29 Songs

#1 Madison, Wis., remembering the bloom of Monticello (1931)

1 March 1931 / Contact (Feb. 1932) and An “Objectivists” Anthology (1932)

 

LZ calls this his “Helen Kane-Jefferson poem,” in a 3 Sept. 1931 letter to EP, suggesting it might help to imagine the poem recited by Helen Kane (1903-1966), a very popular American singer of the time (EP/LZ 98-99). Kane is also favorably mentioned in “‘Recencies’ in Poetry” (Prep+ 211), where LZ remarks that this poem is “to be spoken with an accent on every syllable—like vaudeville recitative” (213). Kane in fact began in vaudeville, famously introduced some scat elements into her songs and sang her lyrics with excellent diction, as well as with a distinct Bronx accent.

 

Title:     Madison, Wis.: LZ spent Nov. 1930–May 1931 teaching at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where he worked on a never completed book on Thomas Jefferson, How Jefferson Used Words, which is often mentioned in his correspondence with EP during this time; also mentioned at “A”-12.257.3. This project seems to have remained in LZ’s mind for quite some time and there survives an outline proposal from 1940, reproduced in the Appendix to SL.
bloom of Monticello: from a 27 March 1797 letter by Thomas Jefferson to his daughter, Martha Randolph: “The bloom of Monticello is chilled by my solitude. It makes me wish the more that yourself and sister were here to enjoy it.”

40.1      empty bed blues: popular blues song recorded in 1928 by Bessie Smith (1894-1937) at the height of her fame. For the time this song was sexually quite racy; the first stanza follows:
I woke up this morning with a awful aching head
I woke up this morning with a awful aching head
My new man had left me, just a room and a empty bed

40.5      “Keep in it deer, / rabbits, pigeons…: the quoted passages in this poem are from Thomas Jefferson, Garden Book, which details his work in and observations on his gardens at the Monticello estate (Leggott 95-96). LZ mentions his interest in Jefferson’s Garden Book to EP in a 5 Nov. 1930 letter (EP/LZ 60). The following is a 1771 note on ideas for the gardens: “Keep in it deer, rabbits, Peacocks, Guinea poultry, pidgeons &c. Let it be an asylum for hares, squirrels, pheasants, partridges and every other wild animal (except those of prey.) Court them to it by laying food for them in proper places.”

40.7      “the figure will be better / placed…: further 1771 notes by Jefferson for his gardens: “let the spring enter at a corner of the grotto, pretty high up the side, and trickle down, or fall by a spout into a basin, from which it may pass off through the grotto. the figure will be better placed in in this: form a couch of moss. the English inscription will then be proper.”

40.27    the brain / Lenin’s: this may refer to the fact that Lenin’s brain was removed for study on his death in 1924, and in 1929 the German neuroscientist Oskar Vogt published a report on his findings.

41.2      “keep the / thorn constantly / wed”: from Thomas Jefferson’s instructions, dated 13 May 1807, to his overseer at Monticello, Edmund Bacon: “Keep the thorns constantly clean wed” (Leggott 96).

 

#2 Immature Pebbles

1931

 

Commentary

LZ comments on this poem in his 1968 interview with L.S. Dembo (Prep+ 239-240).

 

In manuscript this poem has the title, “Sunday, April 12, 1931: Madison, Wis.” (Scroggins Bio 493).

 

