Profoundly original yet insistent on the derivative quality of his work, transgressive yet affirmative of tradition, Robert Duncan (1919-1988) was a generative force among American poets, and his poetry and poetics establish him as a major figure in mid- and late- 20th-century American letters. This second volume of Robert Duncan’s collected poetry and plays presents authoritative annotated texts of both collected and uncollected work from his middle and late writing years (1958-1988), with commentaries on each of the five books from this period: The Opening of the Field, Roots and Branches, Bending the Bow, and the two volumes of Ground Work.
The biographical and critical introduction discusses Duncan as a late Romantic and postmodern American writer; his formulation of a homosexual poetics; his development of the serial poem; the notation and centrality of sound as organizing principle; his relations with such fellow poets as Robin Blaser, Charles Olson, and Jack Spicer; his indebtedness to Alfred North Whitehead; and his collaborations with the painter Jess Collins, his lifelong partner. Texts include his anti-war poems of the 1960s and 70s, his homages to Dante and other canonical poets, and his translations from the French of Gérard de Nerval, as well as the complete Structure of Rime and Passages series.
Robert Duncan The Collected Later Poems and Plays
Duncan's Middle and Late Years: Life and Work 1958-1988
I belong to a community that has never come into being, that thruout history I find just "coming into being" ... I am not my character, my personality, my mind, my psyche, my spirit, my body, but as in the writing.
The division of Duncan's mature writing life, from 1958 to 1988, into the two periods, "middle" and "late," is in some respects too neat, but the publication record, with Duncan's 1968 vow to publish no books of new work for fifteen years following the appearance of Bending the Bow, makes such a break seem natural, and even inevitable. He did, of course, publish new work in various places in the course of those years, some of it privately (like his Prospectus for the prepublication issue of "Ground Work," which included the first section of "Santa Cruz Propositions"), some of it in limited-edition pamphlets (like Achilles Song), as well as in magazines and broadsides. All of it was issued in short print-runs, none of it with a trade publisher, and the limited availability of that work suggested to many readers of poetry that Duncan had after 1968 more or less given up writing poems in order to explore other forms and genres-sundry essays and reviews, as well as installments of The H.D. Book, which began to appear in July 1963. Nevertheless, in 1968 Duncan's position as poet was far more secure (and even for that matter far more public) than it had been ten years earlier, when he published Letters. In the putatively unproductive years preceding the publication of Ground Work: Before The War in 1984 he was not, despite some bouts of ill-health, any more idle than he was silent, what with his busy schedule of lectures, symposia, readings, teaching commitments, essay writing, and extensive tours.
If Letters (1958) marked an important new departure for Duncan, as I suggested in the Introduction to The Collected Early Poems and Plays (CEPP), the 1960 publication of The Opening of the Field put Duncan on the map, and marked a crucial expansion of the possibilities the earlier book had opened up. The writing of the poems in the two books, indeed, overlaps. As Duncan observed in 1974: "There's no total book in process in Letters.... I started out from the very first poem in Opening of the Field to compose a book,"-he initially planned it as fifty poems (the finished book actually has fifty-three)-"so process is at work in the whole book." "Composed" is the key word in Duncan's hindsight comment: while he attempted in The Opening of the Field and the two subsequent books, Roots and Branches (1964) and Bending the Bow (1968), to compose each poem as a "projection" both from the poems in the collection already written and of those to come (and thus a projection of the total book), he was of course unable to anticipate major shifts in his own capabilities. His excited discovery in late January 1957 of Alfred North Whitehead's Process and Reality (through Charles Olson; discussed in some detail below) significantly amplified and modified his poetic practice. He was unable to resolve to his own satisfaction the formal challenge this shift posed to the book as a whole: if the poem must, as testimony, be true to its own history, then the rules of the game did not permit the wholesale rewriting of the poems he'd already written (and published). Rules, of course, are to be broken, and a year after he started reading Whitehead, in the summer of 1958 Duncan laboriously reworked "Often I Am Permitted To Return To A Meadow," which had already appeared in Ark II/Moby I (1956-1957): 10. Since the poem was to be the first in the book, setting up the themes, the tone, the feel of the book, the need for re-vision of this visionary poem was clear, and the result was one of the best-known and perhaps most anthologized of all Duncan's work.
That opening poem is balanced by "Food For Fire, Food For Thought," which closes the book. There is a wide range of poems between them, of which perhaps the most celebrated is the much anthologized and influential "A Poem Beginning With A Line By Pindar"; with its combination of ancient mythology and contemporary politics the whole poem arises, as he said in The Truth and Life of Myth, from puns: "my mind lost hold of Pindar's sense,... so that the words light, feet, hears, you, brightness, begins, moved in a world beyond my reading, these were no longer words alone but also powers in a theogony, having resonances in Hesiodic and Orphic cosmogonies where the foot that moves in the dance of the poem appears as the pulse of measures in first things." The work in The Opening of the Field is wide ranging and includes visionary ballads ("The Ballad Of The Enamord Mage" was written before Duncan read Whitehead-he would write others later), elegies (as in "A Storm Of White," written on the death of his cat), homages to masters (Zukofsky, in "After Reading Barely And Widely"), and, perhaps most far-reaching in terms of the evolution of Duncan's oeuvre, the "Structure of Rime" series (discussed below).
Roots and Branches (1964) builds on the ground that Duncan's unfolding mature voice and major themes established in The Opening of the Field, not only through further homages (to Blake, for instance, and to Shelley and Spicer) but returning to and developing forms, themes, and genres initially explored in his earlier work: "Come Let Me Free Myself" for instance revisits a mode first explored in Heavenly City, Earthly City; "Adam's Way" is a theosophical play; "Two Presentations" and "A Sequence of Poems For H.D.'s Birthday" are overtly autobiographical and link H.D. to the lifelong mythological and cosmological predilections of Duncan's poetics, characteristic of this whole book (in April 1960 Norman Holmes Pearson had commissioned Duncan to write The H.D. Book, a project which occupied him throughout the writing of Roots and Branches, and indeed beyond). The poems arise, perhaps more obviously than in The Opening of the Field, from the public as well as the private circumstances of Duncan's daily life: "What Happened: Prelude" was written during a quarrel with James Broughton over the staging, publicity, and performance of Helen Adam's San Francisco's Burning in December 1961 (for details, see the notes to the poem); the casting of Broughton as "Mr Fair Speech" and Kermit Sheets as "his cousin By-Ends"-characters in John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress-made the quarrel public, though it was not published until almost four years after the event.
