Tuesday, March 11, 2008


"Along with some passages from Boehme's Incarnation of Christ which I copied out, I'm sending a new piece of my own, written after a dream - "The Carpenter" had some references to Christ and that is the first appearance of him in my dreams, I think. (I've many times had appearances of Satan or of Demeter and of God the Father ...)"

The Letters of Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov, Letter 141, September 1959, p210.


This, in turn, led me to 'Roots and Branches' (1964) and the text you, Walrus, are after (poem, text, letter - the categories dissolve).

"I want to tell you why I ran away, hiding everywhere when you came after me. I knew you needed help in your carpentering and that you were good, but you were inexorable ... " ('A Letter', pp 16-21)


This volume has stood - until now - unopened on my shelf. It is stunning.

I am very grateful for you having drawn my attention to it.


walrus said...

OK. I am the walrus. I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.

(1) OMG. You found it. You're a genius! And I'm grateful, as I was contemplating transcribing it for you! FYI the CD is available from the Academy of American Poets shop (www.poets.org) and if you’ve never heard Duncan read it’s astonishing -- esp this poem. I think I’d rather listen to him read than anyone else. I can’t really explain why as he fluffs lines and stuff, but there’s a barely held tension in it all. Also, he’s introduced by John Ashbery, so that’s a bonus.

(2) So, a pedagogic element, you say? I would guess you are spot on, but I have a nagging feeling that there’s more to it and we don’t have enough for a thesis just yet. My feeling is that there are two postwar strands – British poetry and US poetry – and I want to see what happens when these 2 strands are combined, like a double helix. Only by observing them together will we be able to see what has been overlooked or actively ignored in the British strand and how it got itself into such a cul-de-sac. My first thought was to draw up a chronology. Normally each strand gets a chronology to itself, but what if we fuse them together? I’ve started one and it looks something like this:

Poetry timeline 1945-79 (publication of “A”)

TS Eliot, What is a Classic?
Larkin, The North Ship
Stevens, Esthetique du Mal, Descriptions Without Place

E. Bishop, North and South
Lowell, Lord Weary’s Castle
Zukofsky, Anew
Williams, Paterson Book 1

Auden, The Age of Anxiety
Duncan, Heavenly City, Earthly City
Stevens, Transport to Summer
Larkin, A Girl in Winter

Betjeman, Selected Poems
Olson, Y & X
TS Eliot, Notes Towards a Definition of Culture
FR Leavis, The Great Tradition
Pound, Pisan Cantos, The Cantos
Williams, The Clouds, Paterson Book 2

Duncan, Poems 1948-9
Williams, The Pink Church, Paterson Book 3

Auden, Collected Shorter Poems 1930-44
Lowell, Poems 1938-49
Stevens, The Auroras of Autumn
TS Eliot, The Cocktail Party
Zukofsky, A Statement of Poetry
Pound, Seventy Cantos
Williams, Collected Later Poems

Auden, Nones
Langston Hughes, Montage of a Dream Deferred
Larkin, XX Poems
Lowell, The Mills of the Kavanaughs
M. Moore, Collected Poems
Olson, Letter for Melville 1951
Williams, Paterson Book 4, Collected Early Poems

Creeley, Le Fou
Jones, The Anathemata
O’Hara, A City Winter
Olson, This
Leavis, The Common Pursuit
Dylan Thomas, Collected Poems 1934-52

Ashbery, Turandot and Other Poems
Berryman, Homage to Mistress Bradstreet
O’Hara, Oranges
Olson, In Cold Hell, in Thicket, The Maximus Poems 1-10
Stevens, Selected Poems

Betjeman, A Few Late Chrysanthemums
TS Eliot, The Confidential Clerk
Thom Gunn, Fighting Terms
Stevens, Collected Poems
Williams, The Desert Music

Auden, The Shield of Achilles
Bishop, Poems: North and South/A Cold Spring
Creeley, All That is Lovely in Men
Larkin, The Less Deceived
Williams, The Journey to Love

Ashbery, Some Trees
Auden, The Old Man’s Road
Ginsberg, Howl and Other Poems
Bishop, Poems
Creeley, If You
Moore, Like a Bulwark
O’Hara, Meditations in an Emergency
Olson, The Maximus Poems 11-22
Zukofsky, Some Time, Short Poems

Auden, Reflections on a Forest
Gunn, The Sense of Movement
Levertov, Here and Now
TS Eliot, On Poetry and Poets
Ted Hughes, The Hawk in the Rain
Spicer, After Lorca

Betjeman, Collected Poems
Williams, Paterson Book 5
Zukofsky, Barely and Widely

Auden, Selected Poetry
Duncan, Selected Poems
Hill, For the Unfallen: Poems 1952-8
Langston Hughes, Selected Poems
Lowell, Life Studies
Moore, O to be a Dragon
Olson, Projective Verse (1950)
Spicer, Homage to Creeley, Billy the Kid
Zukofsky, “A” 1-12

Auden, Homage to Clio
Ashbery, The Poems
Betjeman, Summoned by Bells
Duncan, The Opening of the Field
Hughes, Lupercal
O’Hara, Second Avenue, Odes
Olson, The Maximus Poems
Plath, The Colossus

Ginsberg, Empty Mirror: Early Poems
O’Hara, “Personism: A Manifesto”
Dorn, The Newly Fallen
Ginsberg, Kaddish and Other Poems 1958-60
Gunn, My Sad Captains
Baraka/Jones, Preface to a 20 Volume Suicide Note
Lowell, Imitations
Olson, Maximus, From Dogtown 1

Ashbery, The Tennis Court Oath
Creeley, For Love: Poems 1950-60
Moore, Eight Poems
Stevie Smith, Selected Poems
Spicer, Lament for the Makers
Williams, Pictures from Breughel

TS Eliot, Collected Poems
Ginsberg, Reality Sandwiches 1953-60
Williams, Paterson Books 1-5

Creeley, “A Sense of Measure”
Duncan, Roots and Branches
Baraka/Jones, The Dead Lecturer
Dorn, From Gloucester Out
Hill, Preghiere
Larkin, The Whitsun Weddings
Lowell, For the Union Dead
Moore, The Arctic Ox
O’Hara, Lunch Poems
Zukofsky, Found Objects 1962-26
Plath, The Bell Jar

Auden, About the House
Bishop, Questions of Travel
Dorn, Geography
Heaney, Eleven Poems
O’Hara, Love Poems: Tentative Title
Plath, Ariel (posthumous)
Spicer, Language
Zukofsky, All: The Collected Shorter Poems 1923-58

Ashbery, Rivers and Mountains
Auden, Collected Shorter Poems 1927-57
Creeley, About Women Poems 1950-65
Duncan, A Book of Resemblances, Of the War, The Years as Catches: First Poems (1939-46)
Heaney, Death of a Naturalist
Moore, Tell Me, Tel Me: Granite, Steel and Other Topics
Spicer, Book of Magazine Verse

Ashbery, Selected Poems
Bishop, Selected Poems
Dorn, The North Atlantic Turbine
Lowell, Near the Ocean
Moore, The Complete Poems
Snyder, The Back Country
Pound, Selected Cantos

Auden, Collected Longer Poems
Dorn, Gunslinger Book 1
Duncan, Bending the Bow, The First Decade: Selected Poems 1940-50, Derivations: Selected Poems 1950-6, Names of People
Ginsberg, Planet News 1961-7
Gunn, Touch
Hill, King Log
Olson, Maximus Poems IV, V, VI
Prynne, Kitchen Poems

Auden, City Without Walls and Other Poems
Berryman, Dream Songs
Bishop, The Complete Poems
Dorn, Gunslinger Book 2
Duncan, Play Time Pseudo Stein
Heaney, Door into the Dark
Lowell, Notebook 1967-8
Spicer, A Book of Music

Baraka/Jones, It’s Nation Time
Ashbery, The Double Dream of Spring
Creeley, The Finger: Poems 1966-69
Duncan, Poetic Disturbances
Hughes, Crow
Olson, Archaeologist of Morning
Pound, Drafts and Fragments of Cantos CX to CXVII

Auden, Academic Graffiti
Gunn, Moly
Hill, Mercian Hymns
Spicer, The Red Wheelbarrow
Zukofsky, All: The Collected Shorter Poems 1923-64

Pound dies
Ashbery, Three Poems
Auden, Epistle to a Godson and Other Poems
Baraka/Jones, Spirit Reach
Creeley, A Day Book
Duncan, Poems from the Margins of Thom Gunn’s Moly
Ginsberg, The Fall of America: Poems of These States 1965-71, New Year Blues
Heaney, Wintering Out
O’Hara, Collected Poems (posthumous)
Spicer, The Ballad of the Dead Woodcutter, Some Things from Jack
Zukofsky, “A”-24

Duncan, A Seventeenth-Century Suite
Lowell, For Lizzie and Harriet, The Dolphin

Auden, Thank You Fog (posthumous)
Baraka/Jones, Hard Facts
Dorn, Recollections of Gran, Apacheria
Duncan, An Ode and Arcadia, Dante
Gunn, Mandrakes
Larkin, High Windows
Spicer, 15 False Propositions About God, Admonitions, An Ode and Arcadia

Ashbery, Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror
Dorn, Gunslinger, Book 1-4
Heaney, North
Hughes, Cave Birds
Spicer, A Lost Poem, The Collected Books of Jack Spicer, There Is an Inner Nervousness in Virgins
Zukofsky “A” 22 and 23

Creeley, Selected Poems
Gunn, Jack Straw’s Castle

Ashbery, Houseboat Days
Bishop, Geography III
Ginsberg, Mind Breaths: Poems 1972-77
Hughes, Gaudette
Lowell, Day by Day

Dorn, Hello, La Jolla
Hill, Tenebrae

Ashbery, As We Know
Baraka/Jones, Am/Track
Creeley, Later
Heaney, Field Work
Hughes, Remains of Elmet
Zukofsky, “A” (posthumous)

It’s still a bit of a mess, but have a look. I’m not sure what I’m trying to do here – trying to clarify something in my own mind, I think. My initial thoughts are:

1. Why aren’t these books read together, i.e. in the same context? What would happen to our view of EngLit if they were?

2. Odd conjunctions: 1948, Betjeman and Olson, for instance. Also Leavis and Pound (what did Leavis think of Pound? Less than he thought of Eliot, I suspect). 1954: The obvious gulf between the ambitions of Desert Music and A Few Late Chrysanthemums. 1960: Betjeman again (a particular bête noire of mine, but inexplicably beloved by the nation) and The Opening of the Field. 1964: The strange conjunction of Whitsun Weddings and Roots and Branches. 1966: Death of a Naturalist and Rivers and Mountains! They’re from different worlds. Even more so 1972: Wintering Out and Three Poems (the prose poem such a massive force in US poetry – but EngLit ignores it).

As usual there are other angles to be explored in this quest for some answers, such as:

1) Britain’s postwar decline. Is it relevant to the poetic output of the two nations that one was in post-Empire decline and the other was rising to assume its own empire? Could the (countercultural) confidence of a Ginsberg, say, be a product of America’s rising superpower status? An odd thought. But equally the pessimism of Larkin, the preoccupation with “nature poetry” in EngLit – are they expressions of a national loss of confidence?

2) The stranglehold of Faber and Faber on English poetry. This week, for instance, the Guardian is running a Greatest Poets of the 20th Century list, offering booklets and a CD. They’re ALL Faber poets (see http://books.guardian.co.uk/greatpoets/0,,2258326,00.html). Eliot, as I mentioned before, ran Faber for a while and built up some of this list. That has to be an important factor in our developing thesis.

3) The dominance of a conservative poetics, something like a British version of Silliman’s School of Quietude. That might be worth exploring further...

Jesus, that’s enough for now! I shall waddle back into the sea, I think.

Anonymous said...



. Driving into work the other morning with 'Village of the Sun' playing & humming & drumming along  & think...