41.1      An Imponderable is an article of make-believe…: from Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929), The Vested Interests and the Common Man (1919), Chap. 1, “The Instability of Knowledge and Belief.” On LZ’s interest in Veblen see also “A”-8.56.13f, 8.59.19f, “A”-12.257.7, Prep+ 16:
            An Imponderable is an article of make-believe which has become axiomatic by force of settled habit. It can accordingly cease to be an Imponderable by a course of unsettling habit. Those elders in whom the ancient habits of faith and insight have been ingrained, and in whose knowledge and belief the imponderables in question have therefore had a vital reality, will presently fall away; and the new generation whose experience has run on other lines are in a fair way to lose these articles of faith and insight, by disuse. It is a case of obsolescence by habitual disuse. And the habitual disuse which so allows the ancient canons of knowledge and belief to fall away, and which thereby cuts the ground from under the traditional system of law and custom, is reenforced by the advancing discipline of a new order of experience, which exacts an habitual apprehension of workday facts in terms of a different kind and thereby brings on a revaluation and revision of the traditional rules governing human relations. The new terms of workday knowledge and belief, which do not conform to the ancient canons, go to enforce and stabilise new canons and standards, of a character alien to the traditional point of view. It is, in other words, a case of obsolescence by displacement as well as by habitual disuse.
            This unsettling discipline that is brought to bear by workday experience is chiefly and most immediately the discipline exercised by the material conditions of life, the exigencies that beset men in their everyday dealings with the material means of life; inasmuch as these material facts are insistent and uncompromising. And the scope and method of knowledge and belief which is forced on men in their everyday material concerns will unavoidably, by habitual use, extend to other matters as well; so as also to affect the scope and method of knowledge and belief in all that concerns those imponderable facts which lie outside the immediate range of material experience. It results that, the further course of in changing habituation, those imponderable relations, conventions, claims and perquisites, that make up the time-worn system of law and custom will unavoidably also be brought under review and will be revised and reorganised in the light of the same new principles of validity that are found to be sufficient in dealing with material facts.”

41.25    mandrill: large baboon of west Africa with distinctive bright red and blue or violet markings on the face and rear of the adult male.

 

#3 Prop. LXI (The Strength of The Emotions—Ethica ordine geometrico demonstrata: IV)

16 April 1931 / An “Objectivists” Anthology (1932)

 

In “‘Recencies’ in Poetry,” the preface to An “Objectivists” Anthology (1931), LZ remarks that this poem “in defense of the conceit is curious—since it contradicts on the face of it all his critical values opposed to the confusion of the senses. Still, […] the digression of mentality is perhaps only another fact for the poet to record” (Prep+ 213). LZ made a similar remark on sending the poem to EP in April 1931 (EP/LZ 97).

 

Title      Prop. LXI…: As the subtitle indicates, the title refers to Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677), Ethics, whose full original Latin title LZ gives, meaning Ethics proved in Geometrical Order. This particular proposition is in Part IV: The Strength of the Emotions (qtd. Bottom 16): “Desire which arises from reason can have no excess. Proof.—Desire (Def. Emo. I) absolutely considered is the very essence of man in so far as it is conceived as determined in any manner to do anything. Therefore desire which arises from reason, that is (Prop. 3, Part III.), which is engendered in us in so far as we are active, is the very essence or nature of man in so far as it is conceived as determined to do those things which are adequately conceived through the essence of man alone (Def. 2, Part III.). If, therefore, this desire can have excess, then human nature considered in itself can exceed itself, or could do more than it can do, which is a manifest contradiction. And therefore this desire cannot have excess. Q.e.d.” (trans. Andrew Boyle). Spinoza was a major life-long interest of LZ’s, particularly important in “A”-12 and Bottom.

 

#4 Train-Signal

26 May 1931 / Pagany (Autumn 1931)

 

#5 “It’s a gay li – ife”

26 May 1931 / Contempo (April 1932)

 

Commentary

Scroggins, Mark. Louis Zukofsky and the Poetry of Knowledge (1998): 186-187.

 

#6 —“her soil’s birth”

22 Aug. 1931 / An “Objectivists” Anthology (1932)

 

LZ indicates in a 3 Sept. 1931 letter to EP (EP/LZ 98) that this poem imitates the form of Edmund Waller (1606-1687), “Go, Lovely Rose.” The first stanza of Waller’s lyric follows:

     Go, lovely Rose—
Tell her that wastes her time and me,
     That now she knows,
When I resemble her to thee,
How sweet and fair she seems to be.



