Paul Zukofsky




dear Charles

per your request:

1- in my opinion 4 O.C. is unjustly neglected, given that it is the window into the future of LZ's poetic structure. To my mind those endless quatrains help lead to the 5-word lines, which is LZ’s version of the pentameter. In other words, the quatrains (of 4 O.C.) represent my father’s resolve to formally and fully “settle-into” (his reworked version of) traditional poetic form (and to no longer move “16 Times”!). It is that acceptance/return which causes Bill’s amazement when first he sees 4 O.C.. When my father fools around with the sestina, and his (frankly bullshit conic sections) it is what our British friends would call a one-off. Yes, it is brilliant, but leads no place. 4 O.C. lays a foundation. Were I to speak in musical terms, 4 O.C. stands to the late LZ works as “Pulcinella” of Stravinsky stands to “Agon”, which I presume you would perhaps equate with “A”-23. If there is one other Stravinsky work I would compare to 4 O.C., it is the “Cantata on Early English Texts”. It , too, is dismissed as an overly long, not terribly interesting work, but on the contrary, not only is it unbelievably beautiful, but it is the opening to all of the (Stravinsky) serial music that follows it.

Similarly to “Pulcinella”, 4 O.C. is the Zukofskian engagement with neoclassicism, and that engagement permeates everything thereafter i.e. if one “wanted” to be a smart ass, one could say that “A” - 16 is a quatrain; a somewhat exploded quatrain, but a quatrain. That nobody has addressed this neoclassical aspect in LZ; that nobody seems to "get that", irritates me endlessly; and I think that that aspect of my father needs to be recognized, emphasized and addressed.

2- 4 O.C. is also the first time that WCW, vis-à-vis my father, "gets it". If you have read that depressing, disheartening WCW/LZ correspondence, you will find, year after year, letter after letter, Bill's complaints about my father's opaqueness, difficulty etc etc. When Floss reads 4 O.C. to Bill, his reaction is stunning -- ( I think) his mouth is open when he sees the quatrains on the page. It is the first time that Bill acknowledges my father as a great poet. Bill STILL!! sees 4 O.C. as my father finally "getting it" (which is why Bill "gets it" -- ahAH! my son, yes you have made it your own BUT you have also returned to the fold, dear prodigal prodigious son) in terms of what Bill sees/thinks poetry should be (while clearly recognizing that 4 O.C. is a broadening of what he (Bill) counts as great). 4 O.C. is, also, however, the window which could allow Bill to glimpse the future which you so beautifully describe when you discuss A-23, but that Bill fails to see (as perhaps did LZ also, at the time???). Bill does not grasp the subversive elements; the foundational structure and methodology that 4 O.C. either is, or gives rise to. That methodology is another powerful reason that makes 4 O.C. of "seminal" importance, and that aspect as well has been quite overlooked.

3-- To truly understand my father’s work one must accept, however unwillingly, that the vast majority of his poetic work derives from his quotidian existence. His poetic writings are in a most direct sense a form of diary. Yes, there are broad themes, broad obsessions, that do mutate over time, and were one to categorize my father's output as a function of the intellectual themes over (t) i.e. various times, one obviously begins with a political (of the left wing variety) obsession, leavened with contemporary events (the Depression, World War II), seasoned by the narcissistically offensive (“Washstand”, which I loathe). Next is the humongous reading that proceeds and ultimately comprises “Bottom” (thereby assuaging his Shakespeare obsession), but that reading is of a philosophical, as opposed to historical or cultural, nature. There is (supposedly) “the family” aka the holy trinity, but aside from a few maudlin references, to my mind, that point-of-view does not hold much water. If anything the family aspect is simply an attempt to try to force the ontogeny to recapitulate the phylogeny. Far more important is my father’s later-in-life fascination with history, and historical culture, especially/specifically European culture (as opposed to Ez who goes off on a Confucian binge). Where does that (LZ) fascination come from? From whence does it originate? From that trip in 1956, that gave rise to 4 O.C. My father behaved like a demented vacuum-cleaning machine on that trip. To use the British, there was nothing cultural that he did not “hoover” (and remember that this was only his second (and last time) in Europe (the later trip to London does not count -- London is not Europe!), as long as it involved things prior to the 20th-century. There was not one fucking museum that we did not have to see (at the time I had just begun to understand the utility of the female, and I remember finding at the local TABAK in Paris, and admiring and desiring, a pack of playing cards with naked women. This I was not allowed to purchase, but as long as one could see the female nude headless and legless in chipped marble, that was quite acceptable). We schlepped to such an extent, that I ended up in Paris three months later with my feet becoming black every day, until it was discovered that the soles of my shoes had been completely worn through ( I cannot, to this day, walk past the department store Samaritaine, without remembering the purchase of new shoes some 48 years past). We paraded around Mont-Saint-Michel (and I got sick-drunk on Chartreueueueuessssse) and Chartres as if we actually were carrying copies of Henry Adams' in our paws (let alone the back-up spare copies stuck in our ass pockets). Kowtowing in front of cathedral door handles can only be explained by tying those door handles to the Anglo-Saxon oar rings that we saw at the British Museum. The visit to Verona was not to visit the graves of those two simps. It was for LZ to see the mosaics; to absorb that method of structure into his own poetry; and of course to visit one of the haunts of Catullus. This is also the time when my father's Latinate structure for/of English truly takes over. Yes, Ez did tease him about M. Zuekowski ( or however he spelt it), but that was the French (Apollonaire) influence -- not so much the LATIN. Not until my father's obsession with weeds, oh dear -- accuse me, botany, is there any period of comparable intellectual and emotional inhalation and stimulation. And how does it start? With 4 O.C.

4-- 4 O.C. is by far the longest “stand-alone” poem my father wrote. I can think of only one other (PbgngTHE) that comes anywhere close in duration and heft. That fact alone should indicate that there is something special “going on”, but why is it the length it is? Surely, not just because LZ wanted to write a long poem; not just because it was his version of home movies. He had NO CHOICE. This was not a poem that caused his usual silent kvetching (about that aspect at least, he was, thank God, silent). This one just poured out. This was his giving evidence for how primal that trip was, and I have only hinted above at what flows from that trip, and from that poem. Without 4 O.C., everything afterwards is up for grabs -- i.e. one can envisage the remainder of LZ if he had never written (please God??) “Washstand”. I personally can envisage almost none of what happens from approximately 1958 to the botany period if I posit LZ never writing 4 O.C.

And no-one remarks upon this, or gets excited about this.

5-- 4 O.C. is also poem as travelogue, as explication, as adventure, as revelation, as mystery, which in itself hearkens back to a more ancient style -- whether that be De Rectum Naturam, or Whore-ass, or etc etc -- i.e. again the neoclassicism; and that narrative aspect foreshadows the entire narrative history of the late "A".

6-- Finally, I truly love the poem, but then, of course, it is very close to me, as I lived it i.e. I was on that trip.


PZ August 27, 2005; lightly revised May 25, 2008



© 2008 Paul Zukofsky.
May not be quoted without the explicit permission of the author.