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Louis Zukofsky

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Michael Golston

The Louis Zukofsky Centennial Conference
at Columbia University and Barnard College

Friday, September 17 to Sunday, September 19th, 2004

The Louis Zukofsky Centennial Conference at Columbia and Barnard was largely the consequence of an auspicious conjunction of the stars: during 2004, both Columbia University and Louis Zukofsky celebrated round-numbered birth years—the former its 250th, the latter his 100th. This circumstance made it possible for the four organizers of the event—myself, Charles Bernstein, Serge Gavronsky, and Paul Stephens—to pitch the conference to the administrators of the university as part of its ongoing ‘Columbia 250’ celebration. All year long the campus was awash in powder-blue flags, posters, and badges, and the extended university community was served up a myriad of commemorative talks, lectures, brochures, and presentations. By staging the Zukofsky Centennial Conference as part of Columbia 250, we became eligible for a fortuitous and unusual generosity in the way of funding, advertising, and institutional visibility. Once again, we’d like to thank the French Department of Barnard; the Department of English and Comparative Literature of Columbia; the Columbia University Alumni Association; Columbia University Provost Alan Brinkley; and Columbia Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Dean Henry Pinkham, for making the conference possible.

Indeed, without their support, we would have been hard pressed to carry off the Zukofsky Centennial Conference at all. Charles, Serge, Paul and I originally imagined a modest one-day affair, comprised of a series of single-panel sessions, followed by a celebration dinner. Within a few weeks of officially announcing the conference, however, we realized that these parameters were not practicable; the conference ended up with some 250 registrants attending three packed days of split-session panels, a debut performance of ‘A’ 21 at Riverside Church, and a 20-person all-star poet’s tribute on the final afternoon—as well as the celebration dinner. Keynote addresses were delivered by Robert Creeley, Tim Woods, Mark Scroggins, Marjorie Perloff, Peter Quartermain, and Jerome Rothenberg; panels were staffed by a stellar mix of poets, professors, and graduate students; and The Backyard Players, directed by Giles Scott, were specially flown in from San Francisco. Other than a torrential downpour on the second morning of the conference that flooded Broadway and temporarily shut down the New York City subway system, the event went off without a hitch. We were even able to feature Robert Grenier and Kenneth Irby in a poetry reading the night before the conference began.

All of which is testimony to the increasing interest in Zukofsky’s work in the U.S. and abroad, as most recently corroborated by the publication earlier this year (2006) of Louis Zukofsky’s Selected Poems, selected and edited by Charles Bernstein, by the American Poets Project of the Library of America. Charles’ introduction to the book is reproduced here, and it, along with Tim Woods’ essay, ‘Zukofsky at Columbia,’ should orient the new reader of Zukofsky both in terms of the poet as person and writer and as regards his complicated, rich, and vexed relationship with his alma mater.

And so now we have another person to thank: John Tranter, who has very generously agreed to publish a selection of the papers delivered at the conference. We feel fortunate indeed to have been offered the virtual pages of Jacket, the premiere online journal of poetry and poetics, for this collection of tributes, essays, and poems, which of course represents only a fraction of the exciting work presented over the three days of the conference. Other papers delivered at the conference, as well as the conference poster, program, and links to other pertinent sites, can be accessed at the conference website at

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