#7 “Who endure days like this”

9 April 1932

 

#8 “Happier, happier, now”

30 Nov. 1931

 

#9 “In Arizona”

28 April 1932 / Contact (Oct. 1932)

 

This and the following poem came out of LZ’s cross-country trip to San Francisco with Jerry Reisman in the spring of 1932. The concluding scenes of Ferdinand are set in the Southwest desert and presumably recall this trip as well.

 

#10 Arizona

29 April 1932 / Contact (Oct. 1932)

 

When originally published in Contact, this poem lacked the current title, simply titled “Song 10,” but added the subtitle: “(towards Phoenix, Arizona).” See previous.

 

#11 Home for Aged Bomb Throwers—U.S.S.R.

11-22 Nov. 1933 / Bozart-Westminister (Spring/Summer 1935)

 

Title: Supposedly there was such a retirement home for veterans of the 1905 Revolution.

46.11   1/6 of the earth: refers to the landmass encompassed by the U.S.S.R., as in in the title of Dziga Vertov’s film, A Sixth Part of the World (1926).

 

#12 “Whatever makes this happening”

20 June 1932

 

#13 “in that this happening”

22 June 1932 / Il Mare (1 Oct. 1932)

 

LZ sent this poem in response to EP giving him a check as travel money to Europe in a letter dated 16 Aug. 1932 (EP/LZ 135), although given the date on the manuscript, as Scroggins points out, the poem did not originate as his response (Bio 503). Although LZ did not use the check, he did visit Europe and EP in the summer of 1933. EP was responsible for printing this poem in Il Mare, a Rapallo, Italy weekly in which he had a regular literary column. LZ’s poem was accompanied by a translation into Latin by Basil Bunting (see Bunting’s “Verse and Version,” in Complete Poems 152). In a Sept. 1932 letter to LZ, Bunting discusses his translation in some detail; qtd. Sister Victoria Marie Forde, S.C., “The Translations and Adaptations of Basil Bunting,” in Basil Bunting: Man and Poet, ed. Terrell F. Terrell (Orono, ME: National Poetry Foundation, 1981): 303-304.

 

#14 “The sand: For the cigarette finished”

3 Aug. 1932

 

#15 “Do not leave me”

15 Aug. 1932

 

#16 “Crickets’”

15 Aug. 1932

 

Commentary

Hatlen, Burton. “A Poetics of Marginality and Resistance: The Objectivist Poets in Context.” In DuPlessis and Quartermain, The Objectivist Nexus (1999): 50-52.

 

#17 Imitation

10 Nov. 1932 / Symposium (April 1933)

 

49.11    THE ACADEMY OF THE HOLY CHILD: the first stanza and a half of this poem describe St. Walburga’s Academy of the Holy Child, a convent and school for girls. The prominent building was known as “the castle” and located on Riverside Drive and 140th Street, 20 blocks north of Columbia University.

49.21    Xavier: St. Francis Xavier (1506-1552), Jesuit disciple of Ignatius Loyola, most famous for his zealous missionary work in South and East Asia.

49.22    in China even comparatively recently…: the rest of this stanza and much of the following comes from the description of a museum exhibition, “Ivory Objects from China.” The following is quoted from the Field Museum News for Dec. 1932 (Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago), although it seems likely, given the composition date, that the exhibition was in NYC:
           
“Until comparatively recent times physicians attending women of the upper class in China never saw their patients except for a hand extended from behind a concealing curtain or screen for the taking of the pulse. For the rest of their diagnosis the doctors had to depend upon a proxy in the form of a small carved figure of a woman upon which the patient indicated the location of her complaint.
            One of these figures, carved from ivory, is on exhibition in a collection of various Chinese ivory objects installed in George T. and Frances Gaylord Smith Hall (Hall 24). The exhibit comprises objects of many and various kinds from different parts of China, and covers a wide range of time beginning with the archaic period (1122-247 B.C.).
            Included in the exhibit are several pairs of ivory chopsticks; some exquisite fans of the Manchu court, plaited from ivory threads and overlaid with colored ivory carvings; cages for keeping singing and fighting crickets; and a miscellany of fans, tablets, writing-brush holders, figures of goddesses, saints, monks and other revered persons, various kinds of ornamental objects, a desk screen, scent box, foot-measures, girdle pendants, combs, back scratchers, opium smokers’ equipment, and other material.”

