Neither Zukofsky nor “A” has any real claim on the public imagination. Even among poets he doesn’t seem to be much read, discussed, or taught, except by a handful of deeply entrenched partisans. I started to investigate whether—and why—this might be the case, but then I realized that I was squandering a huge opportunity. The question of whether Zukofsky is truly neglected (and of whether said neglect has been just) is far less interesting than the simple fact that one can approach Zukofsky with a readerly freshness—an innocence, if you will—that is perilously hard to come by for such art without equal. This is in starkest contrast to Pound’s Cantos, which has never fully emerged from its author’s divisive personal reputation (and probably never will). “A” is perhaps the last major work of American Modernism to feel like uncharted territory.
“A” is a book-length poem divided into 24 sections, one for each hour in the day. Begun in 1927 and completed in 1974, “A” is self-consciously the major work of its author’s life, but it also seeks to present that life in something like real time.