The New American Project: The New American Poetry Anthology and The Arcades Project, Chapter 3 of 3

Duncan Creeley.jpg

[This is part 3 in a 3 part series. For part 1, Click here. For part 2, click here]

The stereotype of a poet, especially one within the bohemian counterculture, is that they are unemployed and living in squalor. That is part of a poetic dichotomy that implies that while they resist participation in consumer, industry society, they, at the same time, are activators of large social change. These two characteristics came into sharp focus in the middle of the 20th century with many popular figures in many fields with figures like Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Allen Ginsberg, Muhammad Ali, and Timothy Leary. These figures shunned conventional lifestyles to become musicians, poets, fighters, or cosmic explorers, and in doing so planted the seeds for a revolution. These revolutionary figures inspired many people to pursue the same ideas and lifestyles. This artist/activist character become a staple of the mid-century and plenty of these characters are present in The New American Poetry Anthology 1954-1950. These characteristics of social motivators and idlers neatly fit into Benjamin’s convolutes of “Social Movement” and “Idleness”.

The two poets discussed in this chapter, Robert Duncan, and Robert Creeley, were outspoken on many beliefs and were leading voices on issues of their day. Creeley was outspoken and candid about drug normalisation and left leaning politics. Duncan was a leading figure of gay rights in the pre-stonewall riots era of the movement and was known to be outspoken on his anarchic political beliefs.  Both poets spent important parts of their poetic careers, if not all their career, in San Francisco. Both were leading members of different factions of the San Francisco Renaissance, a multi-faceted but thoroughly bohemian movement. Living in San Francisco in the 1950’s gave these poets an opportunity to participate in the hot bed of social change that was the bay area while at the same time existing in the margins of conventional society — in an artistic, bohemian utopia in an otherwise conservative era of the country.

 

Social Movement

Benjamin points out that “social subjects occupy a very large place in…poetry at mid-century”.[i] This certainly holds true in the case of these 20th century poets, despite Benjamin referring to the 19th century. He even touches on California being an attractive place to live the life one wants, albeit, again, one century earlier.[ii] One poet who was entrenched in both social issues and in California itself was Oakland-born Robert Duncan. While his often-dense poems require much analysis, his poem “This Place Rumord to Have Been Sodom” is one whose erudition can reduce itself down into a contemporary-for-the-time allegory of social change.  Benjamin notes, when quoting Victor Hugo, of the extreme contrast between the energy levels between the radical quartiers of revolutionary Paris and the uninvolved “strangely calm” quartiers.[iii] While not contemporaneous like the quartiers, this same contrast is found in “This Place Rumord to Have Been Sodom” when the speaker of the poem observes “Certainly these ashes have been pleasures…Isn’t it plain to all that these mounds were palaces?”.[iv] There is a detachment the speaker has when viewing a sight that was once a site of great passion and grandeur. In relating to the Benjamin excerpt, the ashes of the past being viewed by the speaker become symbols of revolutionary, dynamic activity viewed by an indifferent body. The poem, then, could be looking back on a social change that happened in the past, by a body that sees it as a normalised thing, as it often goes with revolutionary activity, such as it was with the French Revolution, when the over throwing of the monarchy seemed impossible.

The poem contains prominent religious tones throughout, which include numerous references to the Lord and the titular reference to the biblical city of Sodom. The city of Sodom had the reputation as a place of sin and decadence with its relation to sexual terminology, the key of which lies in the bible verse that reads “and they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where are the men that came to thee this night? Bring them out unto us, that we may know them”[v]. This bible verse, within which is spoken by men, uses the biblical definition of “know”, which holds sexual connotations. The Sin of the City was so much so that it was destroyed by God for it. While potentially holding significance to Duncan as an unusual-for-the-time proudly out gay man, it holds more weight when considering Benjamin’s recollection of a French parliamentary session of 1849.

