women, you’ll couch with moe men.
210.22 alpha and omega: first and last letters of the Greek alphabet (thus equivalent to A and Z), and theologically used to mean eternity (specifically of God) or simply first and last, beginning and end.
211.13 Two Gentlemen / Proteus and Valentine: these are the two gentlemen of the title of Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona.
211.17 from fatal loins: from the Prologue sonnet to Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, which of course is set in Verona, Italy:
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;
Whole misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents’ strife.
211.1 The cow scraped by / the hood of the car…: this section describes an incident when Oppen was driving and grazed a cow, which in fright shat on the car. For an account of the incident, see Mary Oppen, Meaning a Life: An Autobiography (Black Sparrow Press, 1978): 208.
212.1 49 states: Alaska had just recently become the 49th state early in 1959.
212.2 filly / rearing on / the wind: probably refers to the striking Pegasus (winged horse) logo for Mobile Oil, which would they would have seen frequently along the road at filling stations and on billboards. Pegasus is associated with poetic inspiration.
In his account to Lorine Niedecker, LZ observes: “[Mexico] to us the least interesting of foreign countries we’ve been in, except for Canada. Mexico City overrated – a mushroom culture imitation of U.S. + pseudo-primitive of Rivera, Siqueiros etc is callow. Rivera did design a nice stadium after Aztecs at the University.”
27 March 1959 / Nation (Nov. 1959)
Title Peri Poietikes: when first published in Nation, a note by LZ states: “Peri poietikes: ‘About poetry,’ the opening words of Aristotle’s Poetics” (336), which were taken as that work’s title.
213.2 Look in your own ear and read: modernization of EP’s “Look into thine owne eare and reade” (EP/LZ 73; dated 18 Nov 1930), which in turn echoes the concluding line of the opening sonnet of Sir Philip Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella: “’Fool, said my Muse to me, Look in thy heart and write” (Penberthy 259). See also Prep+ 23.
213.5 Pyrrhic: metrical foot having two short or unstressed syllables.
213.5 Pirke: when first published in Nation, a note by LZ states: “Pirke: that is, Pirke Aboth, ‘Chapters of the Fathers,’ included in Talmud and part of the orthodox Jewish ritual read on Sabbath afternoons” (336).
213.7 gnome: a short, pithy saying; an aphorism; e.g. gnomic verse. Also punning on -nome in metronome, from Gk. nomos, rule or division.
I’s (pronounced eyes)
According to Booth (110) these were originally written as separate poems and not assembled together until 1961. The composition dates of the individual poems is as follows: “Hi, Kuh”: 15 Jan. 1959; “Red azaleas”: 2 May 1959, rev. 11 June 1959; “Fiddler Age Nine”: 5 Feb. 1959 (line 3), 2 May 1959 (rest of poem); “HARBOR”: 13 June 1959; “FOR”: 13 June 1959; “Angelo”: 13 June 1959; “SEVEN DAYS A WEEK”: 13 June 1959; “TREE-SEE”: 29 Oct. 1959; “A SEA”: 10 Nov. 1959; “ABC”: 6 Nov. 1959; “AZURE”: 23 May 1960.
LZ comments on the first poem of this sequence in his 1968 interview with L.S. Dembo (Prep+ 242-243), and he made similar comments in his 1966 NET recording and reading (see Recordings of LZ).
Parsons, Marnie. Touch Monkeys: Nonsense Strategies for Reading Twentieth-Century Poetry (1993): 100-102.
Rieke, Alison. Senses of Nonsense (1992): 162-164.
Scroggins, Mark. Louis Zukofsky and the Poetry of Knowledge (1998): 100-114.
Title I’s (pronounced eyes): see note to the title of the collection.
214.1 Hi, Kuh: aside from the pun on haiku, kuh in Ger. means cow. At the time of composition, LZ was in regular correspondence with Cid Corman, then residing in Kyoto, with whom there was considerable discussion of East Asian literature. When he sent “Hi, Kuh” to Corman, LZ remarked that he was looking out the window and thinking of Corman (letter dated 24 Jan. 1959; HRC 18.1). See also “(Ryokan’s scroll)” and “Daruma.” In a 7 Feb. 1959 letter to Lorine Niedecker, LZ comments: “The Hi-Kuh – you got the eye-dea. But read I’s, eyes for the sound, tho the meaning is one’s many ones (selves) – as the person creates the world thru his eyes from instant to instant – the cow’s eye steadier, but its self too animal to freeze into a skyscraper object of a human I’s (first person). But as you say it’s the impression that counts – whatever coterminous philhorsophy of my Bottom is paralleled in these few lines – fun ‘doing’ when it just happens before you know it’s done” (HRC 20.5).
214.13 Fiddler Age Nine…: according to Scroggins this poem is based on a snapshot of PZ (108); one imagines probably one of the photos mentioned at “A”-13.305.19-23 when the poet inventories the contents of his wallet.
214.15 Détaché: violin bowing technique of separate, detached strokes for each note; see “Spook’s Sabbath, Five Bowings” (CSP 136).
215.4 two-by-four’s: 2 x 4s are standard lengths of lumber whose cross section measurements are 2 inches in height and 4 inches in width when untrimmed.
216.1 TREE—SEE?…: this poem is a found collaboration between LZ and Lorine Niedecker. Niedecker sent PZ a copy of her poem “My friend tree” (Collected Works 186) with a short note (dated as received 28 Sept. 1959) when she was about to have several trees on her property cut down and others trimmed. As a follow-up she sent a letter (dated as received 15 Oct. 1959) about the men’s work with a sketch of a tree with one of the workers in it. LZ wrote, “I see by your tree you draw” (dated 16 Oct. 1959), to which Niedecker replied, “What do you see by it?” (Penberthy 255). Finally, in a letter dated 29 Oct. 1959 LZ writes: “You gimme a poem – the second stanza yours, but it’s now in the common domain like Shixes, his Plutarch” (HRC 20.5 & 33.6). Penerthy’s notes on Niedecker’s poem (Collected Works 420) quote from the letter to PZ with the sketch, but gets mixup about some of the details (the poem was not sent with this letter). See also Quartermain, Disjunctive Poetics 90.
To Friends, for Good Health
28 Feb.-2 March 1959/ Combustion (May 1959)