The below text consists of an email from the Bengali poet, translator and editor, Aryani Mukherjee, to the Cincinnati-based poet/translator, Pat Clifford inquiring about the term "objectivist" in regards to the work of the poets famously represented in the 1931 issue of Poetry magazine edited by Louis Zukofsky. Clifford responds to Mukherjee's inquiry, and Mukerjee's response to various of his observations and speculations are included in the follow-up email using brackets and Mukerjee's initials, "AM".
A collaborative book is forthcoming from Clifford and Mukherjee, entitled The Memorandum/DbEpAntar, which Clifford describes as follows:
"The poem’s use of languages may be more complex than it would appear. Translation/transcreation was part of the process itself, not something done after the fact. In a typical section, I (Pat) would start out writing in English to which he (Aryanil) would respond in Bengali. He would then translate my English lines into Bengali and his own Bengali into English. Critical focus would be placed immediately on the modifications and then prompt the next section. An agreement was reached that he would have final discretion over the Bengali text and I would have the same for the English sections. In the end, a linguistically reflected text was produced—a poem that can be read in four ways. The monolinguist Bengali or English reader could read the all-English or the all-Bengali version often not realizing that neither text is actually a hundred percent original. They both involve translation. The bilingual reader however is exposed to two other reading possibilities - a) the original version of the poem which is half-and-half in English and Bengali and b) a linguistically reflected version (completely translated) which is also half-and-half in Bengali and English."
For a sample of Clifford's and Mukherjee's previous collaboration, SQUARES, you can link to Kaurab, a literary journal edited by Mukherjee.
From: Aryanil Mukherjee
Subject: Objectivist Question
Date: December 23, 2009 7:49:33 PM EST
To: Pat Clifford
Here are some holiday questions for you to fill in when you have time.
I am writing this article on Zukofsky, wherein I thought I would write a paragraph about Objectivist Poetry, especially with reference to the 1931 issue of POETRY, guest-edited by Zukofsky.
How would you explain the word "objectivist"? It is object-oriented or goal-oriented or both? Pound wrote in 1913, "the natural object is always the adequate symbol". Now, that's how all of modernistic poetry was written - making metaphors of natural objects. What is Pound trying to say here, you think?
"bastu" is object. "laxya" is goal or object, for example when you say, "the objective of this experiment is...", the Bengali translation would be "ei pareexaar laxya halo....". So I used the word "laxyabastu" which literally means "target" but captures the twin-fold meaning of "object". What do you think of it ?
Zukofsky says, "An Objective: (Optics)—The lens bringing the rays from an object to a focus. (Military use)—That which is aimed at. (Use extended to poetry)—Desire for what is objectively perfect, inextricably the direction of historic and contemporary particulars." Is that a good definition of their genre?
Another interesting finding is this. Pound and Monroe drove coldly at each other since their conflict over Tagore in 1913-1915. 10-11 years later Pound pinches Monroe is a letter filled with mockery and cajolery, like this - "Dear Harriet: Have been looking through your last 18 or more numbers, find many of ‘em uncut. My impression is that you have tried ladies’ numbers, children’s numbers, in fact everything but a man’s number. And that you tend to become more and more a tea party, all mères de famille. . . . Fraid I will hav to take the bad boys off your hands and once again take up the hickory. "
BTW....what does "take up the hickory" mean ?
It was with the 1931 Objectivist POETRY issue that the bridge between them began functioning again.
From: Pat Clifford
To: Aryanil Mukherjee
Sent: Wednesday, December 23, 2009 8:52 PM
Subject: Re: Objectivist Question
Oh, too bad. I just returned that issue. I actually borrowed it from the Library. It's still in circulation at the public library downtown, hard to believe it. Another reason to support the library...
The definition of "objectivism" is, of course, a controversial thing. They never had a central manifesto per se.
[[AM: Read about that. Some believe the 1931 POETRY issue, the accompanying essays, could be read as sort of a loose manifesto.]]
Here is a quote from Oppen from his essay The Mind's Own Place that I think would be helpful:
"They meant to replace by the data of experience the accepted poetry of their time, a display by the poets of right thinking and right sentiment, a dreary waste of lies. That data was what was and is what "modernism" restored to poetry, the sense of a poet's self among things. So much depends on the red wheelbarrow. The distinction between a poem that shows confidence in itself and its materials, and on the other hand a performance, a speech by the poet, is the distinction between poetry and histrionics"
[[AM: The occurrence of the word "data" going so far back really impresses me.]]
He also refers many times to "the concrete materials of the poem". For this reason, I would lean toward "bastu." Objectivism is not at all related to a scientific objectivist, perhaps the opposite at times. I think that Zukofsky muddies the waters a little with his definition. I would focus on the words "lens", "use" and "particulars" where others may look at "focus", "desire" and "perfect". Therein lies the debate.
[[AM: I see. Now where I am confused is how to explain it to the reader in what way this "bastubaadee" (literally, objectivist) is different from the "objectivist poetry" of Francis Ponge - which were poems about objects. It might be good to discuss that in connection with Zukofsky & Objectivism. These are some of the problems of a widening kaleidoscope - that you are no longer thinking in terms of American objectivism, because you are addressing an audience that is not American, other close examples that belong to your own database have to be thought of. Ponge would probably qualify as a very different poet, but he wrote, especially in his most controversial book - a party taken of things, clearly "objectivist" or "object oriented" poems. BTW, the two most famous French philosophers - Sartre & Derrida - were both huge fans of Ponge.]]
I don't know if the Objectivist issue brought all camps together. I think it was pretty widely criticized in its day and I don't think there was a repeat. Not 100% sure of that.
"Take up the hickory" refers to giving an unruly child a whipping. Puritanical parents would take the saplings off hickory trees and use them as a whip. Zukofsky loved Pound and worked closely with him whereas Oppen became more distant. Also, according to Oppen's letters/bios, he pretty much thought that Paul Zukofsky was a brat, even from a young age. He was spoiled, not like his daughter Linda who was dragged from place to place and endured time with their family in exile.
[[AM: Okay. Great input. Got it. In Bengali that is "bet" [whip] which is made from the "bet" or "betas" plant. Not available these days. It seemed to me that Pound announced Zuk as the unofficial leader of the gang. Did that distance Oppen from Pound or was he never close to Pound?]]
Anyway, that's my take. I'd be interested if Norman feels the same way...