Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Poem of a Life.

A few weeks ago I got my eager hands on Mark Scroggin's new biography of Louis Zukofsky, The Poem of a Life. It's a giant book, coming in at nearly 500 pages and representing more than five years of research and labor; but then Zukofsky is a giant subject.

I was introduced to Zukofsky's poetry while a student at Shippensburg University in the late 80s and early 90s by the brilliant poet and professor John Taggart (who receives a nod in Scroggins' acknowledgements). Taggart's dissertation, "Intending a Solid Object: A Study in Objectivist Poetics", was an early and seminal look at the writings of George Oppen and Zukofsky. At the 2004 Louis Zukofsky Centennial Conference at Columbia University, I was briefly introduced to Scroggins by Taggart - which is how I knew that this biography was on the way.

While Scroggins' writing is so far (I'm about a fifth of the way through) about as stiff as his author photo on the back inside jacket cover, the book is thorough and well noted. To my knowledge this is the first comprehensive biography of Zukofsky.
While I am excited to see a big book on Zukofsky on the shelves of Barnes and Noble's stores, I wish that Scroggins weren't the first to make the introduction to the "general reading public". He does an admirable job of summarizing the happenings in Zukofsky's life and while I think he probably accurately characterizes the great poet, he fails to adequately and appropriately address Zukofsky's work.

Of course, Zukofsky had a quiet life so to write a biography about him, as I think Zukofsky would agree, one must write about his poetry. Scroggins tries but misses. It reads like a book by an academic. What I want is a book by a poet. That, unfortunately, Scroggins is not.

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