Robert Duncan


by David Cope


for Paul Mariah


Duncan's work sometimes puzzled me, though I loved his "Song of the Old Order," "Roots & Branches," "Nel Mezzo Del Cammin Di Nostra Vita," and "Come, Let Me Free Myself."  My only personal memory of him is from the National Poetry Festival in Allendale, Michigan (which also included Rexroth, Ginsberg, Reznikoff, Rakosi, Oppen, di Prima, Dorn, and others).  Robert lectured for two hours, leading his auditors on a merry chase through his various concerns, ending where he began—with an analogy of the boy and girl being graded on the qualities of their kisses, the absurdity of criticism, and Duncan's own affirmation that every effort, every lifestyle, is creative—even those planned out in ticky-tacky suburban houses.  He ended by asking his audience to wait in the lecture hall for five minutes after he finished speaking, so he could be "first in line for the cottage cheese" at the cafeteria.  His reading that evening was enthralling, perfectly paced, electrifying in effect.  I tried to write poems in his style for a year or two after that—failing, of course—who had his erudition?  That command of phrase, who could pick that up overnight?  Because of him, I read The Golden Bough, The White Goddess, and Graves' translation of The Golden Ass—at that time a much needed foray into the divine thrusting of the seasons, the permutations of the liminal and the beasts roaring within, the mysterious voices of rivers, seas, and mountains.