Reading Duncan Reading
“Editors Stephen Collis and Graham Lyons have pitched their gathering perfectly by focusing on Duncan’s concept of derivation, the very stuff of Duncan’s rhetoric and the origin of his immense lyric power. Not only will this book be a major contribution to the scholarship on a very important (post)modern poet, but it will also shed light on the consuming question of what happens to poets when they read the work of their precursors and contemporaries.”—Norman Finkelstein, Xavier University
“Reading Duncan Reading makes a significant and indeed important contribution to its field; no other book currently considers the topic at any length or in any sustained way. It should be of interest to students at any university in North America and abroad, and will appeal to anyone else interested in modern American poetry and the work of Robert Duncan.”—Peter Quartermain, professor emeritus, University of British Columbia
In Reading Duncan Reading, thirteen scholars and poets examine, first, what and how the American poet Robert Duncan read and, perforce, what and how he wrote. Harold Bloom wrote of the searing anxiety of influence writers experience as they grapple with the burden of being original, but for Duncan this was another matter altogether. Indeed, according to Stephen Collis, “No other poet has so openly expressed his admiration for and gratitude toward his predecessors.”
Part one emphasizes Duncan’s acts of reading, tracing a variety of his derivations—including Sarah Ehlers’s demonstration of how Milton shaped Duncan’s early poetic aspirations, Siobhán Scarry’s unveiling of the many sources (including translation and correspondence) drawn into a single Duncan poem, and Clément Oudart’s exploration of Duncan’s use of “foreign words” to fashion “a language to which no one is native.”
In part two, the volume turns to examinations of poets who can be seen to in some way derive from Duncan—and so in turn reveals another angle of Duncan’s derivative poetics. J. P. Craig traces Nathaniel MacKey’s use of Duncan’s “would-be shaman,” Catherine Martin sees Duncan’s influence in Susan Howe’s “development of a poetics where the twin concepts of trespass and ‘permission’ hold comparable sway,” and Ross Hair explores poet Ronald Johnson’s “reading to steal.” These and other essays collected here trace paths of poetic affiliation and affinity and hold them up as provocative possibilities in Duncan’s own inexhaustible work.
J. P. Craig
Sarah E. Ehlers