There are two apparent provocations for this intervention in the life of the San Francisco artistic and poetic community, one personal and one aesthetic. There can be no doubt that Duncan felt both possessive and protective of Helen Adam-she had been his "discovery" in his poetry course at the San Francisco Public Library in 1954, he had taken her under his wing and they had maintained close friendship ever since-and he saw the performance as managed by Broughton and Sheets as a complete violation of Adam's art. On the front cover of the Duncan issue of The Artist's View 5 (July 1953), Duncan had written beside his self-portrait sketch: "None of us are →is?-Entirely pleasant RD 52." As the Introduction to CEPP notes, he told Blaser on 2 September 1958 that "I have myself an ambitious shade that can disturb the roots of creative spirit." The conflict with Broughton was not the first of his quarrels with peers and friends. Some of the quarrels were perhaps jealous squabbles, or can be ascribed to a desire for control within the community (as in some of the frequent clashes with Spicer); possibly all of them were territorial. When Blaser read his translation of Les Chimères of Gérard de Nerval at the Berkeley Poetry Conference in August 1965 and Duncan then read the published text (San Francisco: Open Space, September 1965), Duncan's response, in a series of letters and an essay later published in Audit/Poetry along with his own translation, was ferocious-as he put it, "severe." In Blaser's view it was designed successfully to wound; in its brutal dismissal of all personal and artistic "interest" in Blaser it was so severely damaging to the younger poet that amity and trust between the two poets could not be restored, though some years later they did recover something of their old friendship. Duncan accused Blaser of imprecision, inaccuracy, bad scholarship, of turning the "Vers Dorés" (which Blaser titles "Golden Poem" and Duncan "Golden Lines") into "an amazing garble in which Blaser seems unable or unwilling to give the message at all" and called Blaser's opinion "preposterous."
The quarrel with Blaser was, as both recognized, in part a quarrel over poetics, but here, as in other of Duncan's disagreements over poetics (such as the fight with Denise Levertov over poetry and politics; his profound disagreements with her began to show in about July 1966), Duncan's ruthlessness suggests that more may be at stake: reputation, status, control, power. And clearly, what is at stake here, for Duncan, is the matter of Truth. The "real world of the actual" he said in a comment on Freud in The Truth and Life of Myth (a book he was writing at this time, 1966), is a "text of meanings,... The work-a-day world, if we but hear, speaks in tongues,... at once revealing the true nature of things and concealing it." A few pages later he remarks on the poem as speaking through the poet, not the poet speaking through the poem, and exclaims, "how much a matter of an enduring design in which the actual living consciousness arises, how much a matter of actual times and actual objects the living reality of the myth is for the poet.... The mythic content comes to us, commanding the design of the poem; it calls the poet into action, and with whatever lore and craft he has prepared himself for that call, he must answer to give body in the poem to the formative will." Duncan's later strictures on Levertov, whom he accused of serving political and not poetic ends in her poems arising from the Vietnam War, are curiously ironic in that he utters them at a time when similar charges were being laid against his own poetry. His attack on Blaser, similarly, is curiously at odds with his elsewhere and frequently expressed determination that his poetry should be the poetry of possibility, fluid and finally indeterminate, open, not closed. Later, talking about the clash with Blaser in section two of The Truth and Life of Myth, he acutely noted that "when we are concerned with Poetry, we are faced, as men in religion are faced, with violent operations of words. A mistake is a mutation, altering the life of the spirit. Blaser had realized a poem of his own, but he had done violence to the text." Duncan thought of writing as a search in obedience; a corollary might be a sense of one's own rightness, of one's writing as the Revealed Word.
In late 1966, what with Duncan's fairly regular teaching commissions and reading tours, with Jess's modest but steady growth as a painter in reputation and accompanying sales, and with Bending the Bow substantially complete save for its Introduction, it became possible for Duncan and Jess to make an offer on a three-story Victorian house in the Mission District of San Francisco. In Ambassador From Venus Lisa Jarnot reports that in February 1967 Duncan was obliged legally at last to change his name (to Robert Edward Duncan) in order to complete the purchase; they moved in as soon as possible thereafter. But the task of setting up a domestic household, with Duncan on a three-week reading tour in March and another tour of five or six weeks in April and May, largely fell into Jess's hands. The move into a settled domesticity as householders, and the stability it afforded, inevitably had its effect upon Duncan's writing, for the household they established (along with the garden they cultivated), with its collections of paintings, sculptures, period furnishings, and objets d'art as well as its large collection of books and music recordings, itself embodied something of the "grand collage" Duncan called for in the Introduction to Bending the Bow. Collaborating with Jess more easily than before on a variety of projects, entertaining local (and visiting) poets and painters, continuing to take part in San Francisco's lively art scene, provided the larger as well as the local homosexual community with one possible model (especially after the liberating impetus of the Stonewall Riots of June 1969) for the conduct of a homosexual marriage in which collaboration on artistic (or other) projects was central, and in many respects the work in Bending the Bow points forward to this new home-based life.
Bending the Bow (1968) occupies a curious position in the course of Duncan's publishing life. The third of his books to attract a major trade publisher of poetry (1960, Grove Press; 1964, Scribner's; 1968, New Directions), it achieved a wide and constant circulation over the next quarter-century and beyond, and was attractive especially to the young, who were drawn both to the antiwar politics of the poems and to the open-endedness of a series of poems addressed, as the opening of "Passages 1" is, to "Her-Without-Bounds," kindred to the "Queen Under The Hill" of the opening poem of The Opening of the Field. Over six thousand copies (in hardback and paper) were issued in the first printing, and the book sold well over a further eight thousand copies (plus an English edition in 1971) during the next ten years, many of them as classroom texts. But the book was followed by a sixteen-year silence largely occasioned by Duncan's frustration and dismay over the actual printing of the book: the printer not only dropped a page containing the final twenty-four lines (most of the fourth and all of the fifth sonnet) from "The Christ In The Olive Grove" but also renumbered the pages, in Duncan's words "to obscure what happened." The printer also dropped the title "An Interlude" from the contents page. Duncan had long been frustrated with printers' apparent inability to set his poems satisfactorily in type (Kermit Sheets had with no authority but his own regularized the stanzas in Medieval Scenes in 1950) and the botch the printer made of Bending the Bow was the last straw: Duncan swore to publish no new books for fifteen years, and to take control of publication himself.
The long silence served to congeal Duncan's reputation as the writer of but three books, The Opening of the Field, Roots and Branches, and Bending the Bow, each of which enjoyed substantial sales. But, as noted above, in addition to writing the work gathered here in The Collected Later Poems and Plays, Duncan during this time put together several collections of his early work (now gathered in CEPP), as well as three major retrospective collections-The First Decade: Selected Poems 1940-1950 and Derivations: Selected Poems 1950-1956 (both dated 1968 but actually published in England early in 1969), and the revised and enlarged edition of Caesar's Gate: Poems 1949-1950 (1972)-as well as a book of 65 Drawings From One Drawing Book (1952-1956) (1970), along with chapbooks and broadsides. That period of intense activity was seriously disrupted by the death of Charles Olson on 10 January 1970-the older poet always a major source for the younger.
The publication of Ground Work: Before The War in 1984 brought Duncan firmly back before the public as a contemporary poet. Its square pages, roughly eight-by-eight, its somewhat disconcerting varied and in some instances ugly typescript (not reproduced in this edition), and its occasional very long lines which stretch to within a quarter-inch of the margin, all declared its newness, a newness perhaps confirmed by Duncan's somewhat insistent preface explaining in detail how the notation of the poem on the page registers the "tesserae of utterances and silences," the movement of the voice. Three long sequences-"Poems From The Margins of Thom Gunn's Moly" (1972), "A Seventeenth-Century Suite In Homage To The Metaphysical Genius In English Poetry" (1973), and "Dante Études" (1974)-previously published but hard to find and taking up more than seventy pages, draw explicitly on the work of others. They bear out the impression of newness in the book, and at the same time uphold Duncan's long-held designation of himself as a derivative poet (discussed further below). Which is to say that Ground Work: Before The War embodies an evolutionary shift in Duncan's poetics, and by the same token reveals its essential continuity. Ground Work II: In The Dark, for whose publication Duncan was obliged, due to failing health, to rely heavily on the help of others, enlarges and elaborates the "poetry of all poetries" Duncan had identified (in the Introduction to Bending the Bow), and opens up what the title of his 1982 essay on Edmond Jabès called "the delirium of meaning," seeking and finding what he called "a polyphonic reading in which chords emerge." Through their increasingly dense and complex cross-linguistic play of sound, the poems in Ground Work (especially in Ground Work II) move beyond the "increment of associations" Duncan had found in "At The Loom" (the second poem of "Passages" printed in Bending the Bow) to work beyond the boundaries of apparent meaning, into the "boundless creational field"-what in the essay on Jabès he called "language beyond language" and "meaning beyond meaning."
