Robert Duncan papers

Special Collections and Archives

Robert Duncan papers

Special Collections and Archives

Robert Duncan papers

Robert Duncan papers

Prepared by Dean Keller; Last updated May 2019


Inclusive Dates: 1942-1978
Extent: .5 cubic foot (1 document case, 1 media box)
Physical Location: 11th floor


Biographical Note: Robert Edward Duncan was born on January 7, 1919, in Oakland, California, and died of a heart attack on February 3, 1988, in San Francisco. Duncan was adopted by the Symmes when his mother died, and therefore he has also written as Robert Edward Symmes. Duncan is best remembered for his role in establishing the San Francisco Bay area as a hub for American poets. Important poet, critic, essayist, dramatist, non-fiction writer, editor, and author of children's books, linked with the Black Mountain School, the San Francisco Renaissance, and the Beat movement. Duncan's poetry reflects his knowledge of history, mythology, mysticism and literature. He believed that composing a poem is a spontaneous act, with no need for any revisions or formal structure. Duncan served as editor of Experimental Review, Phoenix, and Berkeley Miscellany at the beginning of his career. Duncan was the first recipient of the National Poetry Award. His early poems were collected in The First Decade: Selected Poems, 1940-1950 (1968), and Derivations: Selected Poems, 1950-1956 (1968), and his first major volume was The Opening of the Field (1960). Among his works are the Roots and Branches (1964), Bending the Bow (1968), in which with the poem "Up-Rising" he attacks the US government's involvement in Vietnam, Ground Work: Before the War (1984), etc. A major collection of Duncan's manuscripts is archived in the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley.

Scope and Content: This collection includes several manuscript poems, and some of the correspondence between Robert Duncan and his students at Kent State University, when he taught the course "Studies in Ideas of the Poetic Imagination" during Fall 1972. Also included in the collection is his correspondence with Patrick Meanor in which he arranges a reading at SUNY and a poster about a reading he did in Buffalo, New York. Provenance varies and is indicated, if known, for each item within folder contents. Also included are reel-to-reel audiotape recordings of lectures and readings.


Arrangement: The Robert Duncan papers are organized into the following series:

  • Series 1: Manuscripts
  • Series 2: Audio Recordings
  • Series 3: Periodical Publications

Related Material: Special Collections and Archives holds an extensive collection of Duncan's published works. Please search the KentLINK catalog for holdings.


Series 1: Manuscripts

Box 1
Folder -- Contents

  1. 1942, Nov.: Duncan, Robert, 1919-1988. Some work done while at Ashfield, Mass., November 1942. A Sheaf for Dick and Clara [Winston].
    Scope and Content: Autograph Poems Signed. 12p., 27.9cm. Blood is part of me that, I imagine killing men like laying, The snow is on the heath, Variations in praise of Jesus Christ our Lord, Variations upon phrases from Milton's "The Reason of church government", Variations upon the words:... The manuscript also contains 2 small drawings by Duncan.
    Acquisitions Note: Gift of Richard and Clara Winston, Brattleboro, Vermont.

  2. 1947: Duncan, Robert Edward, 1919-1988. Medieval Scenes papers.
    Scope and Content: Typed Document and Autograph Document. 70p., 28cm. Manuscript contains: (1) 1st draft in pencil, 30p. (2) author's notes, Sept. 1962, 4p. (3) Fair copy in ink of The Dreamers through The Kingdom of Jerusalem, 5p. (4) typescript of reading version 1947, 23p. (5) notes 1947, 5p. (6) typescripts of The Adoration of the Virgin and Huon of Bordeaux submitted to New Directions but rejected because of space. Accompanied by a list of contents and note by Duncan outlining restrictions on use of the manuscript. In folder decorated by Duncan. Published by Centaur Press, San Francisco, 1950 (SpecColl PS3507.U629M4).
    Acquisitions Note: Purchased from James R. Lowell, Cleveland, Ohio.

  3. 1957, 24 Aug.: Duncan, Robert, 1919-1988. Three poems in measure one: an open letter.
    Scope and Content: Typed Document. 4p., 28cm. Accompanying the manuscript is an Autograph Letter Signed by Duncan to James R. Lowell giving the background of the work.
    Acquisitions Note: Purchased from James R. Lowell, Cleveland, Ohio.

  4. 1971, 25 Feb: [Duncan, Robert], 1919-1988. To Miss [Christina] Bahler, Kent, Ohio.
    Scope and Content: Sends photograph and biography for Creative Arts Festival.. Typed Letter (xerox). 1p., 28cm.
    Acquisitions Note: Gift of Robert Bertholf, Buffalo, New York.

  5. 1972, 7 Nov.: [Duncan], Robert, 1919-1988, [San Francisco, Calif.] To Carol [Donley, Hiram, Ohio].
    Scope and Content: On myth; poetry; music. Autograph Letter Signed. 2p., 28cm. Accompanied by a carbon copy of Carol Donley' reply. Robert Duncan at KSU, Fall, 1972.
    Acquisitions Note: Gift of Carol Donley, Hiram, Ohio.