In a speech by member of parliament, M. Considerant, suggests that in wanting to enjoy themselves, men express their equality. He goes on to say that this “is the state if souls”,[vi] which was interrupted by an opposing member, M. de La Rochejaquelein, saying “you mean the state of brutes!”.[vii] The men M. Considerant is referring to are the working classes of Paris, who want take part in the growing labour movement for workers’ rights. M. de La Rochejaquelein, in a role that has been played long before and long after this instance, is quick to demonise these men. Transplanting these players into Duncan’s poem would make the ashes of pleasure the former sites of working men trying to enjoy their living after earning it, turning this unnamed city into what some more conservative types would liken to Sodom. The lines “surely this is Great Sodom where such cries | as if men were birds flying up from the swamp”[viii] reflect the cries of the working classes for unionisation and an easier chance at social mobility, moving upward from the swamp of poverty. The results of the working-class desire to have better working conditions for a better life is hinted at in the lines “Only the faithful hold this place green | where the crown of fiery thorns descends”.[ix] The faithful, referring to those that held and hold the torch of workers’ rights, know that the fiery thorn of oppression is always present and must be kept at bay. The only way to do that is to continue fighting for those rights, thus keeping them green, not letting them stale or weaken. And if there is any doubt as to who is in the moral right in this situation, “This place rumord to have been Sodom is blessd | in the Lord’s eyes”.[x] Further divine support is confirmed by Benjamin, with a common phrase used in the France of 1848, “God is a worker”.[xi]
with the stanza that reflects progress, Duncan demonstrates the need for evolution and constant attention in order to keep revolutionary change alive:

The world like Great Sodom lies under love

And knows not the hand of the Lord that moves.

This the friends teach where such cries

As if men were birds fly up from the crowds

Gathered and howling in the heat of sun.

In the Lord Whom the friends have named at last Love

The Images and Love of the friends never die.[xii]

 

Duncan, in this stanza, alters lines that appeared earlier in the poem. Sodom that was found wanting by the lord now lies under love. the city that was separated by the hand of the Lord now does not know the movement of that same hand. Men that flew up as birds from a swamp now fly up from a crowd that is gathered in the heat of the sun. the men are now referred to as friends. And in this new Sodom, the “Images and Love of the friends never die”.[xiii] This renewed city, though still the one being looked down upon by the speaker, has seen the evolution of a revolution. Where there was once a swamp of poverty and oppression there is a now a crowd gathered together. A struggle has turned into a demonstration of support. And those that struggled together are eternal friends. Where there was once desolation there is now love. these changes reflect the arch of revolution. From the birth of a revolutionary ideal and how it is deemed radical while facing oppression, to the fruition where that idea is adopted and has crowds of support willing to keep it alive.

By keeping the revolution of unnamed oppressed minorities (presumably homosexuals, given Duncan’s fierce advocacy) at the forefront of the piece, he helps the reader to realise that the “margins may be invoked as a central fact of the poem”, as Michael Davidson says.[xiv] The margins of society are kept in the spotlight, continuing to keep their issues green. Duncan then participates in this same act that the story within the poem is performing. In this way the “central fact” of Duncan’s vocation is one of leading social change. Duncan proves further, in the writing of this poem, that he is an authentic motivator of social change and an active participant in it.  This is incongruent to the J. Michelet quote Benjamin invokes to show poets losing touch with their roots.[xv]

               Robert Creeley is well known for his domestic, pastoral poetry. That does not mean there are not any wider themes to be found. In his poem “The Door”, with the use of symbolism, one can find a working-class struggle for social mobility. the poem concerns a reader looking at the titular door, wanting to go through, but for some reason is unable to. The door can be read as social mobility itself, with the speaker longing to go through it:

               It is hard going to the door 

               Cut so small in the wall where

The vision which echoes loneliness

Brings a scent of wild flowers in a wood[xvi]

 

The smallness of the door is the obvious difficulty of moving upward on the social scale. The door evokes in the speaker a dichotomy of isolation and hint of beauty, with the wildflowers. All these things reflect the anxiety and desire that accompany the process of social mobility. especially for the working class American in the time of American prosperity when this poem was written in 1958.