 

#18 “The mirror oval sabers playing”

28 Nov. 1932

 

In manuscript given the title “9 and Nine” (Booth 162).

 

#19 “Checkers, checkmate and checkerboard”

29 Nov. 1933

 

#20 “Ears beringed with fuzz”

5 Dec. 1932

 

Commentary

Dembo, L.S. “Louis Zukofsky: Objectivist Poetics and the Quest for Form.” American Literature 44.1 (1972): 74-96. Rpt. Terrell (1979): 302-303.

 

#21 “Snows’ night’s winds on the window rattling”

13 Dec. 1932

 

#22 “To my wash-stand”

13 Dec. 1932 / Symposium (April 1933)

 

Commentary

Hatlen, Burton. “Zukofsky, Wittgenstein, and the Poetics of Absence.” Sagetrieb 1.1 (1982): 63-93.

Jennison, Ruth. The Zukofsky Era: Modernity, Margins and the Avant-garde (2012): 181-186.

 

In a 10 Dec. 1942 letter to Carl Rakosi, LZ mentions having once met Henry Miller, who expressed admiration for this poem and parodied it in the concluding pages of his story, “Jabberwhorl Cronstadt,” published in New Direction 1936 and then collected in Black Spring (1936).

 

52.26    modillions: ornamental brackets used in series under a cornice (AHD).

 

#23 “The Immediate Aim”

7 March 1934

 

Title      “The Immediate Aim”: although often enough echoed in Lenin and other strident Leftist writings, the primary origin of this phrase is Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto: “The immediate aim of the Communists is the same as that of all other proletarian parties: Formation of the proletariat into a class, overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy, conquest of political power by the proletariat” (trans. Samuel Moore). Some light may be thrown on this title by remarks made to Kenneth Rexroth in a 21 Jan. 1931 letter (SL 62).

56.6      his own gravedigger: cf. Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto: “The development of Modern Industry, therefore, cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie, therefore, produces, above all, is its own grave-diggers” (trans. Samuel Moore). See Arise 42.

 

#24 This Fall, 1933

12 Nov. 1933 / Bozart-Westminister (Spring/Summer 1935)

 

THE AMERICAN BANKNOTE FACTORY: built in 1911 in the Bronx with large multi-paned windows.

 

#25 No One Inn

1 Dec. 1932

 

#26 A Junction

7 Aug. 1933 / Bozart-Westminister (Spring/Summer 1935)

 

LZ notes on the manuscript that this was written in Budapest (Booth 62), where he visited Tibor Serly during his European trip of June-Sept. 1933.

 

#27 Song—3/4 time

8 Dec. 1933 / Bozart-Westminister (Spring/Summer 1935)

 

During the seminars he gave at the U. of Connecticut in 1971, LZ indicated that he wrote this poem to the tune of “Three O’Clock in the Morning,” a popular waltz, which is mentioned in F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925) as “a neat, sad little waltz of that year” (Butterick 161). LZ included several stanzas of this poem in his tribute to WCW, “A-17.378-379.

 

