Robert Duncan

"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.”

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

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.

Translation as facticity

(Curiosity and melancholy too)

archive notebook
O leixaprén

“There is a certain curiosity in it that exceeds melancholy.” I took this quote out of a notebook of mine, my “Praha” Moleskine that has never seen Prague, for I translate a “Praha” out of wherever I am, going to Prague by simply writing always in the pages of Praha, even when I am elsewhere, knitting these elsewheres together into Prague or Praha. At times I even take out the map of the city and use it to find where I am, though I am nowhere near Prague.

What does Prague and a notebook I bought on The Danforth in Toronto (a reject)—and have no right to use—have to do with translation, you ask? Perhaps all translation has to do with curiosity and melancholy, I respond.

I open the notebook two pages further on and find a quote from Giorgio Agamben scribbled there, from page 340 of his Puissance de la pensée: “La facticité est la condition de ce qui demeure caché dans son ouverture, de ce qui est exposé par son retrait même.”

Michael McClure on Jackson Pollock

During a double reading with Robert Duncan at San Francisco State University in 1983, Michael McClure performed an ode to Jackson Pollock. The recording of the Duncan/McClure event is available, as of today, as segmented audio at PennSound (thanks to the precise work of Anna Zalokostas). Here is your link to McClure's "Ode to Jackson Pollock": MP3.

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