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SUCH CONJUNCTIONS



ROBERT DUNCAN, JESS,
AND ALBERTO DE LACERDA




EDITED BY LUS AMORIM DE SOUSA, MARY PORTER DE SOUSA, AND JAMES MAYNARD

WITH ESSAYS BY LUS AMORIM DE SOUSA, JAMES MAYNARD, AND SCOTT LAUGHLIN











B L A Z E V O X [ B O O K S ]
Buffalo, New York

Such Conjunctions: Robert Duncan, Jess, and Alberto de Lacerda
Edited by Lus Amorim de Sousa, Mary Porter de Sousa, and James Maynard

Copyright 2014

Published by BlazeVOX [books]

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without
the publishers written permission, except for brief quotations in reviews.

Printed in the United States of America

Interior design and typesetting by Geoffrey Gatza
Cover art by Jess, For Want of Stairs: Salvages V, 1964/1974, oil on canvasboard

First Edition
ISBN: 978-1-60964-167-2
Library of Congress Control Number: 2014930353

BlazeVOX [books]
131 Euclid Ave
Kenmore, NY 14217

Editor@blazevox.org




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15

THE MYSTERIES OF HUMAN PATHS

JAMES MAYNARD





If one thinks of poetry as a living continuum of forms, as did Robert Duncan, then there is a place
a shoreline somewherewhere Duncans verse meets Alberto de Lacerdas. They gather at the edge
of a sea that exists beyond my rocks (de Lacerda, The Tiger that Walks) where the poet hears a
voice [coming] across the waters from a shore I dont know to a shore I know, and is translated into
words belonging to the poem (Duncan, The Structure of Rime I).
Theirs is a site of poetic otherness jutting off from a certain trajectory of European lyric poetry
from Romanticism to modernism and even postmodernism that takes the revelation of the
marvelous as its goal and includes such nineteenth- and twentieth-century figures as Rilke, Hlderlin,
Baudelaire, Mallarm, and Rimbaud as well as Breton and the Surrealists. Engaging the strange and
invoking the transcendent (or at least a desire for such), this visionary tradition poses an experience
of the infinite outside of habituated forms of thinking, being, and (in some cases) writing. This is the
moment when, to quote de Lacerdas description in his letter to Duncan of the Portuguese
Carnation Revolution of 1974, like in great art, everythingthe inner and the outer world, the
mysterious and the immediately apparentfuses into the Open. Such a pursuit is especially evident
in Duncans early pre-1960 publications, and a comparison of his writings with de Lacerdas might
properly build toward a reading of their respective books Caesars Gate and 77 Poems, both published
in 1955 and perhaps the closest in terms of style and content. This is not, however, to ignore the very
real differences in their poetry and poetics. While both of their early publications appeal to poetrys

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plenitudes and enchantments as a form of relief from each poets
social alienation, Duncans later work, in particular, spreads forth
deeper and more transparent roots, and whereas de Lacerdas lines
continue to demonstrate a more minimal compression of statement
and image, Duncans phrasal compositions build towards increasingly
larger structures.
In the actual world, Robert Duncan (1919-1988) and Alberto de
Lacerda (1928-2007) met in Austin, Texas at the International
Festival of Poetry in November 1969, twelve years after they both
appeared together in the Autumn 1957 issue of Marguerite Caetanis
magazine Botteghe Oscure. Other visits would follow in San Francisco,
Boston, and in May 1977 in London. Biographically, the two men
recognized as leading poets of their generationsshared several
experiences in common. Both began writing poetry at an early age,
both edited little literary magazines (Epitaph, Ritual, Experimental
Review, and Berkeley Miscellany for Duncan in the 1930s and 40s; Maio
for de Lacerda in the early 1970s), both spent time as teachers, and
both wrote forms of art criticism and were attracted to collage. By the
age of 28, both had published their first books of poetryand if de
Lacerdas aborted volume Ponte Suspensa had been printed shortly
after it was first accepted for publication in 1947 by a publisher who
was to pass away shortly thereafter, it would have appeared in the
same year as Duncans first book collection Heavenly City, Earthly City.
But Id like to suggest that, more than anything, what de Lacerda


