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Fluid moves in Robert Duncan's favored sense of literary derivation, a word whose etymology indicates the channeling of influence into a new flow of water. Both derivation and influence signal a cosmic conception as well: our use of the word "influence" is neutralized from a specifically astrological meaning that signaled the ethereal fluid that streams from the heavenly bodies, "acting on the character and destiny of men," according to the Oxford English Dictionary, "and affecting sublunary things generally."

When Ronald Johnson moved to San Francisco in 1969, Robert Duncan was one of his most important initial contacts, soldered by Duncan's friendship and involvement with Johnson's partner through the 1960s, Jonathan Williams, who was both a student of Duncan's at Black Mountain, and one of his publishers, having issued Letters in 1956 with his press The Jargon Society.

Despite these early associations, Duncan's and Johnson's friendship was forged in the 1970s when they exchanged works and ideas. Johnson dedicated Radi os from 1977 to Duncan; Duncan provided guidance to Johnson as he began work on his long poem "WOR(L)DS," eventually to become ARK, the initial publication for which Duncan supplied a rare endorsement.

Using letters exchanged between Johnson and Williams as a guidepost, I want to use this essay as the occasion to propose Duncan's notion of derivation and the Johnsonian example of influence as a powerful heuristic for understanding this vatic, transcendental strain of the New American Poetry.

Curiously, the source for one of Robert Duncan's most influential statements about his poetry is the jacket copy for the first New Directions printing in 1969 of his book Roots and Branches, published by Scribners in 1964. "I am not an experimentalist or an inventor," intones Duncan, "but a derivative poet, drawing my art from the resources given by a generation of masters ”" Stein, Williams, Pound; back of that by generations of poets that have likewise been dreamers of the Cosmos as Creation and Man as Creative Spirit; and by the work of contemporaries: Zukofsky, Olson, Creeley and Denise Levertov."
    This statement resonates with the pronouncements found in Duncan's "Pages from a Notebook," first published in 1953 but placed famously after Olson's "Projective Verse" in The New American Poetry from 1960, in which Duncan asserts his work to be a "composite indecisive literature, attempting the rhapsodic, the austere, the mysterious, the sophisticated, the spontaneous," further claiming, "Where I am ambitious only to emulate, imitate, reconstrue, approximate, duplicate: Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Dorothy Richardson, Wallace Stevens, D.H. Lawrence, Edith Sitwell, Cocteau, Mallarmé, Marlowe, St. John of the Cross, Yeats, Jonathan Swift, Jack Spicer, Céline, Charles Henri Ford, Rilke, Lorca, Kafka, Arp, Max Ernst, St.-John Perse, Prévert, Laura Riding, Apollinaire, Brecht, Shakespeare, Ibsen, Strindberg, Joyce Cary, Mary Butts, Freud, Dali, Spenser, Stravinsky, William Carlos Williams, and John Gay," adding H.D. in a subsequent paragraph.

Derive, from the Latin derivare, to turn a stream from its channel, from de-, from, and rive, river; or, from a river. Its cognate in literary thought is influence, from the Late Latin, influentia, a flowing in, from the Late Latin influere, to flow in, from in-, plus fluere, to flow. From a river flowing in. Or flowing in from a river.
    But there's a pun coursing through Duncan's notion of the derivative. He claims derivation in contradistinction from experimentation and innovation. One of the definitions of derive is to originate. As in one chemical deriving from another. It's also suggestive of the descent of one organism from another in a process that involves structural changes; namely, evolution. In claiming derivation, Duncan is suggesting that he originates from the figures he lists ”" "dreamers of the Cosmos as Creation and Man as Creative Spirit" ”" and that he is the evolved organism of this process.
    And what is flowing into Duncan? Not only poetry but tradition. From the Latin traditio, from traditus, which is the past participle of tradere, to deliver. As in delivering something into the hands. As part of a trust, as a part of a legally binding covenant. Duncan's claiming to be carrying the tradition delivered into his own hands by poetry itself.
    What do I know of the old lore? Duncan asks this question as the title to the second poem in Roots and Branches. "A young editor wants me to write on Kabbalah for his magazine." "'Kabbalah,'" writes Harold Bloom, "has been, since the year 1200, the popularly accepted word for Jewish esoteric teachings concerning God and everything God created. The word 'Kaballah' means 'tradition,' in the particular sense of 'reception,' and at first referred to the whole of Oral Law."  In other places, Kaballah is defined as "the received." To receive poetry is to participate in the esoteric transmission of lore/wisdom/knowledge carried by its forebears.
    Duncan claims to draw his art from the resources given by a generation of masters. Resource from an old French verb whose past participle is resourse, to arise anew. Re-, again, plus sourdre, to spring up as water. From the Latin surgere, to arise, to surge. The focus of all this flowing power of tradition is on the action of its reception: that it is given, that it is received. Give, which comes from itself ”" it's an original word. It means, "To surrender into the power of another."
    Literature is given; it is not an acquisition but a gift. "That art that matters to us," says Lewis Hyde, "which moves the heart, or revives the soul, or delights the senses, or offers courage for living, however we choose to describe the experience ”" that work is received by us as a gift is received."

