The Collected Early Poems and Plays

The Collected Early Poems and Plays

The Collected Early Poems and Plays

The Collected Early Poems and Plays


A landmark in the publication of twentieth-century American poetry, this first volume of the long-awaited collected poetry, non-critical prose, and plays of Robert Duncan gathers all of Duncan's books and magazine publications up to and including Letters: Poems 1953-1956. Deftly edited, it thoroughly documents the first phase of Duncan's distinguished life in writing, making it possible to trace the poet's development as he approaches the brilliant work of his middle period.

This volume includes the celebrated works Medieval Scenes and The Venice Poem, all of Duncan's long unavailable major ventures into drama, his extensive "imitations" of Gertrude Stein, and the remarkable poems written in Majorca as responses to a series of collaged paste-ups by Duncan's life-long partner, the painter Jess. Books appear in chronological order of publication, with uncollected periodical and other publications arranged chronologically, following each book. The introduction includes a biographical commentary on Duncan's early life and works, and clears an initial path through the textual complexities of his early writing. Notes offer brief commentaries on each book and on many of the poems.

The volume to follow, The Collected Later Poetry and Plays, will include The Opening of the Field (1960), Roots and Branches (1964), Bending the Bow (1968), Ground Work (1984), and Ground Work II (1987).


Robert Duncan: The Collected Early Poems and Plays is the first of two volumes of a reader’s edition of Robert Duncan’s poetry, plays, and fiction published in his lifetime, or whose publication was authorized by him. It gathers Duncan’s poems, plays, and noncritical prose written from 1938 through 1956, when he completed Letters (published in 1958). The second volume, The Collected Later Poems and Plays, includes work written after 1956, from The Opening of the Field (1960) through the two volumes of Ground Work (1984 and 1987); it also includes what appears to be the last poem Duncan wrote, “Hekatombé,” which was not published in Duncan’s lifetime.

This edition, necessarily, cannot be thought of as complete, since not all Duncan’s publications, in little magazines, catalogues, and similar ephemeral publications, may have come to light. There are also dozens if not scores of poems Duncan inscribed in catalogues, pamphlets, and books which friends and new acquaintances brought to him, an act which might reasonably be considered a form of publication, in that by so inscribing a poem the writer relinquishes control over its readership. Some of these were published after Duncan’s death in 1988, but such writings remain largely unrecorded and emerge for the most part by chance. None of them is included in this edition. Where possible, however, this volume does include those poems which, handwritten in limited editions of books which were for sale, must be thought of as published.

Annotations in this edition are minimal: they contextualize the circumstances of a poem’s composition as well as of its publication where needful, record major textual variations, translate foreign words and phrases and provide their source when possible, and on a very few occa-

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.