Botteghe Oscure 20 (Autumn 1957), edited
by Marguerite Caetani, Rome


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and Duncan shared was an equally deep investment and lifelong participation in various (and
sometimes overlapping) communities of culture, for lack of a better word. In writing a PrePreface
prose poem in the 1972 edition of Caesars Gate: Poems 1949-50 that he gave to de Lacerda, something
that Duncan would sometimes do when inscribing books to friends, he recognizes his Portuguese
counterpart as a fellow poet and names the two of them children of the verge of What Is. In
Duncans lexicon, the phrase What Is became in the 1960s a shorthand reference for his pluralistic
understanding of the real as a densely interwoven and endlessly evolving ground of experience
always abundant and ever changing. How awkwardly we name it, he writes in a later poem: the
actual, the real, the authentic What Is. Throughout his life, Duncan passionately involved
himself with different facets of human activity in order to deepen his understanding of the human
experience writ large. As he explains in the essay Mans Fulfillment in Order and Strife: My
perspective would go throughout time and the present world of man as it extends into an
acknowledged nature of our being. In this order I am fascinated by boundaries, by the fact that the
real has just those boundaries we are willing to imagine. . . . And to extend that imaginationI gather
in wherever it speaks to me His testimony of experience, searching to have a more and more
multitudinous image of what Man is, and a more and more various resource in His being.
In Alberto de Lacerda Duncan found a fellow devotee of poetry, art, and experience (of the
experiences in poetry and art), and such became the basis for their friendship. From all published
accounts and reminiscences of de Lacerda, he felt just as strongly about the essential nature of the
arts for ones well being and quality of life. And that de Lacerda was himself a collage artist would
have given him another basis for relating to Duncans partner Jess (1923-2004). Their letters testify as
much, indicating that the three were sharing not just their own works with one another but also other
poetry books, biographies, musical recordings, magazines, and art catalogues. Likewise, the letters

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mention writers and artists of all kinds, as all of them were intensely engaged in the visual arts as well
as poetry.
Which brings us to their archives. Both poets are survived by the large collections that they
accumulated over their lives: manuscripts, letters, postcards, notebooks, art, inscribed books,
photographs, broadsides, posters, recordings, and all the kinds of ephemera and realia that
accompany a life lived in the arts. After de Lacerdas death in 2007, sixteen tons of material were
carefully removed from his London apartment by his executor Lus Amorim de Sousa and
temporarily deposited for sorting and treatment at the Mrio Soares Foundation in Lisbon, Portugal.
Since then, most of his estate has been donated to the National Library of Portugal. Duncans
papersincluding the legendary library that he shared with Jessreside in the Poetry Collection of
the University Libraries at the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York (smaller
collections reside in several other institutions, and the majority of Jesss papers are housed at the
Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley). These archives are vast networks of
association and relation, and the letters and inscriptions reproduced here are just one small subset.
Over the years Duncan corresponded internationally with numerous poets in Canada, England,
Scotland, France, and Australia, and conversely de Lacerdas letters reflect his own multitude of
relationships on both sides of the Atlantic. Together, they shared quite a number of mutual friends,
and their common correspondents included John Ashbery, Elizabeth Bishop, Michael Hamburger,
Octavio Paz, Claude Royet-Journoud, Nathaniel Tarn, and Jonathan Williams. During de Lacerdas
first visit to San Francisco, Duncan introduced him to Larry Eigner, Thomas Parkinson, Lou
Harrison, Michael McClure, David and Hilde Burton, and David Bromige, and some of them struck
up their own epistolary relationships with de Lacerda.
Reading through the letters between de Lacerda and Duncan, one can see how their friendship
flourished after their meeting in 1969, how de Lacerda became equally fond of both Duncan and Jess

