"A" is for "archive": a case study in the American long poem
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Long poems like Ezra Pound's The Cantos, William Carlos Williams's Paterson, and Louis Zukofsky's "A" collect and preserve cultural documents, much in the manner of archives. Long poems of the so-called "Pound tradition" are arrangements of discrete passages, including direct citations from sources such as letters, historical texts, and other often "non-poetic" documents. Acting as an archivist, the poet selects material for preservation. Critics have used various frames, notably the epic, the sequence, and the collection, to interpret twentieth-century long poems. Though similarities to archives have been noted, an archival frame has not been fully developed. This dissertation draws on the disciplinary practices of the archivists as well as critical imaginings of archives to develop a frame for interpreting long poems as archives. After establishing the parameters of the archival frame, the bulk of the dissertation concentrates on Zukofsky's archival tendencies. Zukofsky worked as an archivist for the Work Projects Administration's Index of American Design project, where he developed strategies for using an archive as a communicative form. He crafted and marketed his own literary archive as a means of establishing a literary reputation and as an alternative means of publication. But not only did he develop pragmatic uses of archives, he also applied his understanding of archival principles to the construction of his long poem "A". The difficulties of reading "A" parallel those of working the Zukofsky archive. Readers are overwhelmed with hermetic details, documents of personal and public incidents, and records that we are unable to relate readily to surrounding material. Reading "A" as an archive, we must respond to the documents that are the component parts of the poem, to each document's situated context, and to the relationships among the parts that make up Zukofsky's "poem of a life."