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Prefacing the Poetry, Revision as Reflection

Duncan’s early poetry often perplexed him. In 1959, after preparing a typescript of his early poems, he wrote to his confidante the poet Denise Levertov that, “The whole period of 1950-1953 is one of a scattering of focuses.” As a result, when Duncan came to publish A Book of Resemblances in 1966, he wrote six drafts for the book’s preface while performing little to no revision on the poems themselves. He needed to understand what his early poems meant and how they helped him develop into a stronger writer with a powerful, mystical voice.

The manuscripts leading to the prose poem, "Asia" (the second section of the Preface), exemplify Duncan’s difficulty in getting at his identity as a young writer. In the early drafts he struggles to locate his own poetry, but through extensive revision, he crafts a personal myth about the way that these poems approach “a Heraclitean form, a form in process.” That is to say that his early poems do not attend to a pre-conceived model, but to the act of writing.

By comparing the drafts of "Asia" side by side we can explore the various additions and subtractions that he made. In so doing, the actual writing process should be kept in mind. Which of these drafts came first? How do they display Duncan’s understanding of his poems? To what extent does he arrive at an understanding of poetry which, in many ways, perplexed him in 1959?

Furthermore, "An Imaginary War Elegy," "Of the Art," and "Unkindg by Affection," three poems published in A Book of Resemblances, have been added to The Versioning Machine. Students and scholars can compare the minimal changes that Duncan made between the drafts and the published version and explore the way that the Preface, "Asia," may or may not adequately characterize these poems.