Wrath Moves In the Music:
Robert Duncan, Laura Riding, Craft and Force
In a letter dated November 9, 1967 and covering the delivery of manuscripts from his correspondence with John Crowe Ransom, Robert Duncan summarized for the bookseller Henry Wenning the significance of his involvement with the distinguished poet, editor and New Critic:
At last, the conference over (and as it turned out, Ransom did not come after all; he was recovering from an illness), I am sending the Ransom correspondence. I think the two groups, as they are, 1944 and 1957, make an interesting particular record of the problems my generation faced as writers with the editor of The Kenyon Review. And it was in extension the opposition we faced with Partisan Review, Hudson Review, Southern Review, Sewanee Review...
Duncan had known Wenning since the early Sixties, when they struck a deal. Wenning, a collector-publisher with a close connection to the department of rare books and manuscripts at Washington University, would sell Duncan first editions in exchange for certain small press publications Duncan had been bringing out since the late Forties. Under contract with Wenning since the early Sixties to publish A Book of Resemblances (1966), Duncan considered selling him the Ransom letters for several years, and perhaps delayed in hopes that a renewed acquaintance with Ransom would salvage the auspicious occasion of their correspondence. If so, Duncan’s decision to sell Ransom’s letters suggests that one phase of his hopes for a poetic order had come to a rest.
Let’s say Duncan wished to defend poetic wisdom from Ransom — buffered by Levertov and the theologians — in a moment of political crisis. The crisis is the condition of War, but the war at home is among those on the left — ‘a challenge to good-minded people,’ as Riding, thirty years earlier, described the moment Duncan was recuperating. The poem Duncan wrote to close the meeting of theologians and poets begins: ‘Yes, I care deeply...’ and photographs from the event picture the bearded poet in an open-collared shirt (over a white tee-shirt) and corduroy sports coat with a peace-sign pinned to his lapel. This little bit of symbol-making testified to the poem’s defense of the creative will:
Yes, I care deeply and yet
These lines figure the creative will as an indolent carefulness of the body. Later in the same poem Duncan refers to ‘my hands counting,’ and would have performed the lines conducting their metre with thumb and forefinger pinching an imaginary baton; the body becomes the source of the speaker’s measure, as the exotic eye of the butterfly stares like a wild-eyed chemist (‘four factors of something’) at his creation. Duncan enacts the alchemy of eye and hand in his composition, which admits lost signs into something he’s making.
Standing before the advancing line of men on guard, it seemed at first futile to speak to them. They were under a command that meant to overcome or to terrify us, a force aroused in the refusal to give even the beginnings of a hearing... Encircled, it seems as if only we few standing here had life still striving in us. We must begin where we are. Our own configuration entering and belonging to a configuration being born of what ‘we’ means.
Duncan performs a slippage between the writer as activist and the writer as reader here. At first, ‘the doctor’ refers to Spock, the author-activist. In the revision (‘No...’), however, Duncan’s identification with Spock circulates into sympathy for Spock’s put-upon readers, and those showing their hostility are any reader put-upon by the demands of a modernist, approximate, poet-activism. The hostility is that due both poet and activist when they habilitate one person.
1. Modernist Vernaculars
In late 1943, The Kenyon Review, under Ransom’s editorship, accepted Duncan’s poem, ‘An African Elegy.’ After the poem had already been typeset for the Fall, 1944 number, Wallace Stevens submitted ‘The Auroras of Autumn’ to The Kenyon Review; whether or not this was actually as fateful to the inclusion of Duncan’s poem as Ransom suggests it was, Ransom had anyway read an essay Duncan published in the August 1944 Politics, ‘The Homosexual in Society,’ and wrote to Duncan withdrawing the acceptance: I am distressed, and I invite your opinion...Originally I thought your poem very brilliant, and it occurred to me that Africa was a fine symbol for whatever was dark in the mind, and that you explore the symbol well ...But since then you have written the courageous piece in Politics in which you say that the homosexual poets have usually symbolized their abnormality and palmed it off on the innocent ‘little magazines.’ And you propose in the future that they be less furtive....But...why then should not they sublimate their problem, let the delicacy and subtlety of their sensibility come out in the innocent regions of life and literature: In the same sense, that is, in which repressions cause great works of art which have no recognizable relation to the repressed desires...As to the present poem...it seems to me to have obvious homosexual advertisement, and for that reason not to be eligible for publication.
I will not take the actual world for granted, I said.
The allegory Duncan finds by interviewing a feminine other-voice in encounter with which he is made to admit the long and short, the weights and the degrees of penetration, carries identifications with homo and humanist immanent to a universal world, not yet actualized. Duncan’s speaker struggles agonistically with this ‘unyielding Sentence that shows Itself forth in the language as I make it’ over the authority of the statement. The speaker does not take for granted what the written poem has made actual upon being read, yet that the speaker desired it to be actualized can only be read in ‘living changes’ of the Sentence’s syntax, the measure of his desire.
Both versions were by Louis Armstrong and both versions, in their very different ways, were good. But the older record was pure, sweet, unforcedly forceful, and great; and the new was adulterated, sugar-and-spiced, forcedly much less forceful, and sadly urbane, saved only by the musicians’ essential innocence of their decline, and by what remained of Armstrong’s great warmth and talent. The children liked both records. But the one they played, over and over again, was the new one. It was in their idiom (406).