Like the first Ground Work volume, The Opening of the Field (1960) announced a shift in Duncan's work and a continuity: both are books which readers had to learn how to read, in the case of The Opening of the Field as it marked the shift from the largely apprentice work of his early period to the mature work of his middle period. That shift, initiated by the crucial experience of residence in Mallorca followed by a summer teaching at Black Mountain College and tellingly explored in the composition of Letters, was by and large spurred by Duncan's appointment, in the fall of 1956, as assistant director of the Poetry Center at San Francisco State College, a job which both afforded some financial security and made possible two events crucial in the development of his own poetics: Charles Olson's course of lectures on Alfred North Whitehead at Duncan's De Haro Street apartment on five successive evenings, 25 February to 1 March 1957, following his reading at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and Jack Spicer's "Poetry as Magic" workshop, which met weekly in a room at the San Francisco Public Library from mid-February through May 1957 (with a final public reading in June). Duncan attended both, when he had already written a dozen or more poems for the book then called The Field, and the effect of Olson's talks and Spicer's workshop is apparent in the book. The timing was exactly right, for Olson was "presenting" (as Duncan put it) Whitehead's Process and Reality: An Essay In Cosmology, about which till then Duncan knew nothing. "It sets up a craving in me," he wrote to Robin Blaser on 19 December 1957, "for large spatial architectures at the edge of chaos. That the primordial is always 'ahead', 'beyond'! My mind does not grasp it; mind is graspd by it." Whitehead's book, he wrote later, "is projective verse. It enlarges the idea of field," and he explained to Kevin Power in 1976 that it changed his understanding of both his title, The Field, and his project: no longer a fairly simple pun, but ground: "When Charles came with the Whitehead," he commented to Power, "it just opened that up until it was not simply a joke, it was 'nature'."
Duncan had worked hard to persuade Ruth Witt-Diamant, director of the Poetry Center, to invite Olson for his two-week visit; he had first met Olson in 1947 and after that corresponded somewhat intermittently; at Black Mountain in the summer of 1956 he knew nothing of Whitehead though he had seized the occasion to talk at length and often with the older poet. But "when Charles talked in San Francisco," he said,
it was the Whitehead view of history as past and future, and the fact that we're at the point of genesis and that the end of things is back of us.
At that time Charles was interested in alchemy and magic. Certainly I got a lot of drift from him in that period just talking with him. The alchemy things are clearer in earlier poems. He also brought in Pythagorean ideas of number that would appear in his lectures.... This is an essentially magic view of the poem. Not magic in the sense of doing something that you mean to do in the end, but in the sense of causing things to happen.
Not magic as abracadabra, but rather (as Blaser described Spicer's magic) "disturbance, entrance, passion ... an entangling with the world," with disordered devotion to the uncertainty of the real-entrance and concomitant discovery, not possession or power.
During the course of the two programs, in the meetings, Duncan wrote a number of poems, among them "Four Pictures Of The Real Universe" (in Spicer's), and "The Propositions" (in Olson's), which takes its title from the chapter in Whitehead that Olson built his lectures round. His sojourn at Black Mountain had reinforced his growing apprehension, reflected in some poems of Writing Writing and Letters and in the poems which would be gathered in early pages of his new book, of writing not as self-expression but as a matter of potential, of possibility, of process. Struggling with Whitehead, "alternately foundering and discovering," he told Blaser in a letter of 4 June 1957, that "a philosophy of process ..., where I understand it at all, reinforces my sense of what the potential in the act is. And from the actual to this act, to this use of language-the point of it: that awareness of and in feeling come within grasp." When he wrote that letter he was, in "The Structure Of Rime," once again coming to grips with and exploring the potential of the serial poem toward which Medieval Scenes had ten years before been an initial move. In the 1957 letter to Blaser just quoted, he wrote of "the actual felt within, the permeating achievement in the poem, 'attention,' alerted awareness of the operation. That finally, one no longer need be (as now often I needs be) focussed upon the act of writing in order to wrest awareness from the expressive. That finally,-but how far that seems from any possibility I see the language become a what is, manner overcome. This is the wrestle in Structure of Rime with the Angel Syntax. Just as one might turn from expression to awareness-might there be beyond a further change from awareness to being?" The notion of language as a "what is" is crucial, and comes not only from Duncan's reading of Whitehead, but from his wide reading, pursued vigorously since his undergraduate years, in linguistics. It recognizes what Giorgio Agamben would some years later call the irreparable: "that things are just as they are, in this or that mode, consigned without remedy to their way of being." It posits language as a condition of the human, inextricably part and parcel of apperception and conduct and understanding; not a means, and certainly not a precondition. Language, Agamben observes, "is not an 'object' presupposing the human already behind it, but is itself constitutive of the human." In which case any notion that language might have originated somewhere outside the human, or been somehow "invented" by humans, and thus separable from consciousness or identity, is patently absurd: Wilhelm von Humboldt had suggested as long ago as 1795 that the act of language production is the constitutive act for consciousness of self, makes it possible; and a quarter-century later argued that language is the "formative organ" of thought-that is, first, that thought is not possible without language, and second, that the structure of one's thought reflects the structure of the language in which thinking happens-ideas Duncan would find confirmed in his reading of Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf.
These ideas importantly shape Duncan's essays on the nature of poetry and the task of the poet, where he explores what they imply about originality. In the 1960s and after he would occasionally remonstrate, "Not 'I had an idea' but 'An idea had me'." Not a joke, but an oblique reference to and perhaps invocation of the theosophical and Neoplatonic underpinnings of his childhood (discussed in some detail in the Introduction to CEPP), a radical reconsideration of the poet as maker and originator, and of notions of "authenticity" which permeate much American poetry of the 1960s and 1970s. His conversation, his letters, his notebooks (and of course his poems) continually attest the truth of Duncan's description of himself as multiple. Yet at the same time, he is clearly a visionary poet, and he viewed such poems in The Opening of the Field as "The Ballad of Mrs Noah" as part and parcel of the same writing as poems like "A Storm Of White" or "The Structure of Rime XII." "Writing is first a search in obedience," he wrote in the first "Structure of Rime": it is, then, also a search for an idea that might have him. It is a writing in quest of or annunciating a vision as it is brought about or as it occurs; by the time of such late poems as "In Blood's Domaine," in Ground Work II, what the poem brings, he said, the presences, are "so alarming that I was shaking in my-and I still am when I think about them as they occur in this poem."
