The Iliad

‘My Epic’

Aaron Shurin, Robert Duncan, and the New College of California

Robert Duncan, photographed by Jonathan Williams (1955). Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscript Library, Yale University

As those of you who read my first commentary know, I have sought out contemporary poets in order to discover how they might frame their own relationship to the epic form. The responses coming in have been fantastic. (For those of you who read commentary number one, I also cleaned my coffee maker with vinegar. The results? Similarly fantastic.)

The question (stripped of framing apparatus) that I posed to a wide variety of writers  was this: “Which epics do you consider part of your own lineage (as a poet, performer, teacher, scholar, reader . . .) and why?” I purposely defined neither “epic” nor “lineage.” I wanted to see in what ways these terms were generative to contemporary poets, and what definitions were alive for them.

Given the epic’s role in nation making, through the retelling of nationalist history, I found Aaron Shurin’s response exciting, especially its own retelling of a period in poetic history.

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