I have been sitting in the chair by the window and the biography of Robert Duncan by Lisa Jarnot is now to gather dust though I have now again read the death of the poet scene. One always reads that scene first in any biography. I also have the first of the collected poems of Robert Duncan from University of California Press and I have the complete GROUND WORK published by New Directions.
And that is as far as I have gotten. Really. Does a single poem of Duncan’s remain in common currency, a poem a person might open their own shroud to be with?
I think not. He “lives” on in the publicity of San Francisco, a background to the story of Jack Kerouac sending his creations Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarity…. Duncan, part of that “ever expanding American Bloomsbury” as Fank MacShane labeled them too many years ago… with the same proliferating biographies and collected works by every single person who can in anyway be connected to the foundation book by Jack Kerouac, ON THE ROAD.
And no matter: ON THE ROAD is fully secure as MOBY DICK in the imagination of American literature.
The Jarnot biography is the last biography of a poet I will ever attempt. A catalog of trivia: and this happened and then this happened and then this happened… if only there had been some real attempt to let the reader into the why of Duncan which of course is poetry… but I think I was hoping for some attempt to give me a reason to read Duncan… it is more just a listing of readings, classes taught, men groped…feelings, feelings for something.
Duncan’s work arrives after Eliot, after Pound, after Zukofsky… after Olson and Olson just about exhausted my patience which is actually sustained by the memory of John Currier a native of Gloucester--- you can see the connection to Olson--- but remembering Dahlberg’s objection to Olson: he wanted to be original--- John who died too young and at whose wedding I was best man and to my regret did not make better my case for becoming the husband of the woman who I had introduced to John and with whom… a walking about with this widow in England near Brighton… the ravens in the trees and just apart: Denise is now in Trinidad… she who I showed Patchogue to… John whose work is only remembered now in the stacks of the Hollins University library: the only American heir to Firbank and Lewis Carroll. (poetry division)
Yet there is room for Ronald Johnson and Lorine Niedecker and Jack Spicer and Susan Howe who seem at this moment of--- as they say--- an urgency as I am also attempting to read the notebooks of Leopardi, the Zibaldoni (2502 pages including introduction, indexes and notes…)…
And of Duncan: “The Mind ---the fucking Mind! The stars in Its thought/shine forth in abysses, “night” spaces,/ the fucking alone brought us deep into.? Circling. Circling, circling, the matter of Love. (GROUND WORK pp 184-5)
On 19 March 2013: I am neither strong enough nor weak enough to continue.