Writing the poem, then, is by no means an exercise of belief, but a matter of discovery. The writer obedient to the sentence (Duncan exploits and explores the pun throughout his life) will find person and manner utterly irrelevant to the work, the event, of the poem, for-as he would write in 1977, "the truth of the poem was the truth of what was felt in the poem, not the truth of a proposition in whatever political or religious persuasion outside the poem. The particulars of the poem were in process." Eighteen years earlier, in "Food For Fire, Food For Thought" (the closing poem of The Opening of the Field), he stated the matter somewhat differently:
Leonardo saw figures that were stains upon a wall.
Let the apparitions containd in the ground
play as they will.
What Duncan called "response-ability" resides in that verb "Let," which reads as both indicative and imperative.
Whitehead provided confirmation-if any were needed-of the assumptions acquired during childhood: "The complexity of nature is inexhaustible," he said; "it is the nature of things that the many enter into complex unity"-the interconnectedness of things offers an infinite potentiality. He consistently sounds the warning in Process and Reality that language is inadequate to the task of understanding, even with the help of the imagination. "No verbal statement," he says, "is the adequate expression of a proposition"-a caution that Duncan explored in "The Propositions" (written in Olson's class) and again ten years later in its companion poem, "Santa Cruz Propositions" (written, or at least started, in Norman O. Brown's class). On the contents page of The Opening of the Field (and in most typescripts) the first of these uses parentheses in its title, "(The Propositions)"; in the text pages, the parentheses have gone, a small revision which looks, perhaps, to the reader's response-ability as well as to his own. Such close attention to the details of language and orthography is kin to his increasing exploration of pun, coinage, broken words, fractured syllables, and syntax as a source of poetic energy and form, as in the second part of "Poem Beginning With A Line By Pindar" where the pun and rime of Eisenhower's stroke and the strokes of Duncan's pen, the stumbles and hesitations of "damerging a nuv. A nerb" and the surrounding lines, reinvigorate the flagging poem and bring it to an unanticipated political focus. It is kin, too, to Duncan's increasing exploration of the potentialities contained and released in the etymologies and cross-linguistic punning characteristic of much of his late work.
While still working through his first reading of Whitehead, on 18 August 1957 in a letter to Blaser he wrote of the "articulated poem" that "every part must contribute to the movement. The only reason for greater articulation is to set words, phrases, breath groups, lines into a more complex movement. To provide gasps, sighs, phases, periods of the meaning of the poem.... Each line is a proposition of the total structure." Demanding close attention to the notation of the poem on the page and of course to its sound, such articulation, such connectedness, does not stop at the boundaries of the poem. Those boundaries themselves are permeable, and the poem has its own interconnections with other poems not only in the book but also with those not in the book and even unpublished; similarly, the book interconnects with Duncan's other books. Each of the works, that is to say, is an event running through the totality it belongs to, each such totality nested, or rather, folded in something larger: a poem is an event not only in the larger event of the book, but in the larger event of the poet's (and the reader's) life. On 3 June 1959 Duncan sent Henry Rago, editor of Poetry, a complete typescript of The Field; "I have been projecting," Duncan told Henry Rago in his letter accompanying it, "not only each poem as an order within itself (as an individual human is a personality) but once each poem was composed projected from it anew the total book, a context with its own laws and form, as the individual human is also an event in a species Man-is an historical entity; and a cosmic event-is a physical entity." "Each poem," he commented later in the letter, "in belonging to the book ..., became a factor in the projection, in the feel of the total shape."
With such complex interweavings and mutual interdependencies in mind, such multiplicities of identity and possibility, it is clear that Duncan's often repeated claim to be a derivative artist is more complex than appears at first sight. "Derivative!" after all, has been a pejorative and dismissive term in critical and literary judgment since the Romantics; to so identify his own work is a typical Duncan move to be disruptive, to disturb the reader and the critic by undermining fondly unquestioned assumptions-a habit that got him in difficulties when he first sent "Letters For Denise Levertov: An A Muse Ment" to Denise Levertov in 1953, and then had to explain: "'originality' is NOT either interesting or available to me." The quotes around that "originality" obliquely echo his pleasure in the work of Gertrude Stein, who, he said in 1947, "is not original ... She is not novel.... She is a great poet." Duncan passionately distrusted poets who, in cultivating newness, freshness, and originality, write with an eye to their effect on the audience, thus turning their back on the poem itself, rejecting the poem as participation in the world. "I have written and rewrite I am a derivative poet," he said in "The Adventure of Whitman's Line" (1982), "even as I remember in every individuality that I have derived my being from the human community into which I was born, even as I know my physical body and life-pattern to be derived from the common code and the dance of two strands of that encoding."
Derivation, in Duncan's sense of it, is the very condition of being human: "I am," he wrote in Notebook 38 (1967), "a derivative artist, not an original, having only that authenticity that I have inevitably in my inevitable human condition." But he also commented on the way in which one's sense of identity, one's sense of oneself as subject, the "I," is equally "a form in which all men may participate," and in the poems "meaning ... is not in what I mean, but in what the language means. I do not express meanings that are my own, I work in meanings which I receive or find in research." One is not one's own any more than is the language. He wrote of "the ground of experience as meaning and intent" in his essay on Whitman's line, and quoted the second sentence of Whitman's statement, in "A Backward Glance O'er Travel'd Roads," that "first-class literature does not shine by any luminosity of its own, nor do its poems. They grow of circumstances and are evolutionary. The actual living light is always curiously from elsewhere-follows unaccountable sources, and is lunar and relative at the best. There are, I know, controlling themes that seem endlessly appropriated to the poets ... but strange as it may sound at first, I will say that there is something striking far deeper and towering far higher than those themes for the best ornaments of modern song."
Whitman is one of Duncan's "Great Companions" (I adopt Robin Blaser's term), a constant source. Given Duncan's voracious appetite for news, Whitman is one of many, most of them writers, others artists and composers, none of them prominent in mainstream culture (however defined), all of them contributors-whether prominently visible or more or less occulted-to his "derived" poetry. In 1956 he proposed, in his introductory course on technique at Black Mountain College, to address "above all our own concern with this thing calld FORM," and he founded that address on the sound of the poem: "vowels, consonants, the structure of rime,... the elements of movement, what is often calld 'metrics.' The syllable, the word, the phrase, the line, the paragraph, and the sentence." And the news he got about form evolved as it came from music, especially the work of Stravinsky, Webern, Schoenberg, and Stockhausen. Stravinsky's Symphony in 3 Movements provided him with formal means of handling complexity, interdependency, and multiplicity in "The Venice Poem"-he reviewed The Poetics of Music for the Berkeley English Club's magazine Occident in 1948. Writing the poems in The Opening of the Field, and especially working on "The Structure Of Rime," he told Robin Blaser in a letter, 19 December 1957: "The great thing in music for the year has been the complete Webern-those heavenly choirs of the last works. Not since Bach such interstices. That seems now like rhyme and syllabic clarity fundamental to achievement in good art. And one such book-Whitehead's Process and Reality that gives that grandeur"-the same letter talks of Leaves of Grass as "the largest beauty in its concept of what a book is in relation to The Book."
