Sunday, 25 October 2015

Robert Duncan

Kenneth Rexroth once referred to Robert Duncan as “one of the most accomplished, one of the most influential” of the post-war American poets, yet he himself insisted that he is a derivative poet who borrowed from sources as diverse as Dante, Pound, Blake, H.D., Stein, Yeats, Garcia, Lorca and St. John of the Cross. His way of mixing different influences in his densely woven, multi-layered poems was also described by Stephen Stepanchev in American Poetry since 1945, who saw Duncan’s poems as “a compositional field where anything might enter: a prose quotation, a catalogue, a recipe, a dramatic monologue, a diatribe.”

Duncan was born in 1919 in Oakland, California and studied at the University of California-Berkeley. Due to his friendship with Charles Olson and his stay at Black Mountain College he is often associated with Black Mountain poetics. He was however also a key figure in the emergence of the San Francisco Renaissance in the 1950s.

Duncan published more than twenty collections of poetry. His honours include the Harriet Monroe Memorial Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Levinson Prize from Poetry magazine, and three writing fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1985 he also received the National Poetry Award.

Duncan died in San Francisco in 1988.


My poem below is a response to Duncan’s “Poetry, a Natural Thing”.

~ - ~

Poetry, a language thing

neither rigid definition nor ideological certainty
further the poem. “pronoun verb preposition
conjunction verb
conjunction preposition pronoun verb determiner noun
preposition determiner noun.”

The poem
emerges somewhere between the written
and the         read
popularly drawn toward mystical half-meanings and evasive metaphor.

The appearance of coherence based upon
the cultural expectations
of a (formal) pattern of white space
around a string of symbols which
in the lateness of the world
encourage deciphering
as formal and material aspects are suffused.

A visual or sonic pattern or rhythm
a play
or puzzle reference intended for the
well-informed poetic archaeologist.

This is one line open to textual interpretation.

A second: introduction of the disruptive techniques
of postmodernism de-constructivism third-wave feminism
or pop and collocation,
creating an ever-expanding field of
reference on
the page,

“literary signifiers of otherness and intrusion”,

borrowing from those who wrote
this first.

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