 

Creeley’s tell-tale style of pared down language is present throughout the poem. His use of non-intellectual language is one that set him apart from his contemporaries, like Robert Duncan, Allen Ginsberg, or Charles Olson. In using this “Idle Talk” and bringing it into “Authentic” speech, as Charles Altieri suggests he does, Creeley taps into an attempt to bring the local to the global through vocabulary, a task that goes back through Langston Hughes and Mark Twain.[xvii] This movement of domestic speech is less about authentication and more about exposure. It is exposing the wider reading audience to a way of speaking and thus a way of life that they might not have been familiar with before. In doing so, Creeley participates in the same act that Duncan does in “This Place Rumord to Have Been Sodom” and brings the marginalised into the forefront. In the case of “The Door” it is the economically marginalised that he brings forward, a group Creeley himself belongs to. In keep his distance from the intellectual use he keeps his poetry more accessible to a general audience. This fits one of Benjamin’s criteria for being revolutionary, “One must only be in touch with the people to become revolutionary”.[xviii] While this criterion can be applied to most poets in the anthology, it cannot be applied evenly to their poetry. Creeley’s poetry exemplifies this the most intensely with his domestic vocabulary and themes.

Creeley further displays the working-class struggle and the desire for upward mobility in the stanza that reads:

               But I see the door,

               And knew the wall, and wanted the wood,

               And would get there if I could

               With my feet and hands and mind.[xix]

              

Here, he displays the struggle of seeing the opportunity but not having the faculty to reach the next economic level. He would get there working with the tools of manual labour: his “feet and hands and mind”.[xx] In the following stanza he addresses an unnamed Lady. Here he asks her not to “banish [him] for digressions” and pledges allegiance to her.[xxi] In the context of the allegory, this Lady can be read as society itself with the pressures and demonization it places on working people. The speaker of the poem knows that if he digresses from the pre-written plan and societal pressures that the public places on the working class, he will be ostracised. In order to avoid this, he pledges his way in following these societal expectations.

The speaker in the poem goes on to describe the image of the upper classes and how he came to know about them and their beautiful, ethereal ways:

               The door in the wall leads to a garden

               Where in the sunlight sit

               The Graces in long Victorian dresses,

               Of which my grandmother told me about[xxii]

 

Here, the garden plays the part of the upper classes and its luscious, leisurely ways. The last line of this stanza hint at the dogma, or fallacy, depending on one’s economic destiny, of the American Dream. The concept that has been passed down through generations that states that if one works hard and long, they will be rewarded with middle-class comfort. This is the most widely accepted version of it, whereas Creeley’s American Dream may well have been to live the nomadic life he did, writing poems until his death. This word of mouth passing down is reminiscent of fairy tales in the folk tradition and implies the unrealistic nature of the American dream to the economic lower classes. This shows a reliance on folk traditions to stoke hope in a better future, rather than hard evidence that one in the upper classes might have, such as money or property. This idea originated as a way for all people, no matter what economic background, to gain a prosperous life in America. yet in the country and in this poem, the rewards “where in the sunlight sits the graces” is more elusive for working-class Americans to reach.[xxiii] While this American dream conundrum persists to this day, it acts as proof that America did not fully reach its potential of what Benjamin, when quoting Hegel, calls “the future land of Liberty”.[xxiv] It is shown here and in the life of Robert Creeley and his contemporaries that a life of hard work and does not always lead to a life of comfort and prosperity, thus proving the fallacy, rather than the dogma, of the American Dream.

Creeley, through his speaker, notes what happens at the point of failure of the American Dream. He details, poetically, what happens when and why one fails to achieve that elusive life of leisure or if it is even their own fault in the two stanza mid-way through the poem:

               Running to the door, I ran down

               As a clock runs down. Walked backwards,

               Stumbled, sat down

               Hard on the on the floor near the wall.

 

               Where were You.

               How absurd, how vicious.

               There is nothing to do but get up.

               My knees were iron, I rusted in worship, of You.[xxv]

 

Typically, in the working life structure in the United States, the life or prosperity and leisure comes at retirement, nearer to the end of one’s life. The first two lines of the first stanza above, take this and poeticise it. Running to the door that leads to the middle-class comforts “as a clock runs down”, is the attempt to claim the comforts at the end of one’s life.[xxvi] This is one last frantic attempt to save for retirement and live that sought-after life. But, it is followed by the point of failure where the speaker falls against the wall where the door is. The walls are the barriers that keep the working-class people out of the upper classes.