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(and vice versa), and, inevitably, how their relationships suffered from the strains of trying to
maintain them across the distances of time and space. A friend of a casual meeting, Duncan refers
to de Lacerda, contrasting him from those more immediate peers in whom his creative life [was]
truly involved. (Indeed, something conspicuously absent from these letters are any significant
discussions of poetics.) And yet, as casual as their meeting and relationship was, these letters and
cards back and forth (and it appears from the evidence here that not all have survived) are
remarkable not only in the documentation of their individual lives during the years 1969 to 1978, but,
more so, for what they say about the mutual recognitions that gave rise to their friendship in the first
place. Thus, in the last extant letter from Jess to de Lacerda almost a full year after Duncans death in
1988, their affection reappears as strong as ever, an echo or rime of the concluding sentence of
Duncans PrePreface for Alberto:

That there are years is in time such a provision as countrysides provide in our geologies. Let
us walk as far as the corner and then each walk on toward our return.










JAMES MAYNARD is Associate Curator of the Poetry Collection at the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York, which
houses Robert Duncans papers. He coedited Duncans Ground Work: Before the War/In the Dark (New Directions, 2006) and edited the
collection (Re:)Working the Ground: Essays on the Late Writings of Robert Duncan (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011). His edition of Robert Duncan:
Collected Essays and Other Prose (University of California Press, 2014), part of the Collected Writings of Robert Duncan series, received
the Poetry Foundations 2014 Pegasus Award for Poetry Criticism.














CORRESPONDENCE









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Dec. 24/69

dear Alberto, We are looking forward to the possibility that you will visit was it the first week in January? Meeting you and Octavio,
two new poets whom I found muy simpatico, was more than a pleasure a verification of so much I want poetry to be.
Heres my address again and phone in case it got lost along the way.
love
Robert

3267 20th St.
San Francisco 285-5787
94110

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611 W 17th
Austin
Texas 78701
10 May 70

Dear Robert
Life too complicated but happy. And a few poems. It was great to have your card-in-painting painting-in-card. A thousand
thanks to Jess: its beautiful.
I may come to San Francisco in the first half of July: could you put me up? I am broke: any chance of a paid reading? Above all, I
want to see you and Jess before I return to Europe. Could you answer as soon as you can? Do you know any body in New York who
could put me up for a week, without being an inconvenience? Do you know anywhere (motel, hostel) cheap in New York?
I lost your card for the moment. Will send me again your phone number?
Many, many thanks
My love to you and to Jess
Alberto


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611 W 17th
Austin
Texas 78701
3 June 70

Dear Robert
No, no readings Im sorry for the idea; Im not in the mood, and finances are better: I got the income tax returns sooner than I
expected. My apologies for suggesting a reading. One day, perhaps, when (and if) I return to the States.
Ill stay six days arriving on the 30th

June and leaving on the 6th

July. It was you who suggested both here at my party and in a
letter in the New Year that I could stay with you; otherwise I wouldnt dream of bothering you and Jess; a bed in some corner will be
an enormous help, as I dont know a soul in San Francisco. I promise I shall not give any trouble; dont think you will have to
entertain, guide, or anything. The only thing Ill ask is where to eat cheaply and a few tips about cafs (I hope there are open air cafs, I
love them), sights, bookshops. I hope it really would be nice if sometimes the three of us can be together and talk. And I very
much hope to se Jesss paintings. Dont fear I shall play the guest; impossible! As a guest, I tend to be a ghost. And I very much respect
peoples work. I dream of writing some poems there. Above all, I want to drink the faces in the streets, and see the town, lose myself in
it.
I hate troubling people with the telephone: can you write me a line about this?: Im going by plane. How should I get about going
to your house? Should I get a taxi from the Airport, or the Air Terminal (if there is an Air Terminal)? Have you any advice to give? On
no account must you go and meet me: there are always delays, etc. I hate imposing that. It will be enough if Im sure that you or Jess are at
home on Saturday afternