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This review is taken from PN Review 95, Volume 20 Number 3, January - February 1994.

THE COLLECTIVE OF RICHES ROBERT DUNCAN, Selected Poems edited by Robert J. Bertholf (Carcanet) £9.95
ELEANOR WILNER, Otherwise (Phoenix Books, University of Chicago Press) hb £21.95, pb £9.50
SUSAN HAHN, Incontinence (Phoenix Poets, University of Chicago Press) pb np

Robert Duncan has been dead five years now, so this selection provides an opportunity for assessing his achievement and plotting the trajectory of his career. The problem is that he remains a somewhat elusive figure, defined by his allegiances - to H.D., Olson, the poets of the San Francisco renaissance - rather than offering the reader an immediately accessible poetic identity, much less a personal one. Even though he can be a very frank writer - 'rising tides that sweep me towards him/homosexual?' - one doesn't necessarily have a clear idea where that frankness is coming from.

Duncan's early phase, from the mid-Thirties to the early Fifties, demonstrated that a poet of the post-modernist generation (which is not the same thing, of course, as a post-modern poet, as Duncan's own development was to reveal) could be just as reckless and over-the top as the late romantics - unsurprisingly given the way Yeats and Pound kept that tradition available (and then there's Stevens, of course, to whom, later in his career, Duncan directs an elegy). This is a poetic of plenty - indeed, horny in more ways than one, a 'blood red penis' supplementing the unicorn's more tactful projection. There's also a Muse, a swan, a lion, a red-haired woman with heavily indolent thighs, plus her companion with withered dugs who (nevertheless) has a gleaming vulva. Oranges are scattered on the greeny-gold of grass. We hear about the 'glittering fay', 'bearish magickers/makers of lightnings in half-sleep of furry ...


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