In the second stanza he confronts “You”. Here, “You” refers to the unnamed Lady, society itself. this collective power is highlighted by the capitalisation of “You” which elevates it from an unspecific pronoun to a more concentrated, elevated address. In the confrontation, the speaker asks the Lady where she was. She was not present during the process or the failure of reaching the American Dream. This is characteristic of societies, specifically governments, during more conservative eras of American history, such as the 50’s, when this poem was written. The characteristic touched on here is one of abandonment. These conservatively tinged societies often cut social resources like welfare and Medicare, like Ronald Reagan’s budget cuts to welfare in the 80’s and the present-day administration’s proposed cuts that will take 1 trillion away from Medicare, Medicaid, and social security.  All these programs were set up by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to get the poor and unemployed a chance to get back on their economic feet and for retirees to have reliable healthcare and savings to last them through the rest of their lives. The frustration that the economically marginalised feel about the “absurd” and “vicious” societal abandonment is reflect in the first two lines of this stanza.[xxvii] Benjamin states that “the poor man is happy when the rich has his fun”, but here it is apparent that the poor are very unhappy and very oppressed when the rich man’s fun includes, as it often does, excluding those economically below them from upward social movement.[xxviii]   “The Door”, in contrast with “This Place Rumord to Have Been Sodom”, displays the failure of social movement. It is the darker side, where there is no support to be had for the marginalised. Where Duncan represents a successful revolution to the point of complete normalisation, Creeley displays an attempt at revolution that is halted by societal prejudice and apathy.

 

 

Idleness

Benjamin suggests that the student is the prime example of an idler. But more applicable to these poets, though learned and scholarly, would be the bohemian as idler.[xxix] This bohemian idler concept is applicable to the lifestyles of both Creeley and Duncan. Both having taught at Black Mountain College with Charles Olson and other contemporaries; they went on to live the life of the bohemian poet. Duncan returned to his native California and settled in San Francisco for the rest of his life, participating in various causes and becoming a looming figure in activism and public intellectualism. Creeley went on to live a more nomadic life settling for spells in Massachusetts, San Francisco, and New Mexico, among other places. Both did not rely on steady streams of income and lived modest lives, while spending much, if not most, of their time writing. While they kept busy producing art, they were idle in the conventional sense, in that they did not have steady jobs that allowed what some would call a contribution to society. This duality of busy social motivator and idle man is reflected in the layered readings of their poetry.

In Duncan’s “This Place Rumord to Have Been Sodom”, The speaker is a passive voice. He has no effect on the events on the poem and acts an observer to what is happening and what has happened. Here he reaches the “imitation dei” of the idler, as Benjamin says, and becomes omniscient.[xxx] The speaker knows the actions of men, angels, and God himself, placing him outside of any structure of existence. The wording of the poem does not suggest the speaker is a being higher than God though, just a being outside the Judaeo-Christian structure of beinghood. It is a non-declarative, semi-speculative way of speaking that humanises the voice with the use of words and phrases like “certainly”, “might”, and “isn’t it plain”. This certainly places the voice outside of any type of society, into a cosmic counterculture, similar to the one Duncan himself belonged to in mid-century San Francisco. Placing the voice outside of the culture makes the observation of said culture much easier and much more thorough. This reflects the observational and reflective work of the poet. The idler is intensely related to the flaneur. The idler sits and does nothing but watch the flaneur parade around. In this case, the Flaneur is society itself. And in this poem, this outside view allows the speaker to see both past and present. It also explains the detached way of describing them.  This bohemian idleness would be the only indication that the speaker of the poem and Robert Duncan are one and the same. All the other aspects of the poem and even the voice itself, indicate otherwise.

In the third stanza of the poem, the use of the collective “us” is the only example of language that suggests the speaker is a part of the society he is observing: “This place rumord to have been a City surely was, | separated from us by the hand of the Lord.”.[xxxi] here we see a reversal. Where the speaker was outside of God’s authority, the voice places itself under the jurisdiction of the hand of the lord. This makes a connection however brief to the society the voice is observing that was not there previously in the poem and will not be there later in the poem. This emphasises the power of the separation that the lord places between Sodom and everything else.  This does two things. The first of these is that it suggests that no matter how separated an idler is from society, there is never a complete severance. Duncan, though being part of a counterculture and involved in small poetic social circles, was still living in a large city and occupying the same space as wider society. There is never a complete isolation, no matter how hermetic one tries to become. The most famous literary hermit, arguable, would be Henry David Theroux, but even he, in his extreme experiment of idleness, would often go to the local town and bar for socialising. There is always a symbiotic relationship between an idler and the society they are not participating in.