Irony may be regarded as the ultimate mode of the great minds — it presupposes the others. It implies first of all an honourable and strenuous period of romantic creation; it implies then a rejection of the romantic forms and formulas; but this rejection is so unwilling, and in its statements there lingers so much of the music and color and romantic mystery which is perhaps the absolute poetry, and this statement is attended by such a disarming rueful comic sense of the poet’s own betrayal, that the fruit of it is wisdom and not bitterness, poetry and not prose, health and not suicide. Irony is the rarest of the states of minds, because it is the most inclusive; the whole mind has been active in arriving at it, both creation and criticism, both poetry and science... Mr. Frost’s poetry...contains plenty of this irony (463).
Irony, for Ransom, is a habit of mind that ‘contains’ what it includes. The mind must not dishonorably create: Poetry, like philosophy, usefully consoles us when ‘defeat humbles the proud spirit of a mortal [who] perceives that the object, which is the world, is too formidable to be controlled altogether by the subject, which is oneself’(461). It was the effort of a number of young American poet-critics from this period — each of whom also enthusiastically debated the cultural implications of T S Eliot’s religious conversion, and the difficulty, entailed by modernism, for an education by poetry — to develop an understanding of reading poems less mechanistic than Ransom’s input-output model, with its empirical human subject attempting to control, or contain, an objective world.
The difficulty is to be settled not by trying to write poetry that the Philistines can understand but by outdistancing them in the very race they have set. For while poets have been the parasites of the spiritual world, sucking up the old essences, these others [the robber baron-Philistines] have suffused the physical world with the breath of creation, they have turned visions into actualities. The artist too must turn producer: and his visions must be begotten... in the steady light of a life he not only confronts but, because he enters upon it fortified by personal faith alone, even creates.
Riding and Allen Tate, along with (Brooklyn resident) Hart Crane, were close friends among the Greenwich Village bohemia in the fall 1925. In late December of that year, Riding sailed for England, to take a position within the family of Robert Graves (whence to initiate a 13-year literary collaboration). At the same time, Crane took up residence for almost four months in the Woodstock, NY home of Tate and Caroline Gordon, until animosity between the three resulted in Crane’s seeking refuge in the Caribbean. Two months later, commissioned by T S Eliot to write (for the Criterion) an essay Eliot ultimately turned down, Tate attempted to reconcile Ransom’s orthodox dualism with his former lover’s ‘personal faith alone.’ ‘Mr. Ransom’s note [on Frost and poetic discontent],’ Tate courteously acknowledged, ‘implies a brief for a sound epistemology of poetry — but only as the specific possibility of poetic knowledge enters into the general possibility of any sort of knowledge. It describes general intelligence, not specific poetic intelligence.’
Although in private conversation, at every table, at every editorial board, one knows that a great body of modern art is perpetuated by what almost amounts to a homosexual cult; although hostile critics have opened fire in a constant attack as rabid as the attack of Southern Senators upon ‘niggers’; critics who might possibly view the homosexual with a more humane eye seem agreed that it is better that nothing be said. Pressed to the point, they may either, as in the case of such an undeniable homosexual as Hart Crane, contend that they are great despite their ‘perversion’ — much as my mother used to say how much better a poet Poe would have been if he had not taken dope; or where it is possible they have attempted to deny the role of the homosexual in modern art, the usual reply to unprincipled critics like [Thomas] Craven and [Thomas] Hart Benton in painting to assert that modern artists have not been homosexual.
In the groves of Africa from their natural wonder
Duncan’s literary birthright, as John Ashbery has remarked, was a linguistic ebullience he heard in poetry of the Thirties, before Europe’s collapse deadened the lively debate among the New Humanists of the post-World War I period. But in correspondence with Ransom, Duncan draws on this debate in terms of how the lines’ occasion (the myriad contingencies of the writer’s situation) and the reader’s encounter with them are to be construed in relation to their productivity — the multiplier of their implication. While Duncan agrees with Ransom that the sexual inferences of the ‘An African Elegy’ are ‘inescapeable,’ he is quite careful in his initial reply to Ransom’s withdrawl of the acceptance never to use the word symbol to refer expressly to the language of his own poem. He admits that ‘Negroes, Africa and the black of love are all symbols of subconscious forces,’ and he admits that his poem traffics in these idioms. But he adds, ‘the theme of the poem...is not homosexuality; nor does the darkness stand for homosexuality. The dark continent in the poem is not what one hides, but what is hidden from one.’
In the forties, a socially conscious film historian said to me, ‘You know, Paramount never made a good movie,’ and I brought up the names of some Paramount movies — Easy Living and Trouble in Paradise and lovely trifles like Midnight — and, of course, I couldn’t make my point, because those movies weren’t what was thought of in the forties as a good movie. [The thirties comedies] entertained you without trying to change your life, and yet didn’t congratulate you for being a slobbering bag of mush, either. But by the forties these were considered ‘escapist entertainment,’ and that was supposed to be bad. Many of the thirties comedies, especially the Paramount ones, weren’t even ‘artistic’ or ‘visual’ movies — which is why they look so good on television now. They also sound good, because what that historian thought of as their irresponsibility is so much more modern than the sentimentalities of the war years. What was believed in was implicit in the styles of the heroes and heroines and in the comedy targets; the writers had an almost aristocratic disdain for putting beliefs into words. In the forties, the writers convinced themselves they believed in everything, and they kept putting it into so many bad words.
