Treat Poems Like Objects Not Your Woman: The Objectivists
By Ashley Gable
So there once was a group of poets you might not know about. These dudes were intellectual, smart guys. Most of them were Americans, except for this one British guy, and nobody’s quite sure how he got in the mix. These guys were the Objectivist poets from the 1930’s. This era followed the Imagists. So essentially, you have the Imagists, then the Modernists, then the second wave Modernists called the Objectivists. They took their inspiration from poets such as Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams.
The Objectivists were Louis Zukofsky, William Carlos Williams (fun fact! This guy was the only poet to be published as an Objectivist and an Imagist! He’s cool), Charles Reznikoff, George Oppen and Carl Rakosi. And we can’t forget British dude Basil Bunting. These guys treated poems like objects and emphasized sincerity, intelligence, the significance of small words, and each poet was to look at the world clearly. If they could do this, they were successful. Objectivists their poems dealt with language, ethics, and religious and secular Jewish life. (Did I mention these guys were Jewish? Yeah! They’re Jewish! Well, all except good ole Basil.) These dudes had to be pretty Zen in order to do that too!
They first appeared in the 1931 special issue of Poetry magazine. Pound had it arranged, and Zukofsky did the editing. (Pound: I arranged the menu, the venue, the seating!) Along with the normal group of guys, it included a few one hit wonders including Robert McAlmon, Kenneth Rexrot, Whittaker Chambers, Henry Zolinsky, John Wheelwright, Harry Roskolenkier, and Martha Champion. They showed up in this and that was about it.
George Oppen would go on to win a Pulitzer. Carl Rakosi abandoned poetry altogether in 1941,
but would return to it and publish Amulet in 1967 and Collected Poems in 1986. Bunting would go on to publish his best known poem, Briggflatts in 1966. Reznikoff published Going To and Fro and Walking Up and Down. He would go on to publish in periodicals. He published By the Waters of Manhattan in 1962. After Reznikoff’s death, Black Sparrow Press brought his major pieces back into print. In 1927, Zukofsky began a work called A. It was a long poem in 24 parts (seriously long dude). Objectivist Anthology published the first seven parts of this piece. He finished the work on his deathbed by writing the index.
“Legacy. What is a legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.” When is a Hamilton quote not relevant? These guys, the Objectivists were originally not that well liked. Some people found them to come off as hostile, but they immediately impacted the people who had influenced them. Pound was influenced by the form. Zukofsky influenced Jackson Mac Lowe and John Cage. They would go on to influence an avant garde group of poets in the 1970s called the Language School.
Depression by Charles Reznikoff (an excerpt)
the fire had burnt through the floor:
machines and merchandise had fallen into
the great hole, this zero that had sucked away so many years
and now, seen at last, the shop itself;
the ceiling sloped until it almost touched the floor a strange curve
in the lines and oblongs of his life;
drops were falling
from the naked beams of the floor above,
from the soaked plaster, still the ceiling;
drops of dirty water were falling
on his clothes and hat and on his hands;
the thoughts of business
gathered in his bosom like black water
This small excerpt really gets at some of the Objectivist poetic ideals. It’s very analytical. It paints this picture that is so vivid because of the description, however the most prominent thing in this is the word choice. The words are all small, simple words! It’s super easy to read because there aren’t really any difficult words in the poem. It really goes to show how small words can do big things.
So to end, the Objectivists were pretty chill, smart dudes. Their poetry left a legacy, and they treated their poems like objects, and by doing so were able to find true meaning in them.
O’Leary, Peter. “The Energies of Words.” Poetry Foundation. N.p., 12 June 2008. Web. 31 Jan. 2017.
“Objectivist Poets.” New World Encyclopedia, . 10 Feb 2015, 16:50 UTC. 2 Feb 2017, 02:08 http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/p/index.php?title=Objectivist_Poets&oldid=986523.
“Objectivist Poets.” Poetry Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Jan. 2017.