There are two modes for perceiving the tradition of literature as an active participant ”" "a dreamer of the Cosmos" ”" in that tradition: the first is political and economic. Its terms tend to be legalistic, ambitious, affiliative, and oriented toward individual survival. The second is religious and erotic. Its terms tend to be theosophical, vocational, amative, and oriented toward the preservation of lineage.  The friendship of Robert Duncan, born in 1919, and Ronald Johnson, born in 1935, and who overlapped in San Francisco for nearly twenty years, is an example of the second mode of perception, involving what Hyde calls "an erotic commerce, joining self and other, so the gifted state is an erotic state: in it we are sensible of, and participate in, the underlying unity of things."  Undoubtedly, most poets experience an overlapping perception where both modes are active. All poets want survival and preservation in some form, I'd wager. Nevertheless, it's my sense that American poetry is presently predominated by the first mode of perception, where economic and political matters drive the commerce. I'd like to suggest the second mode, in which religious and erotic concerns define the kinds of exchanges poets have, as an alternative usefully brought back into the times.

In the first letter I wrote to Ronald Johnson, in the summer of 1992, seeking his advice on what to do with my life, I mentioned my interest in Duncan's poetry. He took my petition for aid earnestly, replying to it honestly:

     At 24? Who knows—by then I was already on my way to "follow my bliss" as Mr. Campbell, of Myth fame, insists. But then I'd been steeled by an absolute conviction that I should come out of a small Kansas town to find a world of excitement in ideas. There, I went as you say to the Masters. In those days that was easy—there were the academics, then those with new ideas: Olson, Duncan, Creeley, Zukofsky, Bunting, etc., a clear tradition of attention to the language itself as a conducter for the lightning of the soul. We were lucky, too, to discover new and electric musics there. These days, I'm afraid, with hundreds and hundreds of poeticules thronging the academies, the prospect of finding one's way as a poet—a poet, say, of any worth to change and charge the language anew—must daunt the best.

A clear tradition of attention to the language itself” He warned me, "Peers are necessary, always, but I wouldn't recommend much contact with the mediocre," having already observed that Duncan was more a poet to learn ideas from than technique, allowing himself nevertheless to sigh, "Ah, how I miss Robert. I see Thom Gunn, but he's not really a friend like the Dunc who was always available to bounce ideas off and talk Cosmos."
    To talk Cosmos is to share the prospect of language as conductor and lightning of the soul. Though Johnson pays more explicit debts in his poetry to the examples and works of Louis Zukofsky and Charles Olson, Duncan received the dedication of three of his most important works: "BEAM 17, The Book of Orpheus," written in the mid-1970s, in ARK: The Foundations; "ARK 71, Arches V," his elegy for Duncan after he died in 1988; and, most importantly, in 1976, Radi os, Johnson's rewriting through excision of Paradise Lost, arguably his most enduringly popular and innovative work. The dedication to Duncan reads, "I would like particularly to thank Robert Duncan for his encouragement through my solitary quest in the cloud chamber ”" that place, he assured me, 'The Authors are in Eternity.'"  
    Duncan's "Variations on Two Dicta of William Blake," from Roots and Branches, begins:

The Authors are in eternity.
Our eyes reflect
prospects of the whole radiance
between you and me

where we have lookd up
     each from his being.
And I am the word "each".
And you are the word "his".