The second function the use of the word “us” shows the severity with which Sodom was banished. The banishment of Sodom unites the two sides of separation. The poem shows this by taking what was cosmic separation and showing how it can still be aligned with the other side of the separation. One cannot choose non-participation if there is nothing to participate in. it cuts Sodom off from what was an omniscient being. This, in the light of the previous reading of the poem, shows that the ultimate authority, be it the government, the police, the rich, the white, or any other group with a history of oppressing — here represented by God — has an unending span to spread that oppression. They are able to spread an oppression on society that reaches even those that choose not to participate in that society. Sometimes it reigns especially hard on those that choose not to participate in that society; such as Duncan and the homosexual population that shunned hetero-normative societal expectations long before a movement supporting gay rights gathered any support.

The voice of this poem, with the exception of the one usage of “us” stays independent from the events and populations discusses in the poem. It shifts from a direct observer of things with lines like “This was once a city among men”, to a projector or theorist, with lines like “The world like great Sodom lies under love”.[xxxii] this shift shows one of the three functions that Benjamin suggests for the Idler: gambler, student, and Flaneur.[xxxiii] Here the gathering of information to then make claims about the past and present fulfils the idler as student, which reinforces the omniscience of the speaker. As Benjamin says when an idler acts “as student, he is omniscient”.[xxxiv] This studently omniscience is one that is apparent throughout Duncan’s poetry, especially in the New American Poetry Anthology. This does reflect his own near omniscience that he acquired in the many hours spent studying literature and theory himself, and this allows Duncan to write poetry and voices with a prophetic ability through their own separate omniscience, as is found in “This Place Rumord to Have Been Sodom”.  This omniscient-reliant prophetic property is one that allows application to a wide range of subjects that may and may not be tied to Duncan personally, such as the social movement of the gay community. This omniscient-reliant prophetic property is a thing that Duncan would have only been able to acquire, and pass on to his poetry’s speaker, through his schedule of study and writing tailored to his conventionally idle lifestyle.  

Robert Creeley lived a more conventionally idle life than Duncan. Where Duncan was able to find enough income to stay in San Francisco his whole life, Creeley moved around the country and even outside of it, while sustaining his bohemian idleness. Where Duncan also had a second semi-career as a public lecturer, Creeley relied on his writing to generate his income, and lived a very modest life because of it. He was never able to reach any sort of social mobility despite his hard-working nature. This is reflected in “The Door”. Benjamin uses a figure from P. M. Schuhl when describing the effects of an idle man and an active man:

Whoever enjoys leisure escapes Fortuna; whoever embraces idleness falls under her power…The artists of the Middle Ages depict those men who pursue an active life as bound to the wheel of fortune, ascending and descending according to the direction in which it turns, while the contemplative man remains immobile at the centre.[xxxv]

 

The poet in general, and Robert Creeley specifically, can be seen as occupying both the space of the active man and contemplative man in the middle ages figure of fortune’s wheel. Creeley’s experience on this wheel reflects that of his speaker’s experience in “The Door”. Creeley himself was a part of both aspects of the wheel for a period of time. when he was teaching, editing, and publishing, at Black Mountain College he was at the whim of the wheel. Yet despite his hard work he still was unable to attain a middle-class lifestyle. Then he moved more to the centre of the wheel when he relied on his writings for money while he lived a nomadic life. This lifestyle was by choice, for the most part. But his speaker in “The Door” did not have the luxury to choose to go without luxury.

The speaker of “The Door” longs to be a part of the rotating section of fortune’s wheel and pledges himself to her in order to “fall under her power”.[xxxvi] Yet, when he misplaces his trust, he is shut out from the up and down of the rotation and is placed in a forced idleness. This idleness is one that is different to that chosen by Creeley or Duncan. This forced idleness, placed upon the speaker by “Lady”, or Fortuna, is one of exclusion and erasure. This places the sufferer into a societal limbo, where no matter how hard they work or try to move up in society, they will be shunned. It is less like a bohemian idleness and more like the forced idleness of the homeless or imprisoned.  This is an isolated idleness that requires not only physical labour, but an added mental labour, to maintain, let alone move beyond. It is not easy to come back from. Benjamin points out the main reason why, when he says, “the man in the middle class [is] ashamed of labor”.[xxxvii] This shame of the middle-class ties into the failure of the speaker to break through the titular door. It is not his own fault but a forced exclusion from those holding the door closed. In the context of the poem it would be the wall that the voice recognises as an obstacle when they “knew the wall…and would get there if they could”.[xxxviii] But it is apparent that the wall will not give, and the upper classes will not relent on their demonization of the working classes.

