February 16, 2013



A group of mostly American poets, the Objectivists (not to be confused with the philosophical positions of Ayn Rand) came together quite incidentally through the editorial efforts of American poet Louis Zukofsky. Zukofsky, encouraged by Ezra Pound, edited an issue of Harriet Monroe’s magazine Poetry in February 1931, which included several figures that would later be described as “Objectivists,” including Carl Rakosi, Charles Reznikoff, George Oppen, British poet Basil Bunting, and William Carlos Williams; but the issue also contained many figures (among them Robert McAlmon, Joyce Hopkins, Norman Macleod, Kenneth Rexroth, Henry Zolinsky, Whittaker Chambers, John Wheelwright, and surrealist-oriented writers Parker Tyler and Charles Henri Ford) who had little connection with the loose-knit Objectivist grouping.

      According to Zukofsky, Monroe “insisted, we’d better have a title for it, call it something. I said, I don’t want to. She insisted; so, I said, alright, if I can define it in an essay, and I used two words, sincerity and objectification, and I was sorry immediately. But it’s gone down into the history books; they forgot the founder, thank heavens, and kept the terms, and, of course, I said objectivist, and they said objectivism and that makes all the difference. Well, that was pretty bad, so then I spent the next thirty years trying to make it simple.”

      The core group, including the poet Lorine Niedecker, who was highly influenced by Zukofsky, never developed a coherent manifesto nor saw themselves particularly connected; like many poetic groups, however, it did help them gain some notoriety, although several of the poems, such as Rakosi, abandoned the art of poetry writing for several years after.

     In 1932 An Objectivist Anthology appeared with fewer poets, including Bunting, Oppen, Reznikoff, Rakosi, and Zukofsky, and, once more, Rexroth, McAlmon, and Williams, along with Mary Butts, Pound and others.

      Basically the tenants associated with Objectivist writing included the attempt to treat the poem as an object, while emphasizing the poets’ sincerity and intelligence, along the writers’ abilities to look clearly at the world.

      If this second wave of American modernists lacked a specific notion of writing, it did have an enormous impact on the several groups of poetry that came in its wake. The group had a particular influence on the so-called Black Mountain Poets (particularly Robert Creeley) and other poets influenced by them, including Paul Blackburn, Jerome Rothenberg, Jonathan Williams, Denise Levertov, and Gilbert Sorrentino. Certain of the Beat poets, including Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, were also affected by the Objectivist perspective. But, in particular, the “Language” poets, including Bruce Andrews, Charles Bernstein, Ron Silliman, Lyn Hejinian, Bob Perelman, Michael Palmer, Rae Armantrout, Clark Coolidge, Susan Howe, Douglas Messerli, and Tina Darragh brought new admiration for the Objectivists.

      English poets such as Tom Pickard, Thomas A. Clark, and Richard Caddel, as well as Andrew Crozier, who later edited Rakosi’s work for Sun & Moon Press, were influenced personally by Bunting.

      Several major books, in particular Rachel Blau DuPlessis’ and Peter Quatermain’s The Objectivist Nexus: Essays in Cultural Poetics, Hugh Kenner’s The Pound Era, Andrew McAllister’s The Objectivists: An Anthology, Mark Scoggins biography of Zukofsky The Poem of a Life and essays such as Marjorie Perloff’s Barbed-Wire Entanglements” have been devoted to the Objectivist Poets. Yet despite immense academic interest, the Objectivists are perhaps the least-known of American modernist writers.

Douglas Messerli

No comments: