CAESAR'S GATE by Robert Duncan with paste-ups by Jess
Sand Dollar, 1972, Second edition, limited to 600 hardbound copies. 71 pp., 6 1/2" X 8 3/4"
When Duncan returned in 1972 to Caesar’s Gate (1955), a book of poems written mainly in 1949 and 1950 (with collages by Jess), he resurrected an earlier work that he had all but repudiated.1 The new Caesar’s Gate has received little critical attention, which is unfortunate because it tells much about Duncan’s state of mind while he was working on his crucial late book, Ground Work: Before the War? In 1970 he suffered the loss of Charles Olson, the poet whom he regarded as the standard-bearer for his generation. At the same time, Duncan, like Whitman during the Civil War, regarded the ravages of the Vietnam War as an attack upon his own person—identifying with the national body and its fateful implication in an imperial war wreaking havoc on Southeast Asia and the United States alike. Another casualty of the war, his profoundly nurturing fellowship with Denise Levertov entered a destructive maelstrom, provoked by disagreement over the proper relationship among poetry, protest, and war. Even more intimately, the Vietnam War provided the occasion for a long-buried source of grief in Duncan’s life to rear its head: contemplating the war caused the homosexual poet to mourn the loss of a son he never had. Reaching more than twenty years into the past to the beginnings of the cold war, Duncan revived the forgotten book Caesar’s Gate as part of the work of moving beyond his Black Mountain period (which had ended with Olson’s death); he engaged the earlier, unresolved encounter with thanatos exuberantly, intuiting that it would lead him to a poetry of maturity.
A tiny wrinkle to jacket at spine tip, else a fine example.