2. American Craft Lore
Several months before he submitted ‘An African Elegy’ to The Kenyon Review, in the spring of 1942, Duncan — then 23 years old — began reading Laura Riding. Kael attests that it was their habit to read authors together — frequently an author’s entire corpus — and exchange letters (when they were on different sides of the country) or have ‘talkfests’ when they were together. So we may assume he’d read a good deal of Riding’s work when, about a year later, Duncan wrote to her for the first time — perhaps soliciting work for View (to which he was then a contributing editor) and inviting Riding, when next she visited New York, to stay with him and his new wife, Marjorie McKee. Her reply, undated but likely from June 1943, and with a Wabasso, Florida return address, survives:
Duncan’s side of this correspondence does not survive. Nor did the Jacksons visit New York that year. Duncan’s marriage was floundering, and in early 1944 he found himself floating around the Southern United States — his letters to Pauline Kael record his visit to Wabasso, and the desperate period of identity crisis during which he took money for sex. To his biographer, Ekbert Faas, however, he reported having paid a visit to Riding in February or March, 1944 — a visit to which no record attests other than the oblique one Duncan put down in his daybook, begun on March 10, 1961, and published in the second section of his ‘The H.D. Book’:
In her argumenting Laura Riding could play the Old Sow of Maenawr Pennarrd very well indeed, devouring the world if need be. She liked playing Witch, Mrs. Story, Dame Death, and Poetry Herself, and talking with men who would be poets like an older and naturally superior sister.
By casting Riding in the role of ‘the Old Sow of Maenawr Pennarrd,’ a resuscitated figure from Robert Graves’ The White Goddess (1948) who remains independent of the male magician’s rod and eats her young farrow, Duncan at once reckons Riding’s threat to himself while he commits her to Graves’ craft lore, his ‘historical grammar of poetic myth.’ I propose to return her to Duncan’s craft lore — in which she only infrequently appeared — for it’s in this latter role that she contributed to Duncan’s effort to re-think the limits and relations of words and powers that most engaged his historical imagination.
O Lasting Sentence,
‘Law’ thereafter figures in ‘Structure’ among what Duncan will later call ‘the persons of the poem,’ and by suggesting that Duncan claimed for the vernacular a regulatory role in Pound’s law of materials I suggest that Duncan’s interest in craft lore goes deeper, and suggests allegiances less conscious, more mechanical, even, than he was always prepared to admit: bluntly put, Riding’s presence in these lines, and Duncan’s reading of her presence — ‘Laura Riding posed herself as Dame Poetry and came to suspect even herself of misrepresenting herself’ — makes Pound’s lore responsible to the call of revelation (FC 125, YC ix).
Glare-eyed Challenger! serpent-skin-coated
Duncan’s historicist’s othography (‘deliverd,’ ‘reard’) is one sort of modernist materialization, no doubt (the habit runs across the work). Nonetheless, the lines should be read as re-composing the first section’s language (or ‘persons’), which invokes the Sentence, the numbers (‘the feet that measure the dance of my pages’ [SOR I] echoing Pound’s definition of logopoeia), and the snake who, conventionally, demonstrates the phallic prowess of knowing, or having had experience, gained only through an encounter with mystery — here, and again quite conventionally, for Duncan wishes no great refinement, the Sufi whirling dervish he carefully admits is ‘not what one hides, but what is hidden from one’: ‘my dervish-invisible that time is up — My time is up?’ The speaker’s sentences, bound by the logic of the letter (they terminate in periods), dance circles around the speaker’s presumption that he can know ‘my time’. The narrative point of view thus shifts back to the ‘he’ of the first two sections — whose ‘false tongue,’ from the standpoint of the lion without disguise, had been ‘most man’ (in SOR II) — and will shift again before the poem closes.
After a shower, the mirror
Whereas “Structure III” begins with Duncan unfolding within the dancing tranquility of mind that is the poem’s allegorical terrain, it closes lyrically, in an Eliotic reflection on mortality (promised by ‘Swung in your arms, I grow old’), in which the speaker’s ‘uses’ have been ‘revealed,’ in all their accumulation, through the instance of their being implication in a language of craft lore.
The Waste Land and The Cantos are based on the principle of collage, the dramatic juxtaposition of disparate elements without commitment to explicit syntactical relations between elements. A ‘historical sense’ and ‘psychoanalysis’ are structurally equivalent to the degree that they are in direct conflict with the collage principle. They are both strategies for combating the apparently chaotic collage landscapes of human experience and turning them into linear narratives with a clearly articulated plot. It is not easy to see what these systems offer a poet unless he was convinced of their truth, which would, I suppose, mean either that it would be relevant to some purpose... or else that these systems conformed more perfectly than any other with a vaster system of representations to which the poet was committed for some valued reasons.
Antin’s first sentence defines collage as an idiom within the group culture of modernist poetics, an idiom, as it happens, I think Duncan goes about appropriating quite differently, but which any reader of his work will recognize. What’s fascinating here is how the lack of ‘commitment to explicit syntactical relations between elements,’ however this may misconstrue what the ‘elements’ actually are, serves Antin as a defense for Eliot and Pound’s cultural radicalism, for the breathtaking ease with which we’ve been ‘structurally’ disabused of history and an inner life, not to speak of any ‘vaster system of representations,’ to which we may be ‘committed for some valued reason’ — a phrase with the rot of The Days of Rage all over it. Pound and Eliot’s radical formalism is held out for; nowhere is it pressed to the point, as Duncan had been by Ransom.