Blake's dictum comes from a letter to his close friend and patron Thomas Butts from 1803. Elsewhere, Blake says of Eternity, "Whatever can be Created can be Annihilated Forms cannot / The Oak is cut down by the Ax, the Lamb falls by the Knife / But their Forms Eternal Exist, For-ever. Amen Halle[l]ujah."  Johnson called Radi os "the book Blake gave me." It's carved directly out of the enduring forms of Milton's language and Blake's thought.
    The authors in eternity. Milton and Blake. Dickinson and Whitman. Dante. "BEAM 17" ends:

That clockwise, counterclockwise, as blue bindweed to honeysuckle, the cosmos is an organism spirally open on itself, into the pull of existence. In the beginning there was the Word ”" for each man, magnetized by onrush, is Adam to his Tyger.

Johnson met Duncan through Jonathan Williams, who himself had met Duncan when he was a guest instructor at Black Mountain College in 1956, invited there by Olson, Rector of the college at that time, to replace Robert Creeley, who was departing for the West Coast.  Johnson met Williams in Washington D.C. in 1958, when both were spending the summer there, Williams on a Guggenheim, and Johnson waiting to move to Columbia to finish his bachelor's degree, having completed a stint in the Army where he earned tuition money through the G.I. Bill. They were smitten with each other and soon moved together to New York City, Johnson going to college and Williams working at Eighth Street Bookshop, spending their evenings at the Cedar Tavern. Because of Williams' Black Mountain connections, in New York and elsewhere, Johnson thought himself to have unofficially attended that school. He met and associated regularly with many of Williams' fellow Black Mountain students and as well as its teachers, poets and painters alike. Johnson and Williams lived together on and off through the late fifties. In 1961, they hiked the length of the Appalachian Trail; then in 1962, they headed to England, to hike the countryside, on and off, for another two years, staying with poets and artists, and, in 1966, they made a "Grand Tour"-style visit to Europe as well.

During these years, Williams was actively assembling the Jargon Society, his publishing venture and arts nexus. Many, if not most, of Johnson's contacts during these years were Jargon contacts, or those with poets from affiliated, sympathetic projects, such as the Scottish poet Ian Hamilton Finlay and his publication Poor. Old. Tired. Horse. In 1964, when Johnson was twenty-eight years old, Williams published his first book, A Line of Poetry, A Row of Trees, in a beautiful edition, printed by the Auerhahn Press in San Francisco. It arrived six years after The Jargon Society published Duncan's Letters in a similarly handsome edition. At the Jargon Society, to give a sense of context and company, between Letters (Jargon 14) and A Line of Poetry, A Row of Trees (Jargon 42), there were Olson's Maximus Poems, Levertov's Overland to the Islands, Loy's Lunar Baedeker & Time-Tables, Creeley's A Form of Women, and many others.

By 1968, Johnson and Williams, who were living in Aspen, Colorado at the time, where Williams was a fellow at the Aspen Institute and where Johnson worked in a restaurant (the Copper Kettle), split. Williams remained for a time in Colorado before heading back east; Johnson made his way to the Bay Area. Arriving in San Francisco immediately following the Summer of Love, Johnson numbered Duncan among his contacts. They had been corresponding through the 1960s, more often than not to share news with each other, though once when Johnson was soliciting work for a project of one-word poems he was collaborating on with Finlay. Johnson regularly sent Duncan and Jess postcards, Christmas cards, and updates of his and Williams' whereabouts. When he arrived in San Francisco in the fall of 1968, he tried repeatedly to telephone Duncan and Jess to see them. It's clear that he and Duncan would see each other around, from time to time, but never as often as Johnson would have liked. In December 1969, Johnson sent a postcard with this typed message to Duncan:

Dear Robert: I never seem to be able to reach you via BULLPUP so I shall relate a dream I had of you several months ago. You were a blind bard seated at a large table. We were, several of us, gathered around the table. In front of you was a magic typewriter which had its keys covered with gold art-nouveau tendrils, and when inspired you touched the glass over the keys and a poem was inscribed from its mystic connections onto a kind of tapestry on the wall. The poem I saw was interwoven with curious lilies to the edge. Jess would read the poem for you and tell you whether or not what was inspired had really appeared there or not. That you had a magic typewriter I knew ”" but lilies! Lillies as well!

Typewriters facilitate correspondence as well as poems. I've argued ”" in relation to the prodigious exchange between Duncan and Denise Levertov ”" that the era beginning in 1950 ”" with "Projective Verse," the great manifesto of the virtue of the typewriter ”" through the end of the 1970s (before the advent of the word processor) be called "The Age of Correspondences." The typewriter is its agent of transmission. Johnson's first letter to me begins:

Thank you for confiding your hopes and fears, and in such arresting script! I write a fine hand, but give out after a paragraph the typewriter has me such in thrall. I am of that brief period, now computers hold sway, of that blessed machine which first became necessary for Henry James via dictation, then creative equipment for Pound, Williams, Olson, well—you name them. I can think only on the typewriter, with my fingers. A similar age would be that of Impressionism, when tubes of paint became available to work out of doors. I seem to be the last of these dinosaurs.

Duncan, famously, as a result of ongoing frustrations with the publishers of his books, insisted on completely controlling the appearance of his fourth book with New Directions, Ground Work: Before the War, published in 1984. In "Some Notes on Notation" that appears at the beginning of the book, he relates the visual presentation of the book to his physiological experience of his poems: "The cadence of the verse, and, in turn, the interpenetration of cadences in sequence is, for me, related to the dance of my physical body. My hands keep time and know more than my brain does of measure." Following the edicts of "Projective Verse," Duncan later in these "Notes" instructs: "All 'typographical' features are notations for the performance of the reading. Margins signify."

On February 24, 1974, Johnson wrote to Williams: "Meant to get this out earlier, but finishing IVES & G. DAVENPORT essays, plus a Wor(l)ds section for Rbt. Dunc. For Jn. Tgt., plus the last week or so finally getting the end of Wor(l)ds Book I DONE.  !!!"

In 1974, John Taggart devoted an issue of his journal Maps to Duncan. It begins with a long editorial essay by Duncan rehearsing his frustrations with John Martin, publisher of Black Sparrow Press, who had issued an edition of Duncan's Tribunals, a suite of later inclusions in his series of "Passages," that had, for various reasons, infuriated Duncan. But it also includes the entire text to one of Duncan's most steadfastly derivative poems, whose full title runs, "A Seventeenth Century Suite in Homage to the Metaphysical Genius in English Poetry (1590-1690): Being Imitations, Derivations & Variations upon Certain Conceits and Findings Made among Strong Lines." The beginning to the "Coda" of the "Suite" channels cosmic energies into a mediumistic ventriloquism:

Yes, darkness.     Out of darkness.

They have fed themselves into their lives.
Wholly, it seemd, they fed their burning into mine.
Dim fires of old loves linger on.
It is the darkness into which they consume themselves
that makes of it all for me a music of no return,   of long
   the darkness,   the dark fuel feeding forth the flame,
of long lingering   flaring up and flaming
   illuminations and dyings down,   the ember-life of a
   persistent love

Having found these voices and spirits in the Avernal darkness of the poem, Duncan flings them forth into the heavens:
                          O starry Net of Lives
outflung!   And our little lives at last
   among them realized!   Elohim-Cloud of bright
expectancies,   quickening hunger for worlds
   out of boundless Source seeking its bounds

The same issue of Maps includes Johnson's homage to Duncan, entitled, "WOR(L)DS 24, for Robert Duncan." It's an early version of BEAM 17. Wor(l)ds, with the L nested inside of "Words," was Johnson's working title for ARK nearly until its first installment was published in 1980 as ARK: The Foundations by North Point Press. In this draft, Johnson rehearses the story of Orpheus, beginning with the unpacking of a concrete poetic pun: moving from tri-part to trip-art, unraveling the meanings of trip to suggest the journey of transformation Orpheus undergoes. "The means the action of the universe is metamorphosis ”" its articulation, metaphor. And its ultimate form is rayed like a star that is never quite stilled." To this he adds an abbreviation of the dream he had of Duncan:

(but the dream came that Duncan was
a blind seer:   see-er.   And that he sat
at a typewriter to write a screen before
us ”" a page 'illuminated' to the last
morning-glory whorled bird's nest, in-
sect-in-tendril, antennaed edge)

Duncan is Orpheus at the typewriter for Johnson. He was one of the guiding figures for ARK, which Johnson described on September 11, 1974 to Williams as "a picture of the new cosmos inside out":

[Everything] is being stuffed in the interstices of WOR(L)DS and RADI OS, and I begin to think sometimes I should give up the task of making up The Seventies out of the shambles of the pre-literate Sixties, and retire ”" preferably with an oversexed lover ”" to the country. But if someone doesn't start em reading again what will ever happen to our books. The last book languishes, as it is, somewhere in the desk, and sometimes even if WOR(L)DS is a picture of the new cosmos inside and out, black holes in space and all, it seems written against Windmills.

If someone doesn't start em reading again. This is the vocational urge (and urgency) of the religious and erotic tradition of literature. "ARK 71," Johnson's elegy for Duncan, includes the lines:

Intact as effigy,
windmill stood face plain
tablets applaud far climbs of man

to elevate the status quo unite
Replenish yr land,
nor diminish dimension

new thought won bannered ledge,
green shoots through ashes
escarpment plunge

self to persist, pretend
Time abut Font
watchword accumulated attention

Lineage as a polemical concept came brightly to light in the development of the Ch'an school of Buddhism in the late seventh and early eighth centuries. "Arising out of intra-Buddhist sectarian arguments, Ch'an embodied a reaction against dualistic doctrinal formulations ”" especially regarding enlightenment and nonenlightenment."  When Ch'an was imported into Japan, it was called Zen.

    The core of Ch'an teaching was a rejection of traditional textual, institutional, and ethical guides for attaining Buddhahood. Instead, the purity of one's own mind was favored. Spiritual breakthrough was accomplished through a variety of techniques and interventions, including meditation, the use of silence, deliberate irrationalizations of thought and reality, and even acts of violence. Nevertheless, it produced seminal texts to describe, commemorate, and coax these breakthroughs, each of which reinforced the value of the lineage that had brought these understandings to light, originating when Bodhidharma brought the concept of dhyana, or mindful absorption in Sanskrit, from India into China in the late fifth century.
   Throughout, such breakthroughs of consciousness are overseen by enlightened masters. One's experience is authenticated only by a master, no matter the emphasis on the purity of one's own mind. In this sense, Ch'an religious practices mirror mystical and shamanistic practices from religious traditions the world over. To devote yourself to a tradition ”" to write against windmills ”" is to connect yourself with a master and to study the lineage from which he or she descends. "The shaman and the inspired poet," writes Duncan, "who take the universe to be alive, are brothers germane of the mystic and the paranoiac. We at once seek a meaningful life and dread psychosis, 'the principle of life.'"  When North Point Press published ARK: The Foundations in 1980 as one of its first poetry titles, the inside flap of the dust jacket included an endorsement, one of the few he ever wrote, by Duncan, meant to indicate the recognition Duncan made in the work that the universe portrayed there was suitably alive, in keeping with the fraternity of mystics, paranoids, and poets. "[F]or the consciousness [Johnson] writes from not only springs from the revelation present in the creative imagination we draw from the realms of science and of poetry, but ” that consciousness goes forward: it 'launches' thought and feeling upon the arc of an apprehension of vision beyond its own vision."