In 1974 he told Howard Mesch that the first poem in "The Structure of Rime" series came about after reading Arnold Schoenberg's observations about harmony, where "any sense of resemblance or any sense of disresemblance indicates presence of rime." Not simply a matter of sound patterns and echoes, rime can be of images, events, content, syntax. As a stanza in "The Structure of Rime II" (written in 1956) puts it: "An absolute scale of resemblance and disresemblance establishes measures that are music in the actual world." In Notebook 20, 9 May 1959, he followed a series of drafts of "Often I Am Permitted To Return To A Meadow," from the spring and summer of 1958, with the first of several extensive notes on Josef Rufer's Composition with 12 Notes Related Only To One Another (Macmillan, 1954), a book which would also lead Duncan to the collage strategies of "Passages" five years later. Rufer induced him to recast the first "Structure of Rime" as he reflected on dissonance as a means of undoing predictability and comprehensibility. "There is something questionable in the composition in my work as a demonstration thruout of tonal origin, with keys," Duncan wrote, a judgment that recognized a key signature as a form of closure, restricting possibilities. Such limitation would be a denial of an open form which Duncan came to see as utterly essential to any poetic practice seeking to embrace Whitehead's process. "When we are no longer centered on convention, you have to be aware all the time. If you go to a Mozart piece, you can fall asleep," he said in an interview in 1974-the listener can settle comfortably into the predictable pattern. "The contour of any melody is so specific, you could have completed it yourself." He saw this in terms of a problem of form, and found a solution in Schoenberg's insight (copied from Rufer into Notebook 20) that "what distinguishes dissonances from consonances is not a greater or lesser degree of beauty, but a greater or lesser degree of comprehensibility." Duncan's extract from Schoenberg continues: "The term emancipation of the dissonance refers to its comprehensibility, which is considered equivalent to the consonance's comprehensibility. A style based on this premise treats dissonances like consonances and renounces a tonal center." Thus, for Duncan unpredictability is a necessity, not only in "The Structure of Rime" but elsewhere (its centrality to all poetry might indeed be argued). Dissonance is an aspect of unpredictability, and offers an at least partial solution to the formal problems posed by Whitehead's process, a reality-in-flux continually struggling toward form without being itself formless-and in which everything coexists. Rufer noted of Schoenberg, in a passage Duncan copied into Notebook 20, that "as the dissonance appeard unprepared and disappeard equally abruptly, it made the demonstration of its tonal origin more and more superfluous, and the dominance of the keynote more and more questionable." Duncan said in 1974, when the "Dante Études" were nearing completion, that any given line or phase of the poem could contain "no prediction of what's going to go on ahead of itself." This is a bit like noting, in the writing of Gertrude Stein, how difficult if not impossible it is at times to see how one word leads to the next; it calls for writing (and indeed reading) as an act of present concentration, of focus on the moment, with no anticipatory control, no interference from desire. Complete attention. Writing is first a search for obedience: heed the poem as it unfolds, prize its dissonance.
In this, Duncan is not unlike Spicer, who-notorious for his abrupt offensiveness-saw his own compulsion to disorder and disturbance as utterly essential to his poetics: be disruptive, thwart expectations, radically break the conventions, and the passional and social turmoil you provoke lets the real break through. For Duncan the necessity for dissonance in the poem poses the compositional problem of how to find it in the poem-this is a problem of form, always central to Duncan's poetic concerns. Jess had provided one means, in the collages (which he later called "paste-ups") of Caesar's Gate in Mallorca, and indeed earlier (as in the three issues of his and Duncan's collaborative work Boob, 1952), and in the on-going series of complex large paste-ups he produced through the 1980s-some of them as posters to publicize readings by Duncan (notably of "Passages" in 1970) as well as exhibitions of his own work. When in the "Introduction" to Bending the Bow Duncan described the work in that book as "a poetry of all poetries, grand collage," he was acknowledging his indebtedness not simply to Jess, but to a form familiar to him from such as Wallace Berman, Charles Ives, and William Carlos Williams; "The Structure of Rime," too, had opened wide the door to the largeness and variety of "Passages." But collage, especially a verbal collage without bounds and hence without terminus, was only one of several formal means Duncan found to meet the challenge Whitehead posed.
Several entries in his notebooks in the early 1950s, when he was mainly writing Stein imitations, assiduously record misreadings that (perhaps following his extensive reading of Freud) he came to embrace. Some of them suggest his interest in the role of anticipation-making one's mind up ahead of the game-in the mind's deception of the eye (a theme dear to Williams and Zukofsky): "I read poisoner for prisoner"; "I read mimicry for nunnery"; "I read disgust for success"-these shortly before drafting a note on "making sense" and a draft essay "On Style as Nonsense, nonsense as style" in Notebook 11, the notebook mostly filled in 1952, but picked up again in 1957 to record notes on Whitehead. He continued recording this kind of error until 15 September 1968, when he noted "for 'some pollen' I said 'some Apollo'," and even as late as 2 November 1975, when he recorded reading "derision" for "decision" in the sentence, "The function of judgment is concerned ultimately with two sorts of decision," in Freud's essay on "Negation"; he took to calling such lapses a "miss-take." In Notebook 11, working mainly on the Stein imitations published in the mid-1960s as Writing Writing and Names of People, he interrupted a draft of Faust Foutu to comment: "The poetry of misreadings (shakes the world). A grammar of misreadings to correct consciousness. Just beneath the surface of the sentence there are unseen words lingering. Counter currents disturb the paragraph. The lovers pursued their divided pleasures."
Duncan increasingly began to pay close attention to error as an agent of discovery-as he put it in The Truth and Life of Myth, in a passage quoted in the Introduction to CEPP, "I evolve the form of a poem by an insistent attention to what happens in inattentions." In the late work especially, one major strategy in meeting the demands of dissonance is to embrace error and "be true" to it. By 1970 it has begun constantly to serve as a compositional principle, and in A Prospectus for the prepublication issue of "Ground Work" (1971), a mix of handwriting and typescript, he commented on his script, how its mistakes or illegibilities-in his notebook he had written]-generated a cooperation of sight and sound to produce what he called "the weaving of figures within figures": "the ground enters into the work, thread challenging and completing thread, space created to fill space. Ideas appearing are not what we work toward but what we work with. The sound at once sounding 'see,' 'C,' and 'sea'; the figure linking as it cooperates in three figures. In the idea of the sentence each word operates as a series of possible elements belonging to a series of possible statements we begin to realize present in what we almost took at first for granted was a single intent."
This closes the section dated 28 December 1970; the next day he expanded it, turning to an earlier line in his journal. "What can I do with the scrambling," he asked, in writing
"it is not for its mystical-its secret tradition-that I read the Zohar, but for its poetry" ... where writing r-e-v-e-a- toward reveal, instead of r-e-v-e-l toward revelation I had sought to 'correct' the script and ended up midpassage with revedtion? What had been an accident of the work, today has become a redirection, and, consulting the dictionary for the stubborn 'ved,' I find Veda, skr. veda, knowledge, sacred lore-my sacred lore the tracings of the O.E.D. At the point of the 'error'-I was at the point in the revels of revelation where revedation was almost reveald, had I but gone with what I wrote rather than what I meant to write.