 Robert Duncan, letter to Henry Wenning , 9 November 1967, Robert Duncan papers, Washington University libraries, St. Louis, MO.
 A Duncan letter dated 21 November, 1962 helps clarify the relationship: RD requests that Wenning be on the alert for books with which he either wanted to fill out his personal collection, or needed for his ‘H. D. Book’ project, begun in early 1961. The books include four Gertrude Stein titles and two Seizin Press (co-owned by Laura Riding and Robert Graves) editions, the categories overlapping in the case of Stein’s An Acquaintance With Description; the other Seizin was Riding and Graves’ Epilogue II. Duncan also requested copies of Pound’s first series of Exile; the editions of the Cantos subsequent to the first; the limited editions club Ulysses; and three early Zukofsky editions. Washington University Libraries, St. Louis, MO.
 Tony Stoneburner, ‘Introduction,’ A Meeting of Poets and Theologians to discuss Parable, Myth and Language (Washington D. C.: College of Preachers, 1968), 4.
 ‘The H.D. Book’ was published in serial form (in separate magazines) over twenty years. ‘The Truth and Life of Myth,’ originally published in the abbreviated form of Duncan’s talk at the seminar in Stoneburner’s edition of its papers, was subsequently printed as a limited edition (NY: House of Books, 1968), and collected in Robert Duncan, Fictive Certainties (New York: New Directions, 1985). Bending the Bow (New York: New Directions, 1968). (The former is hereafter cited FC; the latter BB.)
 I’ve culled from various accounts in representing Duncan’s 1967 Washington D. C. visit. For Duncan’s participation with Resist, see Denise Levertov, ‘Some Duncan Letters – a Memoir and a Critical Tribute,’ in Robert Duncan — Scales of the Marvelous, edited and with an introduction by Robert J. Bertolf and Ian W. Reid (New York: New Directions, 1979). For an account of the Resist group’s direct action, see Mitchell Goodman, The Movement Toward a New America: The Beginnings of a Long Revolution (New York: Knopf, 1970) and Norman Mailer, The Armies of the Night — History as a Novel, The Novel as History (New York: New American Library, 1968). For another, quite different account of the Resist actions, see Noam Chomsky, American Power and the New Mandarins: Historical and Political Essays (New York: Vintage, 1969).
 RD’s comments on Emerson, and ‘reading his Emerson dark,’ can be found in ‘The Self in Postmodern Poetry,’ Fictive Certainties (New York: New Directions, 1985), 226.
 Spock was the baby doctor [and Resist leader] whose book on childcare was a reliable self-help guide for a generation of baby boom parents; nonetheless, by the Sixties he was as well-known for his liberal politics as his book and, with Martin Luther King, Jr., frequently mentioned in the days before the Palmer House debacle as deserving a spot on a possible New Democratic Party 1968 presidential ticket. Such a ticket never eventuated, because of sectarian divisiveness among radical democratic activists meeting at the Forum for New Democratic Politics at the Palmer House (in Chicago) in September 1967. The movement toward an independent ticket later developed into the Eugene McCarthy-Allard Loewenstein campaign in 1968, and somewhat later, the Democratic Leadership Council, from whence Bill Clinton emerged.
My supposition that Duncan walked behind Spock is based on the descriptions in Mailer and Chomsky of the several phalanxes of the march, one of which was led by Spock, and Duncan’s own description, in the preface to Bending the Bow, of walking behind a ‘doctor,’ one of whose attributes is that he has ‘readers’.
 Simone Weil, ‘The Iliad or, The Poem of Force,’ translated by Mary Mc Carthy, Politics (November 1945), 321. The essay was originally published in France in 1940.
 In a January 1946 letter to his friend Art Wiser, Macdonald commented: ‘The response to [Weil’s article] surprised me; I thought it was a great political article, dealing with the moral questions implicit in terrible events one reads about in every day’s newspaper, which was why I played it up so prominently in the issue. But I had not expected such an overwhelming reaction from readers. Nothing I’ve yet printed seems to have made so deep an impression. The only people who didn’t understand how such an article had a place in a political journal were – and I think this profoundly significant – all of them Marxists. To a Marxist, an analysis of human behavior from an ethical point of view is just not “serious” – even smacks a little of religion.’ Michael Wrezin, A Moral Temper: The Letters of Dwight Macdonald (Chicago: Ivan R Dee 2001), 129.
 Any reading of Homer that the classically-trained Weil offered her contemporaries might well have been characterized as a meditation on poetic craft, but in taking force and limit as her themes, Weil quite explicitly condemns modern Western societies for having consigned craft and limit to the lexical ghetto of aesthetics and studio-process – a technique (merely), something only poets need be concerned with – and warns that the excessive exposure Western military weaponry entails will only rebound against these societies in the form of Nemesis: ‘For they do not see that the force in their possession is only a limited quantity; nor do they see their relations with other human beings as a kind of balance between unequal amounts of force. Since other people do not impose on their movements that halt, that interval of hesitation, wherein lies all our consideration for our brothers in humanity, they conclude that destiny has given complete license to them, and none at all to their inferiors. And at this point they exceed the measure of the force that is actually at their disposal. Inevitably they exceed it, since they are not aware that it is limited. And now we see them committed irretrievably to chance; suddenly things cease to obey them. Sometimes chance is kind to them, sometimes cruel....