    Thought and feeling upon the arc of an apprehension of vision beyond its own vision = derivation. That is, the work that arises from it connects with a tradition it both receives and passes on, but does not entirely control. What is the value of this erotic commerce, the joining of the self with other? Is a derivative poetics truly more worthwhile than an individually asserted one? Is the religious and erotic perception of tradition, as to the political and economic one I invoked earlier, truly better than writing against the windmills of other energies?

    Poetry is made as much from correspondences and connections as it is from dialogues with masters past and present. For whatever energy is spent by a poet in the commerce of the economic concerns of ambition and survival, there is a portion spared to be donated to the preservation of a tradition, to the expression of a cosmos. Donate, from the Latin donum, a gift. At the center of ARK: The Foundations, "BEAMS 21, 22, 23, The Song of Orpheus" brings the opening of Radi os, carved from the opening of Paradise Lost ("O / Tree / into the World, / Man / the chosen / Rose out of Chaos: / Song"), into ARK. The excisional technique of Radi os is repeated pointedly in this Song of Orpheus, which serves as the answer to a question posed by a mercurial angelos portrayed in the Three Tracts of Eleazar of Worms, a thirteenth-century Kabbalistic treatise, who says, "When one sees the fire flaming / up from the distance / one is only seeing the smoke that / surrounds it. / Moreover the angel asks: / What do you see?" Initially, quoting Eleazar, Johnson writes, "I have seen the Eternal / interior, / not ocular, vision," at which point the poem commands: "reply." This invocation begins "PALMS," a fifteen-page visionary recreation of the Psalms, in which Johnson selects at least one word from each of the one-hundred fifty Psalms in the King James Bible. It begins:

the man that walk in the way of day and night
like a tree of water, leaf
chaff which the wind
stand in
imagine the earth set against sun,
uttermost parts like a potter's O: trembling sands round about
Arise, and ray.

Stand in
your own heart,
and be still.
the light upon us
in time to the voice of ice:
no throat out in the multitude of ions belled But shout
for joy.

  Robert Duncan, "Pages from a Notebook," The New American Poetry, ed. Donald Allen (San Francisco, Grove Press, 1960), pp. 406-7.
  Harold Bloom, Kabbalah and Criticism (New York: Continuum, 1993), p. 15.
  Lewis Hyde, The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property (New York: Vintage, 1983), p. xii.
  Can it be said that this division mirrors the difference between Sunnis and Shi'a?
  Hyde, 163.
  Ronald Johnson to the author, June 30, 1992.
  Ronald Johnson, Radi os (Chicago: Flood Editions, 2005), p. iii.
  Robert Duncan, Roots and Branches, p. 48.
  William Blake, "Milton," 32:36-38, The Complete Poems, ed. Alicia Ostriker (New York: Penguin Classics, 1977), p. 586.
  In Tom Clark, Charles Olson: The Allegory of a Poet's Life (New York: Norton, 1991), p. 252.
  Ronald Johnson to Robert Duncan, December 21, 1969, Poetry/Rare Books Collection of the University Libraries, State University of New York at Buffalo.
  Robert Duncan, Ground Work: Before the War (New York: New Directions, 1984), unpaginated.
  Ronald Johnson to Jonathan Williams, February 24, 1974. Poetry/Rare Books Collection of the University Libraries, State University of New York at Buffalo.
  Robert Duncan, Ground Work: Before the War, p. 91.
  Ronald Johnson, "WOR(L)DS 24, for Robert Duncan," Maps 6 (1974), pp. 68-9.
  Ronald Johnson to Jonathan Williams, September 11, 1974 (?), Poetry/Rare Books Collection of the University Libraries, State University of New York at Buffalo.
  Ronald Johnson, ARK (Albuquerque, NM: Living Batch Press, 1996), unpaginated.
  The HarperCollins Dictionary of Religion, ed. J.Z. Smith (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995), p. 193.
  Robert Duncan, "The Truth and Life of Myth," Fictive Certainties (New York: New Directions, 1985), p. 2.
  Robert Duncan, endorsement for ARK: The Foundations (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1980).
  Ronald Johnson, ARK: The Foundations (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1980), no pagination.