Saturday, 20 October 2012
This must be Robert Duncan’s year. A volume of interviews has come out with North Atlantic Books and the first volume of the Collected Poems is to appear before the end of the year. Meanwhile I’ve just finished reading Lisa Jarnot’s biography (University of California). It’s a very good book, up there with the Killian/Ellingham biography of Jack Spicer, though not entirely without fault. There’s much detail on Duncan’s Bay Area heritage while his connection with Black Mountain College is less clearly discussed. Certainly his relationships with Robert Creeley and Charles Olson are detailed but you sense that the College itself isn’t deemed so important. Duncan’s poetic was mostly formed by the time Olson took over at Black Mountain (and his relationship with the older poet was not always an easy one). After the publication of Donald Allen’s The New American Poetry Duncan’s life became increasingly more hectic as he made appearances and taught for longer periods at numerous American institutions. These travels and his longer ones to Europe and Australia are recorded here at times somewhat breathlessly though there are still omissions here and there. Duncan’s friendships were varied and crossed boundaries. He got along very well with Elizabeth Bishop, for instance, though they didn’t dwell on each other’s writings or poetics. There is some detail on Duncan’s visit to Australia in the mid-seventies though it mostly focusses on the Sydney connection (Robert Adamson and Chris Edwards in particular). I met him briefly myself in Melbourne at Bernie O’Regan’s house with a group of poets including Kris Hemensley and Walter Billeter. We all read from our work, Duncan characteristically conducting his own reading with waving arm. He was most taken with the work of Walter Billeter, a writer of Swiss/German background living in Australia and working as a poet and translator (Breath Crystal, his version of Celan, published by Robert Kenny’s Rigmarole Press, is very good). Not long after this Billeter stopped writing and disappeared from the scene.