‘This retribution, which has a geometrical rigor, which operates automatically to penalize the abuse of force, was the main subject of Greek thought. It is the soul of epic. Under the name of Nemesis, it functions as the mainspring of Aeschylus’s tragedies. To the Pythagoreans, to Socrates and Plato, it is the jumping-off point of speculation upon the nature of man and the universe. Wherever Hellenism has penetrated, we find the idea of it familiar. In Oriental countries which are steeped in Buddhism, it is perhaps this Greek idea that has lived on under the name of Kharma [sic]. The Occident, however, has lost it, and no longer even has a word to express it in any of its languages: conceptions of limit, measure, equilibrium, which ought to determine the conduct of life are, in the West, restricted to a servile function in the vocabulary of technics [of or pertaining to art, craft]. We are only geometricians of matter; the Greeks were, first of all, geometricians in their apprenticeship to virtue.’ Politics, November 1945 (brackets and italics mine).
 Gandhi’s writings on non-violence began to appear here after his trip to England in the early Thirties. See Joan V. Bondurant, Conquest of Violence: The Gandhian Philosophy of Conflict (Berkeley, CA: 1965).
 The contemporaneous response of Samuel Charters is among the strongest in this line: ‘It is particularly difficult for a poet like Duncan because he is writing at a time when the aesthetic of the poem has already come to terms with the loss of the audience.... Duncan is not responsible for the contemporary aesthetic of the poem and his work often does break through the sour limitings that surround the modern poem.’ (Some Poems/ Poets: Studies in American Underground Poetry Since 1945 [Berkeley: Oyez, 1971], 47.) (italics mine) Charters’ is an orthodox New Left critique of modernist-limit, but see also Robert von Hallberg, American Poetry and Culture 1945–1980 (Cambridge: Harvard, 1985). Describing Duncan, along with Olson and Ginsberg, as ‘poets with systems,’ von Hallberg looks askance at Duncan’s political writing in Bending the Bow, suggesting it’s historically opportunistic: ‘Duncan could indict the Democratic administration for falsehood and hypocrisy, and no one would be surprised or moved in any way.... [He was] wheeling out the big guns for fixed targets’ (39, 144).
 See Stephen Fredman, The Grounding of American Poetry: Charles Olson and the Emersonian Tradition (Cambridge, U.K.: CUP, 1993). Fredman’s fascinating study, a kind of Jeremiad against American literature, quite self-consciously misappropriates Duncan’s valuation of ‘groundwork’ (which Duncan likely translated from Riding’s use of the German word ‘weg’, characterizing the Expressionist avant garde in Though Gently [Deya, Majorca: Seizin, 1930, 21]), to explore what he sees as repeatedly enacted gestures of ‘grounding’ in the work of Olson, Creeley and Duncan. Fredman stages a kind of rivalry between two tendencies within the transcendentalist tradition: the Thoreau-Olson side, which Fredman sees as responsibly engaging the crisis of subjectivity and linguistic productivity through self-inscription, ‘a method of grounding their writing, which I call “containment”’ (ix), and the Emerson-Duncan side, whose gestures of circling and drawing the line neither contain nor inscribe but are in continual need of historicist criticism to support themselves, and so show themselves to be essentially groundless. Fredman draws on a remark of F O Matthiessen about our 19th century writers’ failure to be great poets: ‘’The writing of poetry becomes inordinately difficult without a living tradition to draw upon and modify’’ (115). I take it that Fredman thinks such a living tradition would provide the ‘ground’ he suggests is an absolute warrant to write – to produce. I approach this question somewhat differently, from Duncan’s ‘ground,’ if that’s the word, in the modernist response to the New Humanism (with its emphasis on production and the politics of limit), and especially his periodic re-engagements with Stein and Riding.
 The praise offered Duncan upon the first of the Groundwork volumes being passed over in all the major poetry prizes was solicited by Thomas Parkinson for a special Duncan-issue of Sagetrieb (Fall-Winter 1985), and neatly exemplifies the generosity that seems to have characterized his late reception. Here poets from Mark Strand and Charles Wright to Ishmael Reed to Carolyn Kizer and John Montague greet Duncan with praise, and yet the first generation of his critics, appearing in this volume and a similar one Ironwood put out a year or two later, seem to be students.
 John Crowe Ransom letter to Robert Duncan, 26 October 1944, Robert Duncan papers, Washington University Libraries, St. Louis, MO. (Ransom’s first letter herafter cited WU.)
 John Crowe Ransom letter to Robert Duncan, 6 December 1944, Robert Duncan papers, Washington University Libraries, St. Louis, MO.
 John Crowe Ransom letter to Robert Duncan, 1 March 1945, Robert Duncan papers, Washington University Libraries, St. Louis, MO.
