Robert Duncan

Caterpillar

'A magazine of the leaf, a gathering of the tribes'

Caterpillar colophon
Caterpillar colophon

Begun in 1966 by Clayton Eshleman as a series of chapbooks by writers such as Jackson MacLow, David Antin, and Louis Zukofsky, Caterpillar Books became Caterpillar: A Gathering of the Tribes (though the subtitle was quickly dropped) in October 1967 when Eshleman realized he “could cover more ground with a literary journal than with undistributable chapbooks.” In a 2008 dialogue in Jacket, Eshleman says that he “wanted to do a magazine based on Cid Corman's Origin, but one that was bigger and more burly, taking on more ‘fronts’ than Cid had engaged.”

Cat 2 tocBegun in 1966 by Clayton Eshleman as a series of chapbooks by writers such as Jackson MacLow, David Antin, and Louis Zukofsky, Caterpillar Books became Caterpillar: A Gathering of the Tribes (though the subtitle was quickly dropped) in October 1967 when Eshleman realized he “could cover more ground with a literary journal than with undistributable chapboo

'It felt like many lifetimes'

The last issue of Angel Hair

Angel Hair 6, cover art by George Schneeman

“Only three years had passed,” Lewish Warsh writes of publishing the journal Angel Hair, “but it felt like many lifetimes.” By 1969, when the last issue of Angel Hair appeared, Warsh and Waldman had begun publishing books--mainly because many of their poet friends needed publishers for their book-length collections, but also because The World, a new magazine published by the Poetry Project, was covering much of the same ground as Angel Hair. “I also felt,” Warsh says, “that we had made our point in trying to define a poetry community without coastal boundaries--a community based on a feeling of connectedness that transcended small aesthetic differences, all the usual traps that contribute to a blinkered pony vision of the world.” 

The Fales Library Angel Hair archive

Angel Hair 1 Cover

It feels both hugely restorative and humbling, in our age of digital media, to visit an archive and hold a fifty year-old literary magazine, carefully made and preserved, yet still fleetingly physical, in your hand. Anne Waldman, co-editor (with Lewish Warsh) of the small magazine Angel Hair, describes the significance of that experience in this quote from her introductory essay to the 2002 Angel Hair feature in Jacket: “...so-called ephemera, lovingly and painstakingly produced, have tremendous power. They signify meticulous human attention and intelligence, like the outline of a hand in a Cro-Magnon cave.” This “tremendous power” can be applied specifically to Angel Hair, which published the work of Ted Berrigan, Denise Levertov, Joe Brainard, Michael Brownstein, and Warsh and Waldman themselves, among others, early in their lives as poets.

In his element

A review of 'The Astonishment Tapes'

Photo of Robin Blaser (left) courtesy of the Electronic Poetry Center.

Robin Blaser is in his element in these monologues in interview format — personable, pedagogic, and himself a “high-energy construct,” to not-quite-cite Charles Olson. By virtue of this book, the reader experiences Blaser as a unique force field of magnetic knowledge and charismatic charm. He is at home among the poets, themselves practitioners and friends, meeting in 1974 at someone’s house in Vancouver.

Bright arrogance #5

'Extraordinary experience will not be locatable'

Detail of Clark Lunberry's "Bodies of Water: Somebody—Nobody"

Emily Dickinson’s poetry is perhaps the closest thing canonical American literature has to a “sacred language.” In Robert Duncan’s lectures on Dickinson, we could say that he posits her as the ultimate untranslatable poet, even within her own language. In her poems she “bring[s] us to the line where everything is so fraught with meaning that we can’t find the meaning.”  

On John Taggart's 'There Are Birds'

In Pastorelles, John Taggart built an imaginary woodland garden for his poetry from features of the actual landscape around his house outside of Newburg, Pennsylvania.[1] He made the imaginary landscape into a field of activity and information where he speculated about music, art, and poetry as song. The whole volume makes up a long serial poem of diverse meditations on the processes of poetry. The poems in There Are Birds expand the poetic territories surveyed in Pastorelles.

Robert Duncan on Walt Whitman

LISTEN TO THE SHOW

Episode #38 in the PennSound podcast series presents a 15-minute excerpt from Robert Duncan’s lectures on Walt Whitman presented at New College in three sessions between June 11 and 18, 1981. 

Bobbie Louise Hawkins: Home movies of Robert Creeley and company

Olson, Creeley, Wieners

Bobbie Louise Hawkins took these home movies from 1962 to 1965. She provided them to Robert McTavish for his film about the Vancouver poetry conference of 1963, The Line Has Shattered (2013), and then asked McTavish to send them to PennSound.  Penelope Creeley and McTavish provided most of the annotations. We welcome any further identifications: let us know! 

When Robert Duncan was writing 'An Alternate Life'

From Jacket #28 (October 2005)

Robert Duncan, with cat, San Francisco, 1985 (photo by John Tranter).

On a morning of slow grey drizzle in the southern spring of 1976, at Robert and Cheryl Adamson’s living room table at Lane Cove, Sydney, between bites of a late breakfast and occasional snatches of quiet conversation, Robert Duncan began writing “An Alternate Life,” a poem that evolved from and partly recounts his experiences whilst visiting Australia. He was here on a reading and lecture tour. He’d brought with him the booklets and manuscripts that later became Ground Work: Before the War, his first major collection since Bending the Bow, though it didn’t yet have that title (he referred to its contents generically as “ground work”) and wouldn’t be published until 1984.

The space of the imagination

An interview with Lisa Jarnot

Note: Lisa Jarnot’s magisterial work on the life and times of Robert Duncan, The Ambassador from Venus, is an important and much-needed text. Apart from being the only full-length biography of the poet, it is a rich and dense document of literary and cultural criticism, which places Duncan within larger social and historical contexts. As literary biographies go, it merits comparison with some of the best: Richard Ellmann’s James Joyce, Hugh Kenner’s The Pound Era, and Hermione Lee’s Virginia Woolf come to mind.

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