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This article is taken from PN Review 35, Volume 10 Number 3, January - February 1984.

The Swarm of Human Speech C.K. Stead


(In May 1981 I took part in the International Poetry Festival in Toronto as a guest of the League of Canadian Poets. The following notes were prompted by reading and listening to the poetry of Robert Duncan mainly, but also of Denise Levertov. They don't pretend to be a 'criticism' of either poet's work, but represent my wary reflections on practical poetics prompted by the presence of those two notable figures.)


BREAKFAST at the Bond Place Hotel where most of the visiting poets are housed: Robert Duncan comes down early, breakfasts with the first poets to arrive, talks non-stop, moves to another table as his first companions leave, and so on. This way he gets in at least two hours mainly monologue to start the day. His voice is loud, harsh, yet musical and continuous, punctuated by a braying laugh. The first morning, not knowing he is to be among the poets, I think idly that the incessant talker with Henry Beissel (Chairman of the League of Canadian Poets) looks like Robert Duncan who visited Auckland some years ago. Meanwhile a stranger, a lady at my table, says 'I'm a grump in the mornings, I know it, but that man over there. Who is he? I can't stand his voice and I can't stop listening.' I make soothing noises. I'm following his monologue too and I begin to be sure it's Robert Duncan.

Duncan's conversation is in some ways like his ...


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