 For example, sometime before August 23, 1957 (Duncan’s side of this later end of the Duncan-Ransom correspondence is not included in the Washington University collection), Duncan submitted to Ransom’s The Kenyon Review a batch of poems that may have included at least part of the (then-sequence, and not series) ‘The Structure of Rime.’ Ransom responded (in part): ‘A great innovation will take the new poetry beyond his [the reader’s] experience, so that he feels rather resistant when he meets it and sees what demands it makes on him. At the moment I have that kind of resistance [to your submission]. My feeling about your verse, and the poetic prose work [likely to have been ‘Structure of Rime’ — only one other prose poem from the period survives in published form, ‘Three Pages From a Birthday Book’], is that it has too much refinement in the fantasy for my taste, which probably means for my experience and my expectation of poetry. It requires a great feat of accomodation from your reader. We have had that sort of thing from Joyce, of course, and in a different way from Pound. I am still in the position of liking to go with them a little while, and then turning back.’ John Crowe Ransom letter to Robert Duncan, 23 August 1957, Robert Duncan papers, Washington University Libraries, St. Louis, MO. Nothing if not patient, Duncan replied to this letter by submitting to Ransom’s The Kenyon Review several more pieces, this time those he considered to be in ‘closed forms’: ‘The Ballad of the Enamord Mage,’ and ‘The Ballad of Mrs. Noah.’ Ransom replied that he liked the poems but that he was passing the editorship on.
 That Duncan could experience self-alienation for not taking a more active role in Vietnam War resistance was, unfortunately, Denise Levertov’s argument in her ‘Critical Tribute’ to Duncan – where she goes so far as to suggest that his inability to participate more fully in group activism was the cause of his high blood pressure. But as I argue, anyone who fails to account for the humanism in Duncan’s critique of modernism also risks viewing him as alienated. That Ransom thought Duncan failed in his craft effort Duncan himself responded to in his 1956 poem ‘Poetry, A Natural Thing,’ which quotes Ransom’s rejection letter: ‘a little heavy, a little contrived’.
 Laura Riding, ‘The New Barbarism, and Gertrude Stein,’ transition 3 (June 1927), 159. Subsequent citations from this essay adopt the slightly revised text of the chapter in Contemporaries and Snobs (London: Jonathan Cape, 1928) in which it appears, and will be cited CS.
 For Duncan’s sense of himself as a humanist, see the interview he did with Burton Hatlen and Michael Andre Bernstein, SAGETRIEB (Vol. 4, #s2-3) Fall 1985.
 Robert Duncan, The Opening of the Field (New York: Grove, 1960), 12.
 Gregory D. Sumner, Dwight Macdonald and the politics Circle (Ithaca: Cornell, 1996), 106. Sumner uses the lower-case orthography for Macdonald’s magazine, which published two Duncan pieces in the waning months (August 1944 and January 1945) of the war.
 See, for instance, the recent retrospective glance at the Port Huron Statement by one of its authors, Tom Hayden, and Dick Flacks (‘The Port Huron Statement at 40,’ The Nation [Aug.5/12, 2002], 20). Here the whole legacy of the New Left is perceived not in terms of nonviolent direct action, but in terms of what Hayden and Flacks call ‘democratic humanism,’ a phrase nearly indistinguishable from the one Sumner puts in genteel shock quotes – cultural radicalism. Hayden and Flacks: ‘We were trying to transform the mass society into a civic society.... [P]articipatory democracy flowed from John Dewey’s writings of the 1920s and ‘30s.... He argued that such participation is necessary both for the general welfare and for the fullest development of individuals, and that such a principle should be applied not only in the political sphere as we understand it but in the spheres of family and childraising, in school, in business and religion.’ For Hayden and Flacks the cultural wing of Cold War student activism took its cues from ‘listening to Bob Dylan and rock and roll. SDS [Students for a Democratic Society] represented the first defections from the mainstream’(19). The problem with this account is not that modernist cultural radicalism is consigned to the fine print (though it is); the problem is with a popular culture the radicalism of which is staged in positivist, sociological terms.
 See Robert J. Bertolf, editor, Robert Duncan A Selected Prose (New York: New Directions, 1995), 38–39: Here Duncan adds a new preface to a revised version of the essay that erases all trace of its genesis as a response to the Louise Bogan-James Agee discussion of psuedo-folk first published in The Partisan Review.
 Robert Duncan, ‘The Homosexual in Society,’ Politics (August 1944), 209. In footnotes and in the body of this essay, I’ll refer to four separate printings (and of one, an addended errata) of this article: 1. The original Politics publication, as well as an errata printed by the magazine several months later; 2. The first reprinting (without correction), in Ekbert Fass, Young Robert Duncan: Portrait of the Homosexual in Society (Santa Barbara: Black Sparrow, 1983); 3. the 1985 first printing of Duncan’s 1959 revision in the little magazine Jimmy and Lucy’s House of K (January 1985); 4. the reprinting of the revision in Robert J. Bertholf, ed. Robert Duncan A Selected Prose (New York: New Directions, 1995). Unless noted, all references are to 1. above, the original version (with errata) in Politics; hereafter cited HS.
 Duncan’s discussion of camp as a group-vernacular appears to have been widely overlooked. In her notorious Partisan Review essay on the subject, Susan Sontag informs us that ‘apart from a lazy two-page sketch in Christopher Isherwood’s novel, The World in the Evening (1954) [camp] has hardly broken into print. To talk about camp is therefore to betray it.’ See Against Interpretation and other essays (New York: Farrar, 1966), 275.
