Robert Duncan

Robert Duncan (1919–1988) was born in Oakland, California. He was drafted into the Army in 1941, but received a psychiatric discharge after declaring his homosexuality. Duncan was an advocate of gay civil rights, and was a bohemian and part of the San Francisco Renaissance and Beat scene. In 1951 Duncan met the artist Jess Collins and began a collaboration and partnership that lasted 37 years until Duncan’s death. In the 1960s, Duncan wrote a series of books––The Opening of the Field (1960), Roots and Branches (1964), and Bending the Bow (1968)––considered some of his strongest work. After the publication of Bending the Bow, Duncan announced he would not publish a major collection for another fifteen years. During this hiatus he hoped to produce process-oriented poems instead of the “overcomposed” poems he wrote when he thought in terms of writing a book. He reemerged from his silence with Ground Work I: Before the War (1984), which won the National Poetry Award. Ground Work II: In the Dark was published in February of 1988, the month of his death. Both were reissued together into a single volume with an Introduction by Michael Palmer in 2006.

Ground Work

Poetry by Robert Duncan

With a contribution by Michael Palmer

Robert Duncan has been widely venerated as one of America’s most essential poets: Allen Ginsberg described his poetry as “rapturous wonderings of inspiration,” Gwendolyn Brooks called it “a subtle spice,” and Susan Howe pointed to Duncan as “my precursor father,” Lawrence Ferlinghetti said he “had the finest ear this side of Dante,” and Robert Creeley called him “the magister, the singular Master of the Dance.” Now Duncan’s magnum opus, Groundwork, is available in one groundbreaking edition.…
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Selected Poems of Robert Duncan

Poetry by Robert Duncan

“Robert Duncan had the finest ear this side of Dante,” wrote Lawrence Ferlinghetti after Duncan’s death in 1988. And Duncan, like Dante, was a poet of cosmic imagination, intensely aware of his and poetry’s role in the ever-expanding logos of creation. His Selected Poems, first published in 1993, is a “useful and portable compilation,” says critic Tom Clark, that “provides the most comprehensive available look at the career of the Bay Area’s greatest lyric poet.…
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A Selected Prose

Fiction by Robert Duncan

Robert Duncan (1919-88) was a lyric poet with a universal vision whose knowledge of art and poetics ran as deep as his humanity. He once wrote: “The storehouse of a human experience in words is resonant too, and we have but to listen to the reverberations of our first thought in the reservoir of communal meanings to strike such depths as touch upon the center of man’s nature.” A Selected Prose represents the most wide-ranging collection to date of his essays and talks and is a companion volume to the Selected Poems (1993).…
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Selected Poems -Early Edition

Poetry by Robert Duncan

“Robert Duncan had the finest ear this side of Dante,” wrote Lawrence Ferlinghetti after Duncan’s death in 1988. And Duncan, like Dante, was a poet of cosmic imagination, intensely aware of his and poetry’s role in the ever-expanding logos of creation. His Selected Poems is an essential retrospective of works chosen from the whole course of his writing life as primary examples of his guiding attention as a poet. From Duncan’s early poems through his final Ground Work collections, as well as his serial poems, “Structures of Rime” and “Passages,” composed over the course of twenty-five years, there emerges a prophetic voice of great perception.…
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Ground Work II: In The Dark

Poetry by Robert Duncan

Ground Work II: In the Dark is the concluding volume of Robert Duncan’s later poems. The collection taken as a whole was proposed by the author in 1968 but withheld from publication for fifteen years in order, as he has said, for the poetry of his maturity to gestate. The first volume, Ground Work: Before the War, was published in 1983 to immediate acclaim: it was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award and won for Duncan the first National Poetry Award, “for his lifetime devotion to the art of poetry and his grand achievement.…
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Fictive Certainties

Nonfiction by Robert Duncan

For Robert Duncan, the language of poetry is the field of encounter between the human and the universal, and to read his work is to touch an intelligence ablaze with the visionary enchantment of his art. Though best known for his poems, he has produced over the years an impressive body of prose. Drawing from it, he has assembled his first comprehensive book of essays on poetics and mythopoesis. Fictive Certainties moves toward a definition of the poet’s ground in contemporary consciousness.…
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The Opening Of The Field

Poetry by Robert Duncan

Speaking of his own work, Robert Duncan (1919-1987) said: “I make poetry as other men make war or make love or make states or revolutions: to exercise my faculties at large.” The Opening of the Field, his first major collection, was originally brought out in 1960; in it, Duncan introduced his “Structures of Rime,” the open series he continued in his subsequent collections, Roots and Branches (1964) and Bending the Bow (1968), Ground Work: Before the War (1983), and Ground Work II: In the Dark (1987).…
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Roots And Branches

Poetry by Robert Duncan

Roots and Branches, Robert Duncan’s second major book of poetry (first published in 1964) is now reissued. The poet has said of himself and his work: “I am not an experimentalist or an inventor, but a derivative poet, drawing my art from the resources given by a generation of masters––Stein, Williams, Pound; back of that by the generations of poets that have likewise been dreamers of the Cosmos as Creation and Man as Creative Spirit; and by the work of contemporaries: Zukofsky, Olson, Creeley and Denise Levertov.…
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Bending The Bow

Poetry by Robert Duncan

With a contribution by Robert Duncan

In Bending the Bow, which presents his work in poetry since Roots and Branches, Robert Duncan is writing on a scale which places him among the poets, after Walt Whitman, bold enough to attempt the personal epic, the large-canvas rendering of man’s spirit in history as one man sees it, feels it, lives it, and makes it his own. In “Structures of Rime,” the open series begun in The Opening of the Field and continued in this volume, Duncan works with ideas, forces, and persons created in language itself––the life and identity of the poet in the poem.…
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In a narrow time, Robert Duncan has written with an almost unequaled largesse of ambition and scope–historical, spiritual, and technical.

—Donald Hall

…he is and will be always the magister, the singular Master of the Dance.

—Robert Creeley
< Ronald Firbank Robert Creeley >