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Michael Davidson’s Foreword to Robert Duncan: The Ambassador from Venus
Many thanks to Poetry Daily for posting Michael Davidson’s foreword to Lisa Jarnot’s much anticipated biography of Robert Duncan. Here’s a taste of the first paragraph—be sure to jump over and check out the rest!
Robert Duncan’s life offers a particular challenge for the biographer. He was a widely respected, if determinedly controversial, poet associated with the Black Mountain school, but his early career is marked by involvement in a number of significant literary communities. He participated in the Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller circle in the 1940s, the surrealist movement around View magazine during the same period, anarcho-pacifist political movements in New York and the Bay Area, and the Berkeley Renaissance of the late 1940s. He maintained close friendships with the objectivists, initially with Louis Zukofsky on the East Coast and then with George Oppen and Carl Rakosi in San Francisco. Although he retained his loyalty to Black Mountain peers, his oeuvre—which includes ballads, children’s rhymes, masques, and imitations of Edith Sitwell—often seems at odds with the more self-consciously avant-garde work of his contemporaries. Following the success of his 1960 book, The Opening of the Field, and his powerful antiwar poems in Bending the Bow in 1968, Duncan’s reputation expanded internationally: his work was translated into many languages, and his publications extended to mainstream literary journals, academic conferences, and presses. Reading Duncan’s life under the narrow mantle of Black Mountain poetics misses the more erratic trajectory of his career and the eclectic nature of his poetics. Lisa Jarnot’s biography offers a useful corrective.