Such an attempt to clear the writing mind and will of intention is strongly reminiscent both of the Kabbala and Duncan's reading of the Zohar, and of Foucault's account of signatures in chapter two of The Order of Things. Duncan read Foucault's account, translated by William Christian, in the Doctrine of Signatures issue of Richard Grossinger's magazine Io. "Invisible analogies need a visible mark," Foucault remarks, as with aconite, which bears a sign like a word saying it is good for eye diseases: the seed is "small, dark and round, set in a white cuticle, as the eye is to the eyelid": a signature. One's task, in a world where "nature, itself, is a seamless fabric of words and marks, of stories and letters, of discourses and forms," is to see the essential connection between word and thing, to recognize that a sign really designates what it signifies. One's task is to see, then, similitudes. In which case "the world should fold upon itself, double itself, reflect itself or link itself up so that things can resemble each other"-the world as Book of Resemblances. Foucault's account, that words once had an absolute, primary, initial relation to the world, plainly implies the importance of etymologies in a world which has, from the seventeenth century on, dissolved that primal link. Words are no longer rooted in the essential connection of word to thing, in the sympathetic concordance between things. "Henceforth," Foucault argues, "language will grow without boundaries"-a conclusion surely in accordance with Duncan's intentions for "Passages," though he would reject Foucault's pessimistic rider that language would grow "without promise." Duncan, after all, in 1970 spoke of "the life of a poetry without bounds" in the series so far written ("Passages 1-22"), and said the two epigraphs to the whole series "rang in my spirit as an announcement of a world leading into a world I had long yearnd for." He called "Passages," "a series having no beginning and no end as its condition of form. The sequence ... belongs to a field in which we know there is no consequence. In the true form of the poem all its parts co-operate, co-exist ... all its parts are presented in one fabric. We wove strand after strand, line after line; but for those who at last see the cloth there is no first strand or second strand; the design does not begin in a certain place but where the admirer's eye chooses to begin in seeing." Polysemous, polyvalent, open-ended, and completely unpredictable in its sequencing and intently varied in its musics as the series is, it also interweaves (as does "The Structure of Rime") with other sequences: "Passages 36" (in Ground Work: Before The War) is part of "A Seventeenth-Century Suite"; "Passages 20" (in Bending the Bow) is also "Structure of Rime XXVI." Joseph Conte comments on "the autonomy of individual sections in the series" and notes that "their ahierarchical, achronological structure is capable of being read without prior narrative or thematic information." A series of interconnected poems which the reader can enter and leave at any given point, "Passages" proposes a simultaneity and even an a-formality (achieved most overtly, perhaps, in "Seams," Ground Work II) even as it remains a series of poems inescapably composed in sequence, for they are composed in time, and indeed are (up to and including the 37th) sequentially numbered in their chronological order of composition. In 1964 Duncan described the individual poems as "passages of a poem, sometimes woven, sometimes built-up, sometimes collaged, from what comes to me or what I came across-threads, blocks, bits . but waves of impulse rising from words too, and whenever it arises I follow the melodic possibility."
Ten years later, in 1974, he thought he was dissatisfied with the closeness of the weave and that the series was "overcomposed," but this is perhaps a necessary consequence of his sense of rhyme as utterly foundational. In 1958, with roughly a dozen poems in "The Structure of Rime" completed, he said that "Rime has its fullness in the correspondence thruout the universe. Thus the higher poetry has its order in hidden rimes, known to those who love thru correspondence[.] That this tree is not only this answering feeling in the psyche shows forth in the phrase (phase) but also a fly, a scene in man's history, a sun, a gate." Duncan's poems make a cosmology-throughout his writing life he insisted on the poet as Maker; Whitehead's cosmology is (like Foucault's) endemically interconnected, any poem a shifting event among, inextricably linked with, other interconnected events-not poems only, indeed, but the world. But the interconnections are not casual, they are not-in poetry at any rate-mere happenstance. Thus, when asked (as he was on several occasions) whether "The Structure of Rime" and/or "Passages" could be printed separately as a self-contained sequence, he was adamant in his refusal:
neither Structure of Rime nor Passages exist as designs in themselves, in this they are different from any of the other 'long poems' you are approaching, in Kind different. For they are elements running through the totality they belong to. Excerpting Structures of Rime ... runs then not only into troubles of copyright but into real troubles of context: as if one were to draw out of the fabric it belongs to some series of figures, or take the progressions and variations of a theme out of the musical complex it has arisen in. You will find not only that rimes in Structures of Rime come from rimes previously (prepared) in series of the Structures, but at the same time, that the Structures inherit from and generate in poems as members of the book. The book is, as publication suggests, the primary / higher / containing gestalt. Genericly then Passages is not of the order of the Cantos or Maximus; Structures is not of the order of the Illuminations or the Zarathustra, tho both haunted my conception. The organism any one of these cells belongs to is, yes, its series-but as series this is organically intelligible only as belonging to the body of a possible poetry.
Especially in Passages, I have entirely departed from the principle or concern of integrity, not only in that the 'poems' are not entire in themselves, but that the series is not conceived of as an entirety.
This suggests that despite Duncan's ever-present penchant for revision, re-vision, he holds the text, and its context, inviolable.
From his earliest days as writer till his death, rhyme-and the sound through which we are aware of it-was primary, inextricably connected to the magic of words, to magical language. As students in Berkeley, he and Blaser and Spicer-the self-appointed architects and chief figures of the Berkeley Renaissance, reviving Neoplatonist practice and cosmologies-would chant poems, rhymes, incantations. Chanting is invocation, it opens up the world, conjures the unseen, exalts, transports, connects. Looking back in 1983, he noted (in a passage already quoted in the Introduction to CEPP) that "Ficino knows very well that the poem, by its sounds ... reaches the soul, the body and the spirit." In one of his many recollections of his childhood, this time in the course of writing "The Dignities" section of Ground Work II in the summer of 1982, he wrote about his grandmother and his parents: "they did not read in their own voices but in a story-telling voice. Because they believed that the writing or the printed word was an evocation of a story-voice, or a book-voice and that the power was in the book and not in their presentation or putting it over, still today I am distressed when poets perform 'their' poems as vehicles not of a poetry but of a personality back of the poem." At his own readings, he would perform (his word) the poems in what he called his "reading voice," the one hand beating out a ground rhythm, counting and sounding the silences, the other hand inflecting the tune, skittering the syllables-as he put it in "Some Notes On Notation" at the beginning of Ground Work: Before The War, "the tempos go back to the body they come from."
In a draft of that prefatory note, he wrote of the notation on the page that "the patterns are immutable"-a principle that had governed the book-publication of his work since The Opening of the Field in 1960, and led to his obdurate rejection, through issuing his work in privately circulated "Author's Editions," of proportional typeface, and to his insistence in 1983-1984 that Ground Work: Before The War print the poems in typescript facsimile. In 1982, when Wch Way published "Santa Cruz Propositions" the editors (Jed Rasula and Don Byrd) were not able typographically to distinguish the series of texts "brought together, mixt together," each with a separate typeface. In a prefatory "Statement" Duncan said: "I have not cooperated further in the presentation of the poem[.]My typescript is the definitive text. The text herein presented is Wch Way's text of the poem, not mine; wherein whatever deviations from the original, including the use of justified types, the spacing after marks of punctuation, any typographical 'errors,' the variant articulation of elements of the poem, of lines, of sections, etc., are to be viewed as belonging to the present version, and not the author's version as it stands." In a postscript he added that "what the author has to insist on clearly is which one is the authentic text-in my case not the manuscript which is conceived of as a propositional sketch; and most certainly not the printed version, which represents the work and interpretational notation of someone else; but the present state of the typescript which comes from and is in my own working hand and Eye as concept ongoing." Hand and eye-the phrase is a reflection of that other lifelong determination, that (as he put it in that prefatory note to the first Ground Work) "the cadence of the verse ... [is] related to the dance of my physical body."
