Robert Duncan: The Ambassador from Venus has been in print for almost six months now, and I’ve had time to think about what’s next. Biography writing feels a little bit like marathon running. You finish the race, say you’ll never do that again, and then start dreaming about another marathon. Another biography? Not now, no. Instead I’m returning to one of those key words of poetry: economy.
In the motherhood sphere I stalk around the edges of the blog rolls of the “simplicity parenting” movement. Think of “back to the land” in child-raising terms: less youtube, more quiet time, and an emphasis on simple family rituals. Having spent fifteen years engaged in a “saturation job” about Robert Duncan (as Charles Olson referred to such adventures in scholarship), I’m happy to inhabit the domain of “simplicity poetry.” The towering bookcase of research notes on hermetic brotherhoods, Ezra Pound, and San Francisco history are packed away. The eleven hundred page manuscript that dominated the desk, the floor, the couch, and the kitchen table, has been replaced with that tidy shiny cloth-bound book, filed on the shelf with all things Duncan.
The work on my plate right now is simple. Every day I seek out or stumble upon a three word phrase that I like and I write it down in my notebook. Some days I remember to do this, other days I don’t, but over time the phrases accumulate into a collage of fragments of thoughts. The project began in August of 2009, partly as a counterbalance to the labor of biographical prose writing, and partly because in the midst of caring for my infant daughter I could just about muster the energy to find my notebook and scrawl down a phrase or two. I assumed that once the biography was launched and my family was sleeping through the night again I’d move on from this kind of casual hunting and pecking for language. Now it turns out that I don’t have a desire (or inspiration from the muse) to change course. Besides, three words a day gathered over three years feels like the beginning of a book-length poem . It will take a couple decades, sure, but what’s the rush?
Perhaps this focus on “simplicity poetry” is an opportunity at mid-career to stop thinking about where the next poem’s going to come from and where it’s going to be published. It’s a strategy Duncan also took up after the arrival of Bending the Bow in 1968—a vow of a fifteen year silence from publishing in order to create the space for new poems to sprawl unhindered by the demands of poetry business. (Ground Work I: Before the War subsequently appeared in 1984). I’m not shunning publishing (the first chunk of my three-words project was kindly printed by The Song Cave in 2010 as Amedellin Cooperative Nosegay.) But I am enjoying a laissez-faire attitude about what I do. January 7th would have been Robert Duncan’s ninety-fourth birthday. I’m celebrating it with a phrase from his marvelous essay “Man’s Fulfillment in Order and Strife”: “Words send me.” Today I’m counting on words to be sent to me—as they please, and in their own time.
Lisa Jarnot was born in Buffalo, New York, in 1967. After studying with the poet Robert Creeley at the University of Buffalo, she earned her MFA from Brown University. Her poetry is known for its startling yet inviting aesthetic. Jarnot has commented, “I think poems are always collage on some...