The Literary Essays of Thomas Merton

By Thomas Merton; Brother Patrick Hart | Go to book overview

LOUIS ZUKOFSKY—THE PARADISE EAR

All really valid poetry (poetry that is fully alive and asserts its reality by its power to generate imaginative life) is a kind of recovery of paradise. Not that the poet comes up with a report that he, an unusual man, has found his own way back into Eden: but the living line and the generative association, the new sound, the music, the structure, are somehow grounded in a renewal of vision and hearing so that he who reads and understands recognizes that here is a new start, a new creation. Here the world gets another chance. Here man, here the reader discovers himself getting another start in life, in hope, in imagination, and why? Hard to say, but probably because the language itself is getting another chance, through the innocence, the teaching, the good faith, the honest senses of the workman poet. Louis Zukofsky is such a poet, and I would say he is one of the best poets writing in America today—has perhaps been the best for many years. Certainly not the best known, for only now, after more than thirty-five years of poetic practice, is his work being published by one of the big commercial houses. Two volumes of short poems, of which this is the second, 1 bring together in collection all the short poems that have hitherto appeared in little magazines and out-of-the-way presses (Jargon Books, Trobar Books, the Wild Hawthorn Press at Edinburgh, etc.). The long poems will come later. They can now be read in magazines like Cid Corman's Origin (published in Japan) or, more accessibly, in Poetry.

At sixty-three, it is perhaps time for Louis Zukofsky to be recognized by more than a few poets: but poets have admired him since Ezra Pound wrote about him in the thirties.

Zukofsky has probably done more for the language of poetry than any other American writer. I say "probably" and cannot substantiate that claim in a brief review. Future studies will, I believe, show that this intuition was not wrong. The originality of his music is extraordinary. Not only does he have an inexhaustible, childlike curiosity about words,

____________________
This review article was written in November 1966, and was first published in The Critic, 25, February-March 1967, under the title "Paradise Bugged."
1
Louis Zukofsky, All: The Collected Short Poems, 1956-1964 (New York: W. W. Norton, 1966).

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