Such insistences seem to lead Duncan, as Peter O'Leary and Norman Finkelstein have both suggested, to view especially his text in the late sections of "Passages" as sacred, as Scripture, authoritative and definitive, and immutable. But the question is difficult to resolve, and for some readers Duncan hedges the issue. "I am a Christian non-Christian," he told his audience in the course of remarks prefatory to a reading of "The Dignities" at the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Buffalo, February 1982; "I stand in Poetry not in religion.... I am entirely a man of poetry":
No question but that my poetry is a poetry of spirit.... I have been described as a mystic poet; my only possible mysticism is the experience I have of language, which to me is pure spirit and to me is something more than eternal and since I cannot account to how I experience it, it isn't a concept, I have I guess language mysticism. Er. And as a matter of fact in language I encounter God. This is almost a prelude to the fact that in my, my poetry is visionary, that is I see things in as I write the poem I'm not describing things I saw somewhere else, the poem opens up the vision immediately to me and in the visions of this thing the poem-vision does not decide that it's going to map what you want to see.
The vision is conjured through an intense winding-in. The concentrated, complex, and Kabbalistic convolutions of the late poems-attained especially through cross-linguistic puns that both focus and widen linguistic attention in such "Passages" as "Et" and "In Wonder"-together centripetal and centrifugal, achieve this effect by showing that (as "Passages 33 Transmissions" has it) "the language is not ours/and we move upward beyond our powers." Thereby they draw the reader into an uncertain but bodied realm of potential meaning, and the text that Duncan insists remain stable is nevertheless fluid and uncertain. Early in 1976 Duncan started (but did not consistently maintain) a three-year project in which he would write poems only in French, a language in which he was not at all certain, and during a visit to Paris in 1982 risked a short lecture in French as well as a few poems. The late poems, the series of "Passages" gathered in Ground Work II, are written in a language in which no one is at home, no one is native, no one is settled.
The onset of kidney disease, which first showed in 1982 and became severe in 1983 and 1984 (he would be on dialysis four times a day until his death, 3 February 1988), had the somewhat bizarre and grimly ironic but thankfully brief effect, in late 1983, of abolishing the written and printed word, taking it away: "I couldn't read at all," he said later; "words were just black squiggles on a white ground, they did not mean anything at all." After he regained language he managed the preparation of the first volume of Ground Work for publication, but had to rely extensively on the work of others for the second. In January 1985 he wrote, from a dream, his last poem, "Hekatombé." This was not published until 1996, as a broadside from Frontier Press, and is included as the last poem in this volume.
With the exception of the opening poem in The Opening of the Field, the texts of poems published in that book, as in Roots and Branches and Bending the Bow, are fairly straightforward. Book publication quite soon followed magazine publication; in the middle and late stages of his writing life Duncan was in any case much more self-assured and confident in his poetry and revised very little. Often, he would on the typewriter simply transcribe the notebook draft, almost verbatim but adjusting the spacing, and then compose directly on the typewriter. Subsequent versions, frequently made after performing the poem before an audience (or in preparation for such a performance), closely adjusted the text to provide what Duncan saw as a more accurate notation of the sound of the poem, what he sometimes called a score. "Metrics, as it coheres, is actual" he had written in 1955 in "Notes on Poetics Regarding Olson's Maximus": "the sense of language in terms of weights and durations (by which we cohere in moving). This is a dance in whose measured steps time emerges, as space emerges from the dance of the body. The ear is intimate to muscular equilibrium. The line endures. It 'feels right.'" Texts therefore changed, often minutely, but once the poem appeared in a book it became fixed, and by the time The Opening of the Field was in press he had had worked out certain principles of notation.
In August 1959 when he returned the corrected proofs of what was still called The Field to Macmillan (at that time the publisher) he accompanied them with "General Remarks," which explained:
Many poems have inner lines with established inner margins. Beginning from the left these will be referrd to as first, second, and-where it appears-third inner margin.
ex. in poem #2:
our articulations, our
It is| the j|oy that exceeds pleasure.
| You h|ave passed the count, she said
The first and second margins should be standardized (in the typescript they vary) according to the taste of the typographer. The third inner margin where it occurs depends upon aligning certain elements in the poems that are related in measure and meaning so that their interrelation is evident to the eye.
Later, Duncan would be less indulgent of the typographer's "taste." In November 1970, in the pamphlet included in the limited edition of Tribunals: Passages 31-35, he called "the printer's work, where the poet himself is not the printer,... an extension of the author's intention; the typed copy, where the poet works in typing, is the realized statement of those intentions." He discounted the worth of the printed copy on the grounds that "subject to close-space conventions of modern printing, in striving for a homogenized density of type on the page against open spaces," it overrides the typed version's "notations of the music of the poem, minute silences in the space after a comma or a period."
With the phrase "homogenized density of the type," Duncan clearly does not have in mind what typographers know as the "weight" of a typeface, but is concerned with problems of spacing, both vertically on the page (what printers call "leading") and horizontally, between letters and words. The weight of the face seems of comparatively little moment to Duncan-in very few of the texts he personally set (on his typewriter) does the weight of the Greek match that of the roman, and in his switching, not only in "Santa Cruz Propositions" but elsewhere, from pica (10-pitch) to elite (12-pitch), or from Courier to Prestige or Letter Gothic, the chosen typewriter-face threw sections of the poem into uneven visual prominence. It is certainly true that in many instances, though proportional type may have smoothed out the possibly somewhat blotchy appearance of varied typewriter fonts, Duncan was dismayed by printers' apparent inability to observe his leading and spacing requirements; in the case of periodical publication he rarely if ever got to read proof, and consequently had little or no control of the text's appearance.
He was especially vexed by the appearance on the page, both in broadside and in Sulfur, of "In Blood's Domaine" (Ground Work II), and on 31 March 1982 filled three close-packed pages of Notebook 69 with "Notes on printing errors in 'In Blood's Domaine'," which may have become the basis of the prefatory essay on notation in the first Ground Work. He commented among other things that "syntactic junctures signalled by" punctuation indicate "changes in stress and pitch," and that "the special verse syntax of the reifying juncture (as in 'of the / table' of 'of / the table' is renderd by a rise in pitch (suspension) at the end of a line and an increased stress at the beginning of the following line. As follows: line 11.12 'its / appointed time'-the stress falling on the noun, unless the adjective be italicized or put in quotes." He paid especially close attention in these notes to spaces between words, to "lines of silence," and to inner margins. Pauses, that is to say, change intonation, and the text of the poem is a form of musical score. Lines 2 and 3 of "In Blood's Domaine," he explained, read "'to the head' (suspense) space a half = a stresst measure of silence, charged with silence-'Baudelaire, Nietzsche, Swift' called out like stations, announced, space a half silence, line 4 'are not eased into Death' announced-its possible belonging to a sentence in which 'Baudelaire, Nietzsche, Swift' could be the subject is suspended." A line of silence, he continued, "can be given any count of one-two-three; or two-four-six beats" but should be consistently performed. "Marginal inner orders" form "sets," and in his litany of complaint pointed to the failure of the printers to observe these sets. "Am I the only contemporary poet whose space is both measured and meaningful?" he asked.
