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A landmark in the publication of twentieth-century American poetry, this first volume of the long-awaited collected poetry, non-critical prose, and plays of Robert Duncan gathers all of Duncan’s books and magazine publications up to and including Letters: Poems 1953–1956. Deftly edited, it thoroughly documents the first phase of Duncan’s distinguished life in writing, making it possible to trace the poet’s development as he approaches the brilliant work of his middle period.
This volume includes the celebrated works Medieval Scenes and The Venice Poem, all of Duncan’s long unavailable major ventures into drama, his extensive “imitations” of Gertrude Stein, and the remarkable poems written in Majorca as responses to a series of collaged paste-ups by Duncan’s life-long partner, the painter Jess. Books appear in chronological order of publication, with uncollected periodical and other publications arranged chronologically, following each book. The introduction includes a biographical commentary on Duncan’s early life and works, and clears an initial path through the textual complexities of his early writing. Notes offer brief commentaries on each book and on many of the poems.
The volume to follow, The Collected Later Poetry and Plays, will include The Opening of the Field (1960), Roots and Branches (1964), Bending the Bow (1968), Ground Work (1984), and Ground Work II (1987).
Peter Quartermain taught contemporary poetry and poetics at the University of British Columbia for over thirty years. He is the author of Basil Bunting, Poet of the North and Disjunctive Poetics: From Gertrude Stein and Louis Zukofsky to Susan Howe.
“Duncan’s poems are long, discursive, and disjunctive, often difficult, and relentlessly beautiful, mixing a kind of transcendent romanticism with an experimental flare for wild associative leaps. . . . Everything seems to be here, laying the groundwork for a major career.”—Publishers Weekly
"Reminds us that [Duncan] wrote some of the most stunningly beautiful lines in postwar American poetry."—Micah Mattix Books & Culture
“Robert Duncan is one of the masters of twentieth-century American poetry. His brilliant oeuvre stands as a record of contemporary changes of consciousness and sensibility in spheres that range from the poetic to the political. His subtle, insistent poetry displays a mythic imagination, a sense of intimacy and grandeur, a sexual frankness, and a thrilling attention to layers of language. This is a grand work of self-fashioning and poetic urgency. Peter Quartermain has done a magisterial job of editing this volume, making a major contribution to scholarship, while helping to frame the poetry of our time." Rachel Blau DuPlessis, author of Drafts
“The California edition of the works of Robert Duncan has been eagerly awaited by readers and critics for two decades since the poet’s death, and this collection does not disappoint. It contains everything one could want to have in a reader’s edition of the poet’s work. This volume is especially critical because it contains Duncan’s earlier poems, which are almost uniformly difficult to find; its publication will cause a serious reconsideration of Duncan’s career. Quartermain’s meticulous editing has produced a book that will be hailed by scholars and general readers alike. It is a stellar achievement.”—Stephen Fredman, author of Contextual Practice: Assemblage and the Erotic in Postwar Poetry and Art