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This item is taken from PN Review 7, Volume 5 Number 3, April - June 1979.


I have recently read the article in PNR 5 by Donald Davie on Basil Bunting's Briggflatts. It seems to me to contain a large number of misleading statements. For example, speaking of Reznikoff, Rakosi, Oppen, Zukofsky and Bunting, Davie states that 'Zukofsky [was] the spokesman and theorist of the entire group'. Yet we know, from numerous publications, including the interviews in Contemporary Literature (Spring 1969), that there was no group, many of these men not having met or corresponded with each other. We also know that none of them ever used the word 'objectivism' unless it slipped out in off-the-cuff conversations. Furthermore, we know that Zukofsky invented the word under pressure from Harriet Monroe to come up with some collective title for the February 1931 issue of Poetry (Chicago). None of the others saw or discussed Zukofsky's essay in that issue and only Bunting appears to be on record as having commented on the revised version that appeared in An 'Objectivists' Anthology and was later further revised for publication in the collection of essays entitled, Prepositions.

When I compiled my Annotated Bibliography of the Works and Criticism of Basil Bunting (Philadelphia, 1973), I made it my business to carefully read all of Bunting's prose. Amongst the items I located was an open letter to Louis Zukofsky published in Il Mare on 1 October 1932. Bunting sent a copy to Zukofsky and it now resides in the special collection at the University of Texas at Austin. In this letter Bunting makes it quite clear that he does not fully accept Zukofsky's remarks in the introduction to the Anthology. It is thus quite wrong of Davie to state that, 'Bunting . . . undoubtedly endorses all the positions taken up by Zukofsky and Oppen more than forty years ago'. Also, in very many interviews Bunting has emphasised his differences and the exact nature of his debt to Pound and Zukofsky.

For Bunting, it would seem, these two men were indeed 'the greatest poets of our age', but the technical debt is usually reaffirmed as owing to Spenser, Wyatt, Dante, Villon, Wordsworth and the other poets first listed in the preface to the Collected Poems. Bunting, like Reznikoff and Rakosi, has constantly denied in theory, and I believe in practice, such a great technical debt to Pound or Zukofsky. They both made considerable comments on his work and there was indeed a great exchange between all three. It is important to remember how little they were in actual contact after about 1936.

It seems to me to be dangerously wrong to try to establish a literary movement out of a joint publishing venture. As Rakosi says,

The term [objectivist] really originated with Zukofsky, and he pulled it out of a hat. But he wanted some kind of name, and he checked out the term with me and, I assume, with some other people. The name was alright, but I told him I didn't think some of the poems in the anthology were 'objectivist' or very objective in meaning. He said 'Well, that's true', but I've forgotten the reason he gave for sticking to the name. It didn't matter.

Bunting has publicly stated that he thought the title meant an anthology compiled by an 'objectivist', indicating that there was no reason to suspect that any or all of the poets were 'objectivists', only that the editor was. Reznikoff has stated that he 'could not follow all that Zukofsky had to say about 'objectification' or, for that matter, 'sincerity'.

I dislike having to disagree with an article that attempts to persuade the British poetry reader to turn to Oppen, Zukofsky, Rakosi, Reznikoff and Bunting because I deeply believe that they should be read. But it is especially important that such an article, serving, as it does for so many people, as an introduction, should be without error.

Yours etc.
Ilford, Essex


I am not unaware that the bibliography and literary history of what came to be called 'objectivism'are more complicated than I found it necessary to bring out in what was after all an essay in criticism, not history. Readers who want to probe further will be grateful for the information that Roger Guedalla supplies. I cannot agree that I made 'a large number of misleading statements'. I will however withdraw my statement that Bunting 'undoubtedly endorses all the positions taken up by Zukofsky and Oppen more than forty years ago'. For 'all' read 'most of'.



When Poetry Nation went quarterly and became PN Review, your editorial promised us work from European languages and assured us that you would be attending to the 'wider context' geographically as well as thematically. I-and perhaps others of your readerse-expected poetry and prose in translation, and indeed we have been served up some. But we did not-here I had better speak for myself-expect that you would provide essays in English as a foreign language. I was not a little surprised by the quality of the prose writing in several items in PNR 6. Mr David Trotter urges us to think of 'surplus' rather than 'obscurity' of meaning in the work of J. H. Prynne. But in his case, as in the case, perhaps, of your essayists on Barthes and the Young Pound, it is not a surplus of meaning that one finds but a surplus of words, and an altogether unhelpful (and perhaps unnecessary) disruption of syntax. The European culture you wish to relate your magazine to is not perhaps the one your readers were led to expect. Lacan? Barthes? I hope this curious new dimension in PNR 6 is just a temporary enthusiasm of yours and that the names of Montale, Pasternak, Seferis and so on will be the stars you sail by after following-brieflye-the meteorites of PNR 6.

Yours etc.
London NW1

The General Editor writes:

I do not wish to alarm Mr Wilson, but PNR will publish in future an essay by Pleynet as well as other items which I fear he will find annoying. However, in giving a platform to these writers, and to critics enthusiastic about their work, I do not feel PNR is betraying its editorial promise-quite the contrary.

This item is taken from PN Review 7, Volume 5 Number 3, April - June 1979.

Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this item to
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