Written in the mode of the long poem associated with Louis zukofsky's "a," William Carlos williamss pater-son, and Charles olsons the maxmus poems (see long and serial poetry). Robert Duncan's Passages (otherwise known as "the 'Passages' poems") demonstrates a poet's deep commitment to various mythopoetic traditions and his view of poetry as a "grand collage" (Introduction vii). Influenced by Ezra pound's the cantos, h.
D.'s spiritualism, and Olsons notion of composition by field (see ars poéticas), Passages is a significant feature of Duncans mature work. "Passages 1-30" appear in Bending the Bow (1968); "Passages 31-37" appear in Ground Work (1984), along with three other unnumbered "Passages," since Duncan stopped numbering them in order to deny a linear coherence. Ground Work II (1987) contains an additional 13 "Passages." Intended to be a meaningful part of the individual books in which they were published as well as "the unfolding revelation of a sentence beyond the work" ("Some Notes" xi), the "Passages" poems are intricately connected to Duncan's other writing. "An Illustration Passages 20," for instance, is also number XXVI of Duncans other major series the structure of rime, and "Passages 36" is included in a separate set entitled A Seventeenth Century Suite.
Passages is a series of poems without end, engaging simultaneously with aspects of history, myth, memory, aesthetics, imagination, and identity. Beginning with an epigraph from the Emperor Julian, which reads, in part, "For the even is bounded, but the uneven is without bounds and there is no way through or out of it," "Tribal Memories Passages 1" introduces the questions of form and formlessness. Romantic in his belief that the artist is one who searches for meaningful patterns, Duncan considers correspondence an immanent characteristic of language, and subsequently he views the field of the poem as something to be yielded to rather than overly controlled. The poems recognize that "Chaos / and the divine measures and orders / so wedded are" ("Transgressing the Real," Passages 27 ), and that: "Not one but many energies shape the field" ("Transmissions," Passages 33 ).
Welcoming puns, etymologies, errors, silence, fragments, and disruptions, Duncan "works with all parts of the poem as polysemous, taking each thing of the composition as generative of meaning" (Introduction ix). Two notable poems in Passages include "The Torso Passages 18," a celebration of homosexual love, and "Up Rising Passages 25," which critiques the United States military presence in Vietnam. Later "Passages" grow more insistent on the dissolution of imaginative boundaries as a way to overcome the darkness of corrupt politics and spiritual stagnation: "There is truly no direction no 'center' to the 'center' our sounding / goes out as we go out no cir cumference to the 'circumference'" (Untitled ).
Passages mixes poetry and prophecy in an active exploration of the unknown. Focusing on different myths of the past and their continuing influence on the present, Duncan's series favors process over closure and beginnings over endings while acknowledging that each is an inherent part of the poet's creative act.
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