 James Agee, ‘Psuedo-Folk’ in Agee on Film Volume 1 (New York: Putnam, 1958), 404–410. Louise Bogan, ‘Folk Art’ in A Poet’s Alphabet (New York: McGraw Hill, 1970), 137.
 A important source for this group – Agee, Duncan and Pauline Kael – was certainly John Dewey’s 1931 William James Lectures at Harvard, published as Art As Experience (New York: Perigee, 1934). (Page numbers hereafter cited in the text.)
 Duncan later wrote a critique of View he published in his friend Sanders Russell’s magazine, The Ark. See ‘Reviewing View, an Attack,’ reprinted in Faas, Young Robert Duncan.
 A footnote Duncan added to the 1959 revision of ‘The Homosexual in Society’ clarifies this point. Duncan recounts his attendence at a round table discussion on modern art in San Francisco in 1949, where a conflict emerged between Frank Lloyd Wright and Marcel Duchamp in which – in Duncan’s words: ‘both showed the courage of forthright statement, bringing the issue publicly forward, which I lamented the lack of in 1944: Wright (who had been challenged on his reference to modern art as ‘degenerate’): ‘Would you say homosexuality was degenerate?’ Duchamp: ‘No, it is not degenerate.’ Wright: ‘You would say that this movement which we call modern art and painting has been greatly or is greatly in debt to homosexualism?’ Duchamp: ‘I admit it, but not in your terms... I believe that the homosexual public has shown more interest or curiosity for modern art than the heterosexual — so it happened, but it does not involve modern art itself.’’ Duncan continues: ‘What makes comment complicated here is that, while I would like to answer as Duchamp does because I believe with him that art itself is an expression of vitality, in part I recognize the justice of Wright’s distaste, for there is a homosexual clique which patronizes certain kinds of modern art and even creates because, like Wright, they believe both homosexuality and the art they patronize to be decadent and even fashionably degenerate’ (SP 40). Duncan’s comment clarifies my point above in that his ‘distaste’ is for the alienation that would rely on Wright’s (or, analogously, Ransom’s) moralism to achieve camp pleasure. The pop appropriation of camp aesthetics in the Sixties thus asserts that pleasure is pleasure is pleasure – and it’s all good. But just so, pop partakes of the disproportion of means to ends that (Wright’s, though by no stretch Ransom’s) functionalism meant to correct.
 This is the specific charge of George Elliott’s September 1944 attack (in Politics) on the magazine, which singles out its alienated young cultural critics (here Paul Goodman, as well as Duncan) for particular disdain. Duncan responded to Elliott in the January 1945 issue.
 Duncan quotes Admiral’s remark in his 1953 ‘Pages From a Notebook.’ See SP, 20.
 See Richard Rorty, Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth Century America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 1998), 34.
 For a contemporary example of the cultural politics of limit, see the recent piece by John Nichols on Stephen J Gould in The Nation (June 17, 2002) discusses the Science For the People movement, a network of study and direct action groups that publishes a magazine attempting to build consensus about sustainable science.
 Much of the literary critical debate of this period over the New Humanism was rehearsed by Alfred Kazin’s ambitious study, On Native Grounds: An Interpretation of Modern American Prose Literature [New York: Harcourt, 1942]. Nonetheless, Kazin does not deal with poetry nor with those poet-critics called by Malcolm Cowley the Younger Generation. As it happens, the problems implied by linguistic productivity were much more salient among the emerging communication theorists of the Thirties, who were observing the results of treating words as though they could function like numbers. Riding, especially, was passionately engaged by the flaws in this line of inquiry; it ultimately results in her astonishing magnum opus on lexicography, Rational Meaning: A New Foundation for the Definition of Words (Charlottesville: University of Virginia, 1996).
 John Crowe Ransom, The Calendar of Modern Letters (London), August, 1925. The essay has not been reprinted.
 See C. Hartley Grattan, editor, The Critique of Humanism: A Symposium (New York: Brewer and Warren, 1930). This volume of original essays by young American poet-critics, including Edmund Wilson, Malcolm Cowley, Kenneth Burke, Yvor Winters, R. P. Blackmur, Allen Tate and others, responded to a volume put out earlier the same year, Norman Foerster, editor, Humanism in America: Essays on the Outlook of Modern Civilization (New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1930) that included essays by Paul Elmer More, Irving Babbitt, T S Eliot, and others. Ransom’s own contribution to this debate was the book (discussed later in this essay), God Without Thunder: An Unorthodox Defense of Orthodoxy (New York: Harcourt, 1930).
 Laura Riding Gottschalk, ‘A Prophecy or a Plea’ The Reviewer 5(2) April 1925. This essay is reprinted in Elizabeth Friedmann, Alan J Clark, and Robert Nye, editors, First Awakenings: The Early Poems of Laura Riding (New York: Persea, 1992), 277. Laura Riding Gottschalk changed her name to Laura Riding in late 1926.
 This almost-four month period is the subject of Langdon Hammer’s Hart Crane & Allen Tate: Janus-Faced Modernism (Princeton: PUP, 1993). Hammer does not include Riding in his study.
 Allen Tate, ‘Poetry and the Absolute,’ Sewanee Review (Jan 1927). The essay [hereafter cited PA] has not been reprinted.
 Politics (August 1944), 209. The two reprintings of this essay, in Faas and SP, are both in error with regard to the first sentence above. Where ‘perpetuated’ is used above, Faas and SP incorrectly reprint the original Politics, ‘cheated.’ The original was corrected in the October 1944 Politics (286), and is closer to Duncan’s occasioned sense.
