More Robert Duncan – 3

More Robert Duncan.   This is the second of three videos.  The first (along with a transcript) is available – here (and continues – here)

RD: How do you feel the first time that you ask for a job? Is it you that does the interview? – No, I think it’s one of these daily persons like the dream-person, like the.. and so forth… And so I have at least these three (sic) realms I’m familiar with. And then we ‘ve got testimony that people live in the realm that religious people live in. We know there’s that other realm, and we know that there are other realms of being, as they have been called.  I.. In fact,, I think we have to take their testimony, and, certainly, I know that, right in this context, the poem seems more real perhaps than some of these other realms. And we’ve been taught that some of them aren’t real, but I’m sure they’re all “real” in the same way. And we listen to their message back and forth.

Well, I wanted… I’d gone for quite some time, six years or so, and I’d always been wondering,.. I wanted a verse-realm to open like that prose-realm, because I knew another kind of… (a) much… almost a higher –  (a “higher”? – that sounds like I was graduating from a high school! – well, it’s “higher”,  like on a mountain and you see a vast vista, and the first shot of it was way up there).. I wondered, well, how come it was only in prose-poems?, wouldn’t something open that would be in a poetry coming after the way that’s (Ezra) Pound’s Cantos? but not at all like Pound’s Cantos is thought of as being a diary, but being a realm that I go to, and see in, and talk, and hear voices, and have instructions myself).

Okay. And so a poem called Passages began. Now in my mind, right away, they were called “Passages”, and I related that to an idea that had been very early in anthropology called a “rite de passage”,  that van Gennep had proposed, that what they were looking at in most religions were rites in which man man made spiritual passage from one being to another  (I was certainly fascinated as a child.. could… .in some sense, were we like a… could we ever be like the worm you got that spun the cocoon that came out from that inert thing and proved to be a butterfly, and went on long, and then…..(and)  so you saw a metamorphosis –  and at least my parents saw to it that I saw them and noticed them where they were taking place).  And you began early to understand and be told the long story of the seed-cycle, from the seed to the plant to the multiplications of seeds to the… to… and saw that as being. Now, in poems, all of the… say they’re only analogies but, it’s like a seeding of language, so it begins to generate itself.

And what most… By the time I started “Passages”, I was most concerned, by this time, about generative language (not expressive language), and in this, quite a change had begun to take place in our contemporary poetry.  I’m concerned with the fact that language generates meanings, not that I do. I attend the meanings that language generates. And I can only attend those meanings that I hear when it’s going on. So I become a poet listening to the poetry – what is it saying? and my whole… my whole… both my craft and imagination is how far can I hear the vast range of human experience that is contained? Our language is, literally, a store-house of human experience, (that’s what the range of meanings are that you find when you research them there – there are ages and ages and ages of human meaning), and, “Gee, what are we?  We don’t get to (act). we participate in it. We don’t put something in there, we go in and particpate, in our larger sense, in which we are human, rather than..   I don’t… there’s enough of me to..  And, (as you can hear right now!), if I, like, talk all the time,.. So I must be.. I must be doing some..  something else in the poem, there must be another me that gets to be there in the poem more true to me.

Now the first hints of this poem arriving.. When I copied the following two “Passages” out in a notebook – Okay – I came back the next day and, all of a sudden, here is this poem. I write –  “Passages 1” –  and I start. And I knew it had started. But, more than that, I looked just above it in the notebook and I thought. “My goodness!, Yesterday I copied out the… I copied out what finally unleashed the possibility in me. It was from the Emperor Julian, Julian, had, at the beginnings of the Christian period, made a reversion back to try and establish the old Greek mysteries in Greece (and they were Neo-Platonic mysteries, after Plotinus and especially after the magic mysteries of Proclus and the late Neo-Platonists). And from Julian’s “Hymn” (Julian is a poet as well as an Emperor, and he wrote hymns to the Gods, again – and from his “Hymn to the Mother of the Gods” – the magnum mater, the two following lines I had written down in my notebook)

“And Attis encircles the heavens like a tiara and thence  sets out as though to descend to earth”

“For the even is bounded, but the uneven is without bounds and there is no way through, or out of it”

That was, the first year of this book (The Opening of The Field) , so that was..1965, 1965, when I copied that passage. This year I found in a Persian mystic, Rumi, who is now, is, a thirteenth-century poet, becoming very influential, later indeed than Julian, an answer to that thing that this opened up, that “the even is bounded but the uneven is without bounds’.  From the Persian mystical poet Rumi, he says, “but love has found a way even to the unbound”.  And this to me is an astounding presumption of love, and yet, as I think, unleashes finally … I think you see in the paradox of this one – it’s unbound, so you can’t get through it, you can’t get beyond it, meanwhile the poem wants.. it has no bounds, and so it’s intriguing that, of course, it would open up everything, because there was a great there out there. And finally, much later, when I  come to the end of it, I come to that “Oh, but that door you thought was a door is open, not closed. (You called it a door because it was standing open, not because it was closed and you couldn’t go through. Why did you talk about “through”, unless you were about to pass through?)

