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Robert Duncan, The Ambassador from Venus
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This definitive biography gives a brilliant account of the life and art of Robert Duncan (1919-1988), one of America's great postwar poets. Lisa Jarnot takes us from Duncan's birth in Oakland, California, through his childhood in an eccentrically Theosophist household, to his life in San Francisco as an openly gay man who became an inspirational figure for the many poets and painters who gathered around him. Weaving together quotations from Duncan's notebooks and interviews with those who knew him, Jarnot vividly describes his life on the West Coast and in New York City and his encounters with luminaries such as Henry Miller, Anais Nin, Tennessee Williams, James Baldwin, Paul Goodman, Michael McClure, H.D., William Carlos Williams, Denise Levertov, Robert Creeley, and Charles Olson.
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Table of Contents

Foreword by Michael Davidson Preface Acknowledgments Textual Notes Part One Childhood's Retreat 1 The Antediluvian World 2 Native Son of the Golden West 3 The Architecture 4 A Part in the Fabulous 5 The Wasteland 6 The Fathering Dream Part Two Toward the Shaman 7 The Little Freshman Yes 8 A Company of Women 9 The Dance 10 From Romance to Ritual 11 Queen of the Whores 12 Enlisted 13 Marriage 14 Divorce Part Three The Enamord Mage 15 The End of the War 16 The Round Table 17 The First Poetry Festival 18 The Venice Poem 19 Indian Tales 20 The Song of the Borderguard 21 The Way to Shadow Garden 22 The Workshop 23 Mallorca 24 Caesar's Gate Part Four The Opening of the Field 25 The Meadow 26 New York Interlude 27 The San Francisco Scene 28 Olson, Whitehead, and the Magic Workshop 29 The Maidens 30 Elfmere 31 Night Scenes 32 H.D. 33 Go East 34 Apprehensions Part Five The Nasty Aesthetician 35 The Will 36 The Playhouse 37 The Political Machine 38 Knight Errant 39 The Vancouver Conference 40 Bending the Bow 41 A Night Song 42 Anger 43 The Berkeley Conference 44 The Sixties Part Six Domestic Scenes 45 The Household 46 The Summer of Love 47 Days of Rage 48 Ground-Work 49 Helter Skelter 50 Santa Cruz Propositions 51 The Torn Cloth 52 Despair in Being Tedious 53 The Cult of the Gods 54 Elm Park Road 55 Riverside 56 The Heart of Rime Part Seven Troubadour 57 An Alternate Life 58 Cambridge 59 The Avant-Garde 60 Adam, Eve, and Jahweh 61 San Francisco's Burning 62 At Sea 63 The Cherubim 64 Alaska 65 Enthralled Part Eight The Master of Rime 66 New College 67 Five Songs 68 A Paris Visit 69 Bard 70 The Baptism of the Blood 71 Hekatombe 72 The Year of Duncan 73 The Circulation of the Blood 74 In the Dark Notes Bibliography Index

About the Author

Lisa Jarnot is a poet and independent scholar. She has taught at Brooklyn College and the Naropa Institute and is the author of four books of poetry, including Ring of Fire and Night Scenes.

Reviews

"A comprehensive, well-researched, and beautifully written biography... Jarnot brings Duncan to life as a gay man and a brilliant poet engaged with the cultural and political issues of his time." Publishers Weekly "An edifying study of a poet who did much to inspire the next generation of poets, and it is an entertaining life story. This book should be looked to as a template for other biographies of twentieth-century poets." -- Daniel Coffey Foreword "A chronicle that should be utterly absorbing for anyone interested in twentieth-century American poetry." -- Ray Olson Booklist "Jarnot's biography offers an eloquent testament to an American poet trying to be responsible to the human spirit... It will compel us all to reread Duncan's poetry-breathtaking as it is." -- Seth Lerer San Francisco Chronicle "For many younger readers, the members of the post-World War II 'San Francisco Renaissance,' like their cohorts among the Black Mountain poets, are little more than names... Posterity winnows ruthlessly, and, rightly or not, the American poets of the 1950s, '60s and '70s who seem to be passing into the canon are largely East Coast folk... This makes Lisa Jarnot's biography of Duncan all the more valuable." -- Michael Dirda Washington Post Book World "Jarnot has done her homework, and she gives readers an exhaustive, meticulously detailed account of Duncan's life... Highly recommended." Choice "In organizing a mass of previously unavailable archive material, Jarnot's study will serve as an indispensable reference text-if not the first port of call-for anyone hoping to make headway through the metaphysical tangle of Duncan's oeuvre... Readers of Jarnot's biography will find Duncan's life realized, at last, in all its fictive certainty." -- Stephen Ross Times Literary Supplement (TLS) "Jarnot is a sensitive reader of literary history and an admiring but not uncritical biographer. She is also not above serving up the scuttlebutt that we've come, as readers, to expect as our literary-biographical due." -- Robert Baird London Review of Books "Lisa Jarnot's biography of Duncan should only stoke further interest in his work. She avoids the usual two pitfalls-worship and apostasy-by cleaving to a style so clean and free of editorializing or psychologizing that it reads like reportage... The result is a book of just the facts: what, where, when and who. And yet Jarnot, a poet herself, is sensitive to the symbols and cycles that defined Duncan's imaginative life." -- Ange Mlinko The Nation

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