“Not to See By but to Look At”: Hanukkah and the Objectivists

At the beginning of the twentieth-century, modernist poets such as Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot and William Carlos Williams revolutionized English and American poetry under the banner of “make it new.” For Pound in particular, poetry needed to be emancipated from traditional forms, excess verbiage and hackneyed thought patterns. Unlike the Romantic poet-prophets, for whom the vastness of nature was a reflection of their own inner emotions, modernist poets sought to develop new poetic forms and language to reflect the world in clear, concrete terms.  The new poetic ideal was, at least in theory, to “go in fear of abstractions,” or to “show” rather than to “tell.” In practice, however, both Pound and Eliot inherited many hackneyed tropes from their literary forebears, including a distinct anti-semitic strain that is apparent in both their poetry and other statements.

One offshoot of this initial wave of modernist innovators was a group of American, mostly Jewish, poets with secular inclinations who are sometimes referred to as the “objectivists.” These poets were inspired by Pound and Eliot but also rejected their heavy use of mythology and symbolism, and of course, their anti-semitism. Louis Zukofsky, George Oppen and Charles Reznikoff, among others, found themselves composing verse-libre, free verse, poems with a clear, concrete and also distinctly moral sensibility.

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