Zimmer, Paul (Jerome)

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ZIMMER, Paul (Jerome)

Nationality: American. Born: Canton, Ohio, 18 September 1934. Education: Kent State University, Kent, Ohio, 1952–53, 1956–59, B.A. 1968. Military Service: U.S. Army, 1954–55. Family: Married Suzanne Koklauner in 1959; one daughter and one son. Career: Macy's book department manager, San Francisco, 1961–63; manager, San Francisco News Company, 1963–65; manager, UCLA Bookstore, Los Angeles, 1965–67; associate director, University of Pittsburgh Press, and editor, Pitt Poetry series, 1967–78; director, University of Georgia Press, Athens, 1978–84; director, University of Iowa Press, Iowa City, 1984–97. Poet-in-residence, Chico State College, California, spring 1970. Awards: Borestone Mountain award, 1971; National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1974, 1982; Helen Bullis memorial award (Poetry Northwest), 1975; Pushcart prize, 1977, 1981; American Academy award, 1985. Address: R.R. 1, Box 108, Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin 54655–9702, U.S.A.



A Seed on the Wind. Privately printed, 1960.

The Ribs of Death. New York, October House, 1967.

The Republic of Many Voices. New York, October House, 1969.

The Zimmer Poems. Washington, D.C., Dryad Press, 1976.

With Wanda: Town and Country Poems. Washington, D.C., Dryad Press, 1980.

The Ancient Wars. Pittsburgh, Slow Loris Press, 1981.

Earthbound Zimmer. Milton, Massachusetts, Chowder, 1983.

Family Reunion: Selected and New Poems. Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1983.

Big Blue Train. Fayetteville, University of Arkansas Press, 1983.

The American Zimmer. Athens, Georgia, Night Owl Press, 1984.

Live with Animals. Bristol, Rhode Island, Ampersand Press, 1987.

The Great Bird of Love. Urbana, University of Illinois Press, 1989.

Crossing to Sunlight: Selected Poems. Athens, University of Georgia Press, 1996.


Critical Studies: By Hayden Carruth, in Hudson Review (New York), summer 1968; by Robert Boyers, in Partisan Review (New Brunswick, New Jersey), 1969; by James Den Boer, in Voyages (Washington, D.C.), spring 1970; by the author, in American Poets in 1976, edited by William Heyen, Indianapolis, Bobbs Merrill, 1976, and in Gravida (New York), 1979; Zimmer As Poet, Poet As Zimmer edited by Jan Susina, Houston, Texas, Ford Brown, 1986; in The Writer's Mind: Interviews with American Authors, edited by Irv Broughton, Fayetteville, University of Arkansas Press, 1990; "The Atomic Test Poems of Paul Zimmer" by John Gery, in War, Literature, and the Arts (U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado), 6(1), spring-summer 1994; "Enactments of Desire" by Floyd Collins, in Gettysburg Review (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania), 10(2), summer 1997.

Paul Zimmer comments:

I have been working on poems for close to four decades now. As I age, I find it increasingly difficult to make coherent general statements about my work, except that I am very happy that I have been able to continue writing poetry.

It is always important for a poet to be able to consider most recent writing to be their best and most mature work. I continue to claim this, and I find it satisfying that I can still feel this way. Of course I have more experience; thus there seems to be less concoction, less nervous humor, more substance, more confidence in the work.

It is not easy to be a poet in this busy and indifferent world. I am grateful for my career, but, like most poets, I wish I had more time to devote to the work.

*  *  *

Paul Zimmer is quite an interesting manifestation of what happens to an American poet who feels the weight of Walt Whitman's gift, the freedom to sing the song of the self. This ingenious poet clearly feels more comfortable with a mask than the pure voice of self. The quotation from Thomas Hardy beginning his Family Reunion: Selected and New Poems invokes a literary tradition quite different from the one an American poet must grapple with. And clearly he longs for a more civilized garden, containing clothed rather than naked selves. In creating the "Zimmer Poems," along with another series, the "Wanda Poems," he has found a way of distancing himself by existing only in the third person, as in "Zimmer in Grade School":

But I could never hide anything....
Even now
When I hide behind elaborate masks
It is always known that I am Zimmer.

As one reads through the Zimmer poems, it seems that if there is any sense of self in the poems it is a sense of a failed human, of someone humiliated constantly and almost without anything to brag about or praise. Conversely, Wanda, of the Wanda poems, is someone beautiful and other for the Zimmer persona to love.

Zimmer is the figure we look for. If he is the autobiographical Paul Zimmer, he is also a cartoon. And it is not always clear if Zimmer is a cartoon because all people are cartoons, or if it is because Zimmer himself is so much more absurd than other men. There is a gesture of contempt for the art of poetry itself when this confusion occurs, and it becomes a serious reminder that the poet, Paul Zimmer, has invented the Zimmer poems not out of self-disgust but out of frustration with a poetic tradition he does not wholly embrace. His satire of Whitman in "Leaves of Zimmer" makes this clear:

You Zimmer! Whimpering, heavy, mumbling, lewd;
Does America sing you a sad song?
It is a trifle! Resign yourself!
Nothing is without flaw.
Confess that you feel small buds unclutching again!
Confess that the rich sod turns up to you always as
   your lover!
By God! Accept nothing less than this for affection:
The stars dangling like green apples on the distant peaks;
The sea foam combing itself through rocks;
No foofoo can strip you of this!
No mountebanks can take this away!
If one is deprived then all are deprived;
America will love us all or it will not love.

There is an abrasive self-hatred apparent in many of the Zimmer poems that is not Paul Zimmer hating Paul Zimmer but rather the poet Paul Zimmer chafing and angry, hating an unwanted poetic tradition he is so much a part of that he cannot cast it off. His resolution, the invention of the Zimmer poems, is an ingenious one, although its success is not complete. Often when he seems most trapped, he writes himself imaginatively into another world, pleasing the reader with his wit just as the whining Zimmer was starting to irritate him. This happens, for example, in "Zimmer Imagines Heaven":

I sit with Joseph Conrad in Monet's garden.
We are listening to Yeats chant his poems,
A breeze stirs through Thomas Hardy's moustache,
John Skelton has gone to the house for beer,
Wanda Landowska lightly fingers a clavichord...

Though in this poem the poet starts with the preferred world of European artists, he ends the poem with Alice B. Toklas serving him a meal after he has listened with pleasure to some American poetry along with a play by Shakespeare. One wishes that Zimmer did not hate his American self so much, but the poet, Paul Zimmer, has created quite an interesting embroidery out of his struggle.

—Diane Wakoski

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Zimmer, Paul (Jerome)

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