58.1      Right out / of / Das Kapital…: as LZ indicates, the following quotation, as well as that beginning at 61.1 to the end, is from Karl Marx, Capital Chap. 3 (Money, or the Circulation of Commodities), Section 2 (The Medium of Circulation), Subsection a (The Metamorphosis of Commodities), paragraphs 42 and 43:
            “The circulation of commodities differs from the direct exchange of products, known as barter, in substance as well as in form. This is shown by a single glance at the course of events. The weaver has certainly exchanged his linen for a bible, has exchanged his own commodity for a commodity that belonged to some one else. But this phenomenon is only true for him. The seller of the bible, who has a taste for something that will warm up the cockles of his heart, had no thought of exchanging his bible for linen, any more than the weaver knew that wheat was being exchanged for his linen; and so it goes on. B’s commodity replaces A’s commodity; but A and B do not reciprocally exchange their commodities. It may, of course, happen that A and B make simultaneous purchases each from the other; but such a particular relation is by no means a necessary outcome of the general relations under which the circulation of commodities takes place. We see here, on the one hand, how the exchange of commodities breaks down the individual and local hindrances attendant upon the process of barter, and furthers the circulation of the products of human labor. On the other hand, there develops a multiplicity of social relations that are spontaneous in their growth and are quite outside the control of the actors. The weaver is only able to sell his linen because the farmer has sold the wheat; the bible agent is only able to sell the bible because the weaver has sold linen; the distiller is only able to sell the strong waters because the bible agent has already sold the waters of eternal life; and so on.
            Consequently, the process of circulation does not, like direct barter, come to an end as soon as the use-values change places or change hands. Money does not disappear because it ultimately drops out of the series of metamorphoses undergone by a particular commodity. It is constantly being precipitated into new places in the arena of circulation, places vacated by other commodities. For instance, in the complete metamorphosis of the linen (linen—money—bible), the linen drops out of circulation, and money steps into its place; then the bible drops out of circulation, and money steps into its place. When one commodity replaces another, the money commodity always remains in the hands of some third person. Circulation sweats money unceasingly at every pore” (trans. Paul and Cedar Eden).

 

#28 “‘Specifically, a writer of music’”

24 Feb. 1934

 

Commentary

Twitchell-Waas, Jeffrey. “Louis Zukofsky.” Review of Contemporary Fiction 22.3 (2002): 19-20.

 

This prose poem is clearly related to the “Thanks to the Dictionary” project, which LZ composed off and on through most of the 1930s largely by improvising out of the dictionary, so that a given paragraph tends to be created out of words and definitions found on a given page or in close proximity—the page often selected at random by throwing dice. For a discussion of LZ’s method in writing “Thanks to the Dictionary,” see Quartermain, “Writing and Authority” 160-163, who states that LZ used two different dictionaries: Funk & Wagnalls Practical Standard Dictionary (1930) and Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (1917). The following notes make no pretense to being comprehensive but offer some dictionary definitions or other word clues to indicate what LZ is doing in given paragraphs. The interested reader can continue the fun on their own.

 

61.1      “Specifically, a writer of music”: = composer. The Biblical story of David is threaded throughout “Thanks to the Dictionary” but does not seem to overtly come into the “Song 28” text, except here at the opening, in passing in paragraph 5 and in the quotations from Psalms at the end.
From Funk & Wagnalls:
composer n. 1 One who composes. 2. A writer of music.
complexion n. 3 Archaic The combination of certain assumed qualities in a definite proportion supposed to control the nature of plants, bodies, etc.: also the habit ascribed to such combination.
complicate 3 Zool. Folded longitudinally, as the wings of certain insects.
complexus n. 1 A complicated system; complex. 2 Anat. A large muscle of the back, which passes from the spine to the head [<L <complectere].

61.9      Paragraph 2: Prometheus (Gr. Myth), The Titan founder of civilization: he stole fire from heaven and as a punishment was chained to a rock, where an eagle devoured his liver, which renewed itself at night.
adventitious adj. 1 Not inherent; extrinsic; accidental; casual. 2 Accidental; acquired, not inherited. 3 Biol. A Sporadic: formed without order or in unusual places. B Occurring away from the natural habitat; adventive.

62.5      Paragraph 3: diadelphous adj. Bot. Having the stamens combined by their filaments so as to form two sets of bundles.
diadem n. 1 A symbol of royalty worn upon the head. 2 Regal power: sovereignty.

62.12    Paragraph 4: donkey, donna (Anna), Don Giovanni, perhaps Don Quixote.

62.12    “For, I am at least half blind, my windows…: from John Donne (1572-1631), letter to Sir G. B. dated 12 Dec (year unknown).