The exclusion of the working class from upward mobility leaves them with no prospects later in life regarding retirement or savings. They economically rust, as the knees of the speaker of “The Door”, “rusted in worship” of the capitalist way to economic salvation.[xxxix] It is the forcing of this exploitative work system by the upper classes onto the working that disallows the “total experience” of life.[xl] For it is empathy that Benjamin suggests opens the door to a total experience for the human being.[xli] In Creeley’s poem, Lady, thus society, is proven not to have empathy for the speaker, resulting in his lack of advancement, and his pleas for forgiveness falling on deaf ears. He is not allowed to fully experience life, either as it is for the rich or as it was told to him by his grandmother. The Door remains locked.

The last three stanzas display the speaker’s realisation and near acceptance of defeat and willingness to exploit himself even further to achieve his goal. This leads to a denial of his situation:

               How can I die alone.

               Where will I be then who am now alone,

               What groans so pathetically

               In this room where I am alone?

 

               I will go to the garden.

               I will be a romantic. I will sell

               Myself in hell,

               In heaven also I will be.

              

               In my mind I see the door,

               I see the sunlight before me across the floor

               Beckon to me, as the Lady’s skirt

               Moves small beyond it.[xlii]

 

In the first of these stanzas, the speaker realises the possibility of dying alone and experiences shock because of his failure to move through the door. He hints at his own pathetic situation. He is trapped in his economic situation and will have no prosperity to enjoy, as he had hoped. The word “alone” is used in 3 of the 4 lines of the stanza, to further emphasise how isolated he is and that there will be no help for him. In the second of these stanzas comes the denial and bargaining. The speaker declares he will still enter the garden and will exploit himself in the range of ethereal realms in order to get there. And in the final stanza of the poem the speaker goes through a pseudo-acceptance of their situation where they retreat into their mind and form their own ending to the poem and their life, though he knows it is all in his head. There are stages of grief worked through in these final stanzas of the poem and it is reflective of the process that many working people go through when they realize they will not be able to participate in the American Dream, due to whatever oppression or obstacles are put upon them. They, like the speaker, mourn the death of their future.

 

Conclusion

 

It is apparent that the two texts, The New American Poetry Anthology and The Arcades Project, form a rich discourse — though not all aspects of both texts are relevant for this discussion. It is proven that Benjamin’s observation from a century before his life in Paris held significance in his life and continue to hold significance past his life. Reading The New American Poetry Anthology through the lens of Benjamin’s Arcades Project give a deeper analytical framework to understand these poems and their cultural significance. Benjamin’s insight allows for a more substantial engagement with the poetry and thus a deeper understanding of the society that poetry was created in. while there may have been some contradictions, Benjamin has created a colourful tapestry of references that remains relevant throughout the reading of the anthology.  

In the second chapter of this series, it is apparent that by applying Benjamin’s theory of the city streets to the streets of mid-century Guadalajara, San Francisco, and New York City, it is possible to gain a deeper insight into the cities and times these poets are writing about. Benjamin found a way to put together a timeless collage of images that remain applicable to cities and time period he never experienced. The way people move on and around the city streets reveals more than just travel habits. It can reveal the shaping of one’s identity, it can reveal the way one views their surroundings, or how multiple contradicting ways of life can exist in the same space at the same time. By conceptualising the poems in the framework of Benjamin’s lights and mirrors, the social function of a poem comes into sharp focus. the refocusing of sight that a poem like “Howl” does is one of its most powerful functions and allows readers to experience an old or new world through new eye. Just as Benjamin believes a mirror should do; not change the view, but refocus it, bring more light into the café. 