  6. 1972, 6 [Dec.]: [Duncan], Robert, 1919-1988, [San Francisco, Calif.] To Mary [McConville, Kent, Ohio].
    Scope and Content: Comments on poetry; W.C. Williams; Wallace Stevens. Autograph Letter Signed (copy). 4p., 28cm. Accompanied by 3 letters to Duncan by McConville. Robert Duncan at KSU, Fall, 1972.
    Acquisitions Note: Gift of Mary McConville, Kent, Ohio.

  7. 1972, 18 Dec.: Duncan, Robert [Edward], 1919-1988, [San Francisco]. To Patrick [Meanor, Kent, Ohio].
    Scope and Content: Provides suggestions to improve Meanor's comparison of T.H. Eliot and W. Steven's poetic technique, written for a seminar taught by Duncan at Kent State University; criticizes and expounds upon Meanor's analysis of poetry as an "exercise or an exorcise"; describes his own work habits and his own interpretation of Elliot and Stevens. Autograph Letter Signed. 8p., 28cm. Robert Duncan at KSU, Fall, 1972.
    Acquisitions Note: Gift of Patrick Meanor, Oneonta, N.Y.

  8. 1972, 20 Dec.: [Duncan], Robert, 1919-1988, [San Francisco, Calif.] To Mary [McConville; Kent, Ohio].
    Scope and Content: Comments on poetry. Autograph Letter Signed (copy). 8p., 28cm. Robert Duncan at KSU, Fall, 1972.
    Acquisitions Note: Gift of Mary McConville, Kent, Ohio.

  9. 1972: McConville, Mary. Notes on Robert Duncan's course "Studies in Ideas of the Poetic Imagination," Kent State University, October 9-27, 1972.
    Scope and Content:  Autograph Document (copy). 88p., 28cm. Accompanied by prospectus for the course. Robert Duncan at KSU, Fall, 1972.
    Acquisitions Note: Gift of Mary McConville, Kent, Ohio.

  10. [1973], 2 Jan.: [Duncan], Robert, 1919-1988, [San Francisco, Calif.] To Ruth [Nurmi, Kent, Ohio].
    Scope and Content: Comments on poetry and music. Autograph Letter Signed (copy). 10p., 28cm. Robert Duncan at KSU, Fall, 1972.
    Acquisitions Note: Gift of Ruth Nurmi, Wayne, Pa.

  11. 1978, 18 Jan.: Duncan, Robert, 1919-1988, [San Francisco, Calif.] To Pat[rick Meanor, Oneonta, N.Y.]
    Scope and Content: Tour will bring him to Western N.Y.; offers to read at SUNY, Oneonta. Typed Letter Signed. 1p., 28cm.
    Gift of Patrick Meanor, Oneonta, N.Y.

  12. 1978, 10 Feb.: [Duncan], Robert, 1919-1988, [San Francisco, Calif.] To Pat[rick Meanor, Oneonta, N.Y.]
    Scope and Content: Arranges a reading; recalls seminar in Kent in 1972. Typed Letter Signed. 1p., 28cm.
    Acquisitions Note: Gift of Patrick Meanor, Oneonta, N.Y.

  13. 1978, 2 Sept.: [Duncan], Robert, 1919-1988. To Pat[rick Meanor, Oneonta, N.Y.]
    Scope and Content: Comments on his current writing and reading; travel. Autograph Letter Signed. 2p., 27.9cm. Gift of Patrick Oneonta, N.Y.

  14. 1978: Duncan, Robert, 1919-1988. Medieval Scenes papers (2) .
    Scope and Content: Contains printer's copy (xerox of original edition), galley proofs (2 sets), page proofs (3 sets), printer's dummy, finished copy of book; business and promotional material. Some material corrected by Robert Duncan. The book was published by the Friends of Kent State University Libraries, Kent, Ohio, 1978.
    Acquisitions Note: Gift of Friends of the KSU Libraries.

  15. no year, 4 Feb-7 Feb.: Poet Robert Duncan at Westminster Presbyterian Church. Poster for a series of readings in Buffalo, New York.
    Physical Location: Filed in the map case.


Series 2: Audio Recordings

Box 2
Contents

  1. 6 reel-to-reel tapes, some unidentified. Partial list of contents: "The Work" lecture in Vancouver; "Medieval Scenes" and "July 23, 1961, re. Olson Lecture."

  2. 16 DVDs digitized from the above 6 reel-to-reel tapes. 


Series 3: Periodical Publications

Physical Location: Items in this series are filed in the map case.

Box 3
Folder -- Contents

  1. Duncan, Robert. "The Homosexual in Society," Fag Rag: A Quarterly of Gay Male Liberation. Number 5 (Summer 1973): 3; 20
  2. Duncan, Robert. "Poet Robert Duncan: Out from Under Olson's Push," The Spectrum. Volume 32, Numbers 54, 56 (February 12 and February 19, 1982): 1, 3; 4, 5.