Hence, he insisted that Ground Work: Before The War appear in typescript format, and provided the book with a three-page preface, "Some Notes On Notation" (printed in full at the appropriate place in this volume), which emphasized the meaningful role silence and patterns of silence play in the poems, and instructed the reader on "the performance of the reading." Though he was quite right to distrust "close-space conventions of modern printing," he was nevertheless under some misapprehensions regarding the current resources of proportional type. Editions of his work had, in the past, suffered from the vagaries of mechanical typesetting, as in for example some lines of "The Venice Poem" in Selected Poems (1959), where the linotype machine, automatically spacing the words, in several instances widely spaced them at even one-en intervals, suspending each word in a small but highly visible pool of white, visibly affecting the rhythm. Monotype casting suffered similar limitations if lines were not manually (and expensively) adjusted by hand. But technology changes, and with the advent in the 1980s of sophisticated film-setting and computer-setting systems, it became possible-and fairly easy-to match the abilities of proportional type to the demands of Duncan's typewriter text, his "primary 'score' of the poem." It thus became possible for New Directions, with Duncan's approval, to issue Ground Work II: In The Dark (published in late 1987) in conventional (and proportional) fonts.
Both volumes of Ground Work, however, present quite serious and on rare occasions even insoluble problems. It is quite likely, too, that there are some undetectable errors in the texts, for Duncan's ill-health sporadically interfered with his preparation of the final typescript of the first Ground Work, and radically complicated and disrupted the preparation of the final typescript of the second. In 1980 he started teaching in the New College Poetics Program in San Francisco, and in 1981 joined a group of poets to work through Homer's Iliad in Greek. 1983 saw the onset of kidney disease, though it was not diagnosed until 1984 or 1985. He was able to continue teaching and writing, once he started dialysis treatments, but all such activity from 1983 on was sporadic, what with fainting spells, bouts in hospital, blood-pressure problems, an attack of peritonitis in 1985, a broken collarbone in 1986, and a general breakdown in health.
His health difficulties seem largely to be responsible for his decision to enlist the help of others, some of whom were in his Homer group, in typing his manuscripts and in proofreading. Several pairs of hands relieved Duncan of the burden of typing, but he supervised the preparation and correction of the typescripts as closely as he could; Jess seems to have taken a hand in reading proof. Overall, there seem to be very few errors indeed in the texts of Ground Work: Before The War, but transcription skills vary with each typist/copyist, and the papers for Ground Work II occasionally follow the pattern where a new error is introduced in the correction of an old (and then persists), or where an initial mistranscription, unnoticed in proofing, carries through into the next version. There are also, needless to say, cases where Duncan himself was in error (deliberately or not), and the error persists through all versions of the poem, from holograph to print. The many typed versions of poems in Ground Work II seem to have been made on the same typewriter, and all on the same kind of paper; since none is dated, and none identifies the typist, it is impossible to sort a chronology for the various transcriptions or grant authority to one version rather than another. Overall, there are very few problems indeed that could not be resolved by referring to the original holograph notebook version where such exists. These are discussed in the notes to the poem concerned, but it is useful to summarize an instance here to illustrate what the notes to the poems attempt to cover, and how the text printed in CLPP was determined.
The fourth line of "Quand Le Grand Foyer Descend dans les Eaux" (in Ground Work II) in holograph reads "La scève monte et ... what what is today's beauty?" This version occurs in at least four typescripts, and in two published texts (a broadside issued by Intersection in March 1981 and in Hambone 2 [Fall 1982]). At an indeterminate stage in the preparation (by several hands) of the various typescripts one of which provided the copy text for the New Directions edition of Ground Work II, scève was changed to scène, presumably as a correction, but without discernable authority, and this is the version published in Ground Work II. Scève is not a French word (but is a French name), and presumably one copyist, at some stage in the transcription, knowing at least some French, read it as a typo and changed it to scène, which of course is a word in French. Unfortunately, in context the revised version makes perhaps no more sense than the presumed error, even if it means "stage scenery," or refers to the whole scene Baudelaire is describing. Maurice Scève (c. 1501-c. 1564) was a French poet, whose long Petrarchan love canzone Délie was in Duncan's library-but in context his name is no more intelligible than the nonce word. In the course of its first eighteen lines (plus title) the poem quotes, in French, a passage from Baudelaire's essay on the Salon of 1846. Duncan's own knowledge of French was somewhat uneven, and his initial use of scève may be presumed a mistranscription of Baudelaire: none of the typescript versions bears a proofreader's correction to line 4. The word in Baudelaire is sève, sap: The sap rises. Duncan's consistent faith in the potentiality of meanings opened up by error, his sense of "the multiplication of meanings only misreading frees in us" (as he put it in his essay on Jabès), coupled with the poem's "having to do with spelling, with error, with words" is ground for the restoration in this edition of Duncan's original (nonce) reading; the alternative readings, necessarily, are recorded in the note to the poem.
In the 2006 reprint combining the two volumes of Ground Work in a single volume, new errors were introduced, as in "Before The Judgment" (on page 34 of the 2006 printing) where seven lines from the foot of the page, "slowly, piecing out this passage" becomes "Lowly, piecing out this passage" with the "L" in the wrong typewriter font-a silent correction presumably made to compensate for the loss of two letters incurred when the text was photocopied for this edition. The notes in CLPP do not record such errors. The one-volume edition also incorporated textual corrections-also incorporated here-which Duncan himself had authorized after receiving a printed copy of the book in late December 1987, and corrected Duncan's Greek in "YOU, Muses" (Ground Work II), but not in "Et" (Ground Work II), where the Greek was disastrously garbled by a typesetter or typist who had no knowledge whatsoever of the Greek alphabet. Duncan consulted various friends about his Greek, especially about accents-notably Norman Austin, Norman O. Brown, and James Hillman-and the Greek text in CLPP draws, where possible, on the holograph versions in his notebooks, or typed versions, where they are available-the texts as published frequently introduced errors, either through ignorance or carelessness. A note on the copyright page of the single-volume edition of Ground Work says that other errors (besides those corrected in "YOU, Muses") "were not emended as Duncan regarded such mistakes as evidence of his own imperfect knowledge of these languages." Given the general unreliability of the foreign languages in the published versions (especially but not only in the two volumes of Ground Work), CLPP where possible takes Duncan's own manuscript or typescript versions of poems as authoritative (his Greek, for example, is frequently correct in his notebook, but not in print) and if necessary silently offers corrections in the notes. Erin Mouré was especially helpful with all the French, and Robert Bringhurst and Jan Zwicki with the Greek.
Establishing dates of composition for poems is, as discussed in the Introduction to CEPP, challenging, though overall less so than in CEPP. Two poems, "Santa Cruz Propositions" and "Ancient Reveries and Declamations" (both in the 1984 Ground Work), incorporate into the text false dates of composition, deliberate in the case of the first, possibly accidental in the second. The reasons for the changed dates are not at all clear. As a general rule, Duncan arranged in chronological order of composition the poems in each of the volumes gathered in CLPP. Following the pattern set by CEPP, for each poem the dates of composition and the source of copy text appear in the notes, followed by details of its periodical and (usually subsequent) book publication during Duncan's lifetime. Textbook anthologies are not included.