The third chapter of this series discussed the social movement 19th century Paris and how it can relate to 20th century America. this was the most successful link between the two text, as there will always be social oppression and attempts to overcome it, particularly in America. “This Place Rumord to Have Been Sodom” traces the life span of a revolution from the viewpoint of the future and how past revolutions age into common objects.  The relationship between social motivator and social idler is explored, as well. It is apparent that these two characters can exist in the same person, as it does with Robert Creeley and the speaker of his poem, “The Door”. The speaker of “The Door” is forced to deal with his failure of not reaching his life of leisure, though it is not entirely his fault. It is the fault of the upper classes purposefully keeping the working classes from going through the door to economic salvation. This leads to a revealing meditation on the political ideals of the conservative administration that governed for most of the decade that these poems were written in and how they treated the economically oppressed of their country. And in “This Place Rumord to Have Been Sodom” Benjamin’s concept of idler as omniscient student is explored. The prophetic nature of the poem is highlighted when Benjamin’s theories on omniscience come into play. Unless one is aware of all of Duncan’s original influences and intention when writing this poem, there is hardly a better framework to analyse this speaker than in Benjamin’s framework of idler as omniscient student. Duncan’s speaker fits Benjamin’s description to the point of proving that Benjamin may have tapped into universal theories that can be found weaved throughout the fabric of The New American Poetry Anthology.




[i] Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002) p.715 [a9a,6]

[ii] See: Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002) p.715 [a10,1]

[iii] Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002) p. 719 [a11a,2]

[iv] Robert Duncan, “This Place Rumord to Have Been Sodom” in The New American Poetry Anthology, ed. Donald Allen, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999) p. 44

[v] King James Bible, Genesis 19:5

[vi] Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002) p. 736 [a21,1]

[vii] Ibid.

[viii]  Robert Duncan, “This Place Rumord to Have Been Sodom” in The New American Poetry Anthology, ed. Donald Allen, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999) p. 45

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002) p. 722 [a13a, 1]

[xii] Robert Duncan, “This Place Rumord to Have Been Sodom” in The New American Poetry Anthology, ed. Donald Allen, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999) p. 45

[xiii] Ibid.

[xiv] Davidson, Michael, “Marginality in the Margins: Robert Duncan’s Textual Politics” in Contemporary Literature, Vol. 33, No. 2, (Summer, 1992) P. 300

[xv]See:  Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002) p. 727 [a16,3]

[xvi] Robert Creeley, “The Door” in The New American Poetry Anthology, ed. Donald Allen, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999) p. 83

[xvii] Charles Altieri, “The Unsure Egoist: Robert Creeley and the Theme of Nothingness” in Contemporary Literature, Vol. 13, No. 2, (Spring, 1972) P. 170

[xviii] Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002) P. 712 [a8,4]

[xix] Robert Creeley, “The Door” in The New American Poetry Anthology, ed. Donald Allen, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999) p. 84

[xx] Ibid.

[xxi] Ibid.

[xxii] Ibid. p. 85

[xxiii] Ibid.

[xxiv] Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002) p. 725 [a14a,3]

[xxv] Robert Creeley, “The Door” in The New American Poetry Anthology, ed. Donald Allen, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999) p. 85

[xxvi] Ibid.

[xxvii] Ibid.

[xxviii] Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002) p. 715 [a10,3]

[xxix] See: Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002) p. 804 [m3a,6]

[xxx] Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002) p. 804 [m4,3]

[xxxi] Robert Duncan, “This Place Rumord to Have Been Sodom” in The New American Poetry Anthology, ed. Donald Allen, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999) p. 45

[xxxii] Robert Duncan, “This Place Rumord to Have Been Sodom” in The New American Poetry Anthology, ed. Donald Allen, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999) Pp. 44-45

[xxxiii] See: Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002) p. 804 [m4,3]

[xxxiv] Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002) p. 804 [m4,3]

[xxxv] Ibid. p. 800 [m1,2]

[xxxvi] Ibid.

[xxxvii] Ibid. p. 802 [m2,2]

[xxxviii] Robert Creeley, “The Door” in The New American Poetry Anthology, ed. Donald Allen, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999) p. 84

[xxxix] Ibid. p. 85

[xl] Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002) p. 801 [m1a,6]

[xli] Ibid.

[xlii] Robert Creeley, “The Door” in The New American Poetry Anthology, ed. Donald Allen, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999) p. 86


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Ryan De Leon was born and raised in Southern California before moving to the UK and earning his BA in English Literature and Music and his MA in English Literature, both at Newcastle University. He is now back in California and is the founder of Sons and Daughters.

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