62.16    daughter of the governor of Seville: Donna Anna, who Don Giovanni attempts to rape in the opening scene of Mozart’s opera, Don Giovanni (1787); her father, the governor (or Commendatore), is killed by Don Giovanni when he attempts to interfere. In the end, Don Giovanni will be dragged down to hell by the stone statue of the Governor, although donkeys are not involved. See “Non Ti Fidar” (CSP 123).

62.21    “Sir, not only a mathematique point flowers into every line…: from John Donne, letter to Sir Henry Goodyer, Spring/summer 1609.

62.25    dancing-master named Fox: Harry Fox, a vaudeville actor, was the originator of the foxtrot in 1914 (see 63.6; Para. 5).

62.25    Paragraph 5: fovea n. Anat. A shallow, rounded depression; the central fovea.
four-in-hand adj. 1 Consisting of a four-horse team driven by one person.
fourfold adv. In quadrupled measures.
Fourierism n. The social reform system advocated by F.M.C. Fourier. The sentence beginning “In rows of townships…: describes the utopian scheme of François Marie Charles Fourier (1772-1837).
foxtrot n. 1 A pace between a trot and a walk: used of horses. 2 A modern dance step of syncopated two-four time.
foxwood n. Decayed or found wood.
four o’clock is a bright trumpet shaped flower in various colors that opens in mid-afternoon and stays open until early morning. Native to tropical America and also called “marvel of Peru.”

63.11    Paragraph 6: tangent, tangible, tangle, tango, tangram (a Chinese puzzle as described), tansy, tannic, Tao(ism), tapdance, Tantalus, tantivity, taper, taps.

64.1      Paragraph 7: Draco (northern constallation) from dragon (mythical monster), which can also mean a short musket, flying dragon (genus Draco, arboreal lizard), dragon fly (= devil’s darning needle), possibly dragon boat. Tannim, Heb. of uncertain meaning applied to various animals translated as dragon in the Bible.

64.18    There went up a smoke…: LZ identifies the last four sentences or phrases as from the Psalms:
Psalms 18:7-8: “Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations also of the hills moved and were shaken, because he was wroth. There went up a smoke out of his nostrils, and fire out of his mouth devoured: coals were kindled by it.”
Psalms 38: 5: “My wounds stink and are corrupt because of my foolishness.”
Psalms 66:12: “Thou hast caused men to ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water: but thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place.”
Psalms 68:1-2: “Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered: let them also that hate him flee before him. As smoke is driven away, so drive them away: as wax melteth before the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God.”

64.21   To the chief Musician: this tag appears at the head of many of the Psalms.

 

#29 N.Y.

24 Jan. 1933 (?)  / Poetry (Sept. 1933)

 

Title:     When originally published in Poetry, this poem was simply numbered 29, underneath which appeared in italics: (N.Y. 1/29/33); the above date as given in Booth may be a misreading.

64.1      “At heaven’s gate”   the larks: the lark’s song is traditionally associated with the daybreak. Here LZ is alluding to Shakespeare, either or both Cymbeline and Sonnet 29:
a song from Cymbeline II.ii:
Hark, hark! The lark at heaven’s gate sings,
And Phoebus ’gins arise,
His steeds to water at those springs
On chaliced flowers that lies […].
from Sonnet 29:
When, in disgrace with Fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possess’d,
Desiring this man’s art, and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
(Like to the lark at break of day arising)
From sullen earth, sings hymns at Heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with Kings.

64.7      January the 29    , the 29th birthday: LZ believed for many years that his birthday was 29 Jan.; when he finally located his birth certificate, he read it as the 26th, only later to rescrutinize it and discover his birthdate was actually 23 Jan.; the last is the date referred to at “A”-23.563.8.

64.9      As planned…: see LZ’s terminal note to 55 Poems (CSP 73) and note on 55 Poems.

 

“Further than”—

20 Jan. 1935

 

Commentary

Jennison, Ruth. The Zukofsky Era: Modernity, Margins and the Avant-garde (2012): 187-190.

 

65.18    abscissas: The coordinate representing the position of a point along a line perpendicular to the y-axis (vertical axis) in a plane Cartesian coordinate system (AHD).