I’ve one other thing to tell you about poetry but I think..  I know that everybody doesn’t experience this when they read, because I once met a graduate student, a woman who graduated and got her degree in the novel, and she revealed at the dinner table, that, when she read she didn’t see anything at all,  I said, “How did you read a novel?”, and she said. that’s why she got her PhD in it, because the only way to get through the novel was the hard way!

Well, my whole idea of writing,. It’s like a movie. When I’m writing, I can barely keep up with what’s going on. And so, one of the great things about being in a poem is, nobody does. A wide-screen movie like the world, that opens up, and especially, I remember – (I’ll read you the first one) – is the exhilaration when this thing started . I didn’t have… The title, by the way, the title for the opening ones, came later, and then the titles become very much part of it in the sequence of “Passages”. But it was a passage into, the first thing you see.

Now I knew ..(that)  it was just very much like a dream, present when I was writing, and was I evoking it?  But no sooner had I even addressed “But to Her-Without-Bounds” (now you see, I’m answering to that line above) – “But to Her-Without-Bounds I send, / wherever She wanders..” – But I tell you, it was .. I wrote “Passages”, and –  “ah, the poem’s beginning!”.  – And then I saw the lines above. And then I saw  “Her-Without-Bounds”,  and I knew the name of..  It was.. That was the name of the woman at the river that handed the other series to me. And I knew she was also the goddess of a wandering tribe of Celts in the Scythian territory in the 2nd century AD, 2nd Century BC, not yet pushed.. not yet pushed south and west (this is like a reincarnation thing by the.. by the Germans arriving, and the Mongols behind them), and that I… And that my mind, was like this thing that we’ve never been able to locate in history, (there’s the semblance of something called the Celtic Empire, (but) you couldn’t find it, because they’re wandering all over the place, (like I do when I talk!), and so, no wonder it’s got the title it has. And now we’ll go with it – okay..

[At approximately eight-and-three-quarter minutes in, Robert Duncan readsTribal Memories] –  (“And to Her-Without-Bounds I send, / wherever She wanders.  by what/campfire at evening…”…..”unawakened.  .unwilling /to sleep or wake”)

In a little group meeting, and reading poems this afternoon, we had a poem that projected the work of the poem as a weaver (and.. a woof and a shuttle – the shuttle wasn’t there, but it was.. it was a picture of weaving).. And while I talked, at that time ,about the tradition in which poetry is a fabric, a fabrication, and that it is a weaving and …raised the picture that poets may very well be…

At the stage of Homer, where is he singing?  Well, we know in one scene that he’s singing in a banquet scene, but a weaving is going on (both Penelope and…Penelope at one end at Ithaka, and at the other end, in Troy, Helen is weaving (they’re weaving the events of that great epic), and it may very well be that the poet is actually singing of a war to the women who are home in the winter time, as they weave.  And that the weaving and the fire and the shadows and light flow through that poem and furnish its emblems and images all the way through. And, actually, while that.. at the time that..  it flows into this poem.

And I thought of it very much as my  thinking of the poem..  In time. I’ve come to realize that quite a number of Homer scholars have this picture of the possibility that we see this. There’s a little redundancy that you drag a poet along to some local war, and have him sing about Troy and what was going on. And, in the pattern of.. one of the most likely,. (especially since women have full control)…

Oh, there’s one more weaver in that poem and that’s Atena,  AthenaAthena tells Odysseus, that, cunning though he is, she’s really a bigger cheat than he is – and she’s been weaving all his trouble too (so there’s a third, so there’s  a weaver in the divine world, and that is also a woman). Now the poet is told, really, you think you’re telling the tale to us, but, really, we the audience, we the audience, have been weaving your mind as you went through it so..     Passages II”   is “At The Loom”

[At approximately thirteen-and-three-quarter minutes in, Robert Duncan reads “Passages II”] (“A cat’s purr in the hwirr thkk “thgk, thkk” of Kirke’s loom on Pound’s Cantos…. …..‘Hektor who raised/that reflection of the heroic/ on his shield…”)

And you saw beginning there, in the motions of my hand, something that was beginning and end, I’ll read where those measures first became defined (one more from those early “Passages”). Ezra Pound, when he did the Imagist manifesto in (sic- circa) 1910 and started one of the strongest reformations of poetry, had made a series of “Don’t’s”, things we were not to do. And among the “Don’t’s” we were not to do, we were not to have a metronome. Now he meant a poem that went ti-tum ti-tum ti-tum ti-tum ti-tum,. right? – and a count. But the only way in which to come close to music again, of course, was to bring a count back in. And I’d particularly wanted to do something that I’d heard taking a place in Weberns music, and then a considerable amount of modern music and that is, certain kinds of syncopation where there were counted silences.  I always wondered when you move from one stanza of a poem to another stanza, how come? – That was meaningless that move, you just moved to a new argument-area, I guess, and the poem just went straight through, but.. to get close with some of the things that were possible in music we had to begin to make all intervals between lines meaningful.

Well, you heard the beginning of a count in those very first “Passages”, and,  I had yet defined but I knew that those… that the silences, you began to hear, between lines..  In order to have a count between stanzas, I had to have a count in a line and be aware of whether I was two or four or three or five, and then I could open up, and then it was very simple. And in “Passages”, when you.. (and those of you who get Bending the Bow), you will find, that, beginning with where it appears, beginning actually, then, very clearly defined, is that, when there is a space between elements  (and there are even one-line stanzas in the poems, there are many one-line stanzas ). When a space appears, that’s a count of one, when two spaces appear, then that’s a count of two, when three spaces appear,  that’s a count of three. But it is.. A lot of it has to do with my feeling of how much is recognizable and I change tempo all the time. So sometimes when I want it to be really felt and feel that the audience will get… it’s…  so it’s a relationship, not a count .. So that’s sometimes two, four, and six, along with it, and… but it’s.. The proportions are kept. And then you begin to feel the count in the lines, Because the lines are not mannered, that is, they are not in the same count, but there is a count again, what Pound said – and Pound, of course, had an intuitive count  (you can’t read The ,Cantos and not know there’s an intuitive count).  But he felt..  But he had banished the one thing that could have given you a count, which is the counterpart of what the mertronome’s talking about the metronome sets tempo doesn’t it? but it has the count in it, and everybody read that we shouldn’ t be counting anything going on in the line). And we’ve got a lot of poetry that couldn’t even dance across the floor. And try a waltz some time when you ain’t counting anything, but just flow on when the music comes – or with no music, by the way, flow into the other drum  (that was.. was a drum there that Thoreau talked about, and there was a count over there),  but, well a lot of people are flowing…. but.  on into that… I’m not doing it…..okay…

And the title of this I… believe me, I felt it, and I thought,  “why can’t I get what I feel in those first poems?”, and I thought about it, and I thought,” Well, I know one thing – you’re afraid to move your hand(s)!, And you’re…, “as a matter of fact”, I thought, “as a matter of fact, you’re afraid to use your body”,  (I had two attacks of sciatica last year, so I’m not sure I’m going to do it the way I was called for, but, what got me with it, I remembered Stravinsky, who got…. He got worse than I am right now,.. but, in 1936, when I heard him first conduct in San Francisco, this was how Le Sacre. was. [Duncan gesticulates] –  And I thought, “Gee, if you’re not willing to do that on a poem, you sure can’t get it to move that way, not on your life can you get it to move, unless you’re really….

… And we’ were all sitting there reading poems,, like.. you know..”flower in the cranny-wall…” (and so on).  That’s not how they did it in that day, but that’s the way we were trying to do it. We were being very polite. And people listening were very polite, very quiet (unless they were throwing things at you – there was nothing in-between you could do).  Okay . I love it!  I love the idea (except you’ve all got chairs), it would be really marvelous to have it in a gym, with everybody moving around, moving in and hearing it, and moving while it’s going on, you know. And so the movement flows everywhere, and breaking up into other movements.

Okay – And so, Where It Appears”  (“Passages IV”)  –  I wrote in that notebook..  (even reading these, it was years ago, but it was so exciting as these little steps came, I..  “It’s going to appear!”,  I knew it was going to appear.)  Okay.  And my hand was going to be in it when it was done right..  “Where It Appears” –

[At approximately  twenty-two-and-a-half minutes in, Robert Duncan reads “Where It Appears”] – (”I cut the warp/ to weave that web/ ,,,,,,,,,in the air/……. and here…” ……. “reflection,    the lure of the world/   I love”   

Now that one, all the way through, it’s two, there’s..  It’s not…  And it’s in this poem one more. In the next one, of course, variety begins to appear, and I found those major silences. I began to see, Yes, you can get the variety in there that you have in the line, you have all the options that you have in the line, that it can be two, four, and whatever, in its measure… And also, I ‘d returned to the caesura, which had been missing, (that is, that in the Renaissance period, commas made the caesura, but when we.. when.. under the firm tutelage of the grammar of the nineteenth-century, punctuation, which originally indicated how did you read it, was made to indicate.. subservient… I would say, it’s corporation punctuation, which never existed before – it tells you when a clause is subservient to another clause. The eighteenth-century, a high -style in the eighteenth-century (and certainly in Shakespeare) don’t use punctuation like in school you’re taught to use it. (I guess they’re letting all punctuation go now!). But.. but, so that it became puzzling in the nineteenth-century, how did you indicate a caesura?, (since the poets maintain, many of them , the punctuation that indicated the caesura)

Now, in this thing, caesura’s are appearing within the line, and,  so you’ve got spaces within the line and got this business of counts in-between, and so forth, opening up the line, with the spacing its elements out.

[At approximatly twenty-five minutes in, Robert Duncan reads “Passages 5 – The Moon” –  (“so pleasing       a light./ round…”…..”Lifted   /Mount Shasta in snowy reverie/   floats”)

to be continued – see here

One comment

  1. OMG this is so enlightening. So wonderful that Mr. Duncan thought so deeply about the topic of rhythm and rhyme in time, and out of rests and at best, the sound of the environment where it was written…that is what I take from this beautiful presentation of language in beat. Beat generation…bongos and smoke. Thank you for giving this the respect of presentation.

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