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This article is taken from PN Review 78, Volume 17 Number 4, March - April 1991.

Adventurous Song: Robert Duncan as Romantic Modernist Thom Gunn


ROBERT DUNCAN was proud to call himself a derivative poet. We are all, of course, derivative, but most of us try to cover up our debts when we are aware of them, and to present our work as self-sufficient and self-originating. We are warned by the example of the already mature Theodore Roethke, who acknowledged 'I take this cadence from a man named Yeats,' but took it without adding enough of his own, so that his later poetry is merely a second-hand Yeats. Duncan too fed on those he admired, but like a true cannibal he digested their virtues to make them his, and they rose in him with a fresh life, both recognizable and altered.

The poet who influenced him most - that is, most strongly and most lastingly - was Pound. But Pound with a difference: Pound as meat from which Duncan drew what nourishment he needed, and even that was modified by all the other poets Duncan made part of his diet. This may not be my Pound or yours, not even Olson's or Bunting's, and it is a mark of Pound's greatness that his poetry has been the source of such various strength.

'I was eighteen in 1937 when I first opened A Draft of XXX Cantos ... [and] set out with Ezra Pound as a master upon the adventure of a poetics to come that is not done with,' Duncan recalled, writing for Agenda on Pound's eightieth ...

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