 Robert Duncan, The Years as Catches: First Poems (1939-1946) (Berkeley: Oyez, 1966), 33. Hereafter cited YC.
 C.f. Ashbery’s introduction to Robert Duncan, [a reading] The Academy of American Poets Audiotape Archive, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum 15 April 1969.
 Robert Duncan letter to John Crowe Ransom (undated), Robert Duncan papers, Washington University Libraries, St. Louis, MO.
 Pauline Kael, The Citizen Kane Book (Boston: Little, Brown, 1971), 35-36.
 Duncan reports this fact in ‘The H.D. Book: Part Two, Chapter 9’ Chicago Review 30 (Fall 1979), 46, and adds that he began by reading The Progress of Stories, ‘and within a year had come so under the spell of her authority or the authority of her spell – she confounded the two – that I could feel her scorn over my poetic fumblings...’
 Will Brantly, editor, Conversations With Pauline Kael, (Jackson: Mississippi, 1996), 111.
 Laura Riding, letter to Robert Duncan (undated), Robert Duncan papers, Bancroft Library, University of California-Berkeley. My approximate dating of this letter is based on another Riding wrote at the time, to her step-daughter, Griselda Jackson (cited in Deborah Baker’s In Extremis: The Life of Laura Riding [New York: Grove, 1993], 412), describing repairs they were making to a newly purchased home in Wabasso – this letter is dated 27 April 1943. The abrupt segue in the second paragraph of Riding’s letter suggests to me that Duncan’s initial letter was posted to Deya, Majorca and forwarded to Wabasso.
 Robert Duncan, ‘The H. D. Book: Part Two: Nights and Days, Chapter 9,’ Chicago Review 30, 3 (Winter 1979), 46. Duncan refers here to various figures from the stories in Progress of Stories.
 See Robert Graves, The White Goddess: A historical grammar of poetic myth (New York: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1948), 311, 372. The book-length project of which this essay is part explores the cultural modernism in the work of Riding, Duncan, Kael, Paul Goodman and other writers working out the legacy of the New Humanism. A reprinting of Riding’s 1930 experimental work responding to the New Humanism, Though Gently, was recently undertaken by my literary magazine, Delmar 8, and is supplemented by essays on Riding’s work by eleven poets, scholars, and critics.
 Ezra Pound, Selected Prose 1909–1965 (New York: New Directions, 1973), p. 24. He was reviewing poems by Mina Loy and Marianne Moore that had been published in an anthology.
 ‘An Adequate Vision: A George Oppen Daybook,’ editor, Michael Davidson, Ironwood 26 (1985), 8.
 John Crowe Ransom letter to Robert Duncan, 23 August 1957, Robert Duncan papers, Washington University Libraries, St. Louis, MO
 Eric L. Santner, On the Psychotheology of Everyday Life: Reflections on Freud and Rosenzweig (Chicago: UCP, 2001),5. (Hereafter cited in the text S.)
 Walter J. Ong, S.J, The Barbarian Within and Other Fugitive Essays and Studies (New York: Macmillan, 1962), 265. (Hereafter cited BW.)
 See Christopher Beach, Poetic Culture: Contemporary American Poetry Between Community and Institution (Evanston: Northwestern, 1999); and Juliana Spahr, Everybody’s Autonomy: Connective Reading and Collective Identity (Tuscaloosa: Alabama, 2001).
 David Antin, ‘Modernism and Postmodernism: Approaching the Present in American Poetry,’ Boundary 2 (Vol. 1 Fall 1972). (Hereafter cited in the text.)
 This question falls outside the scope of the present essay because although Duncan was deeply interested in collage (and in both surrealism and Pound’s poetics more generally), The Structure of Rime, as I have argued, is not itself a collage, though the way the series is woven into the fabric of the five books through which it appears may suggest certain affinities. The standpoint of my approach, however, will be just apposite.
 Farewell to an Idea: Episodes from a History of Modernism (New Haven: Yale, 1999), 329. (Hereafter cited FTAI.)
 T J Clark, ‘Origins of the Present Crisis’ (New Left Review 2 Mar/April 2000), 95. Clark responds here, at least partly, to recent work by Fredric Jameson who, long ago dismissing the American New Critics of the Twenties and Thirties from his survey of contemporaneous revolutionary formalisms, had written: ‘[The] familiar split between avant-garde art and left-wing politics was not a universal but merely a local, Anglo-American phenomenon.’ The Prison-House of Language: A Critical Account of Structuralism and Russian Formalism (Princeton: 1972), 45.
 Quoted in FTAI (372), from Hegel’s discussion of the Unhappy Consciousness in the Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. Arnold Miller (Oxford, 1977).
 Walt Whitman, The Eighteenth Presidency! A Critical Text edited by Edward F. Grier (Lawrence: Kansas, 1956). Duncan quotes from this text in ‘The Fire, Passages 13’ (BB 44).
Jeff Hamilton is a poet-scholar teaching at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. His poems are presently appearing in Fence, LVNG, and Sou’wester; an article on Robert Duncan’s ‘Letters: Poems 1953–1955’ is forthcoming in The Chicago Review. He is working on a book on Duncan and linguistics, and edits the journal he founded, Delmar.
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