Zukofsky’s major work was the long poem “A“ – he never referred to it without the quotation marks – which he began in 1927 and was to work on for the rest of his life, albeit with an eight-year hiatus between 1940 and 1948. The poem was divided into 24 sections, reflecting the hours of the day. The first eleven sections contain a lot of overtly political passages but interweave them with formal concerns and models that range from medieval Italian canzone through sonnets to free verse and the music of Bach. Especially the sections of “A” written shortly before World War II are political: Section 10 for example, published in 1940, is an intense and horrifying response to the fall of France.
The tone of the poem changes for good with Section 12, which is longer than the first eleven sections combined. Zukofsky introduces material from his family life and celebrates his love for his wife Celia and his son Paul. From here on “A” interweaves the political, historical and personal in more or less equal measure. The extensive use of music in this work reflects the importance of Zukofsky’s collaborations with his wife and son, both professional musicians. “A” grew frequently difficult and even eccentric (section 16 is only four words long). The complete poem, 826 pages long, beginning with the word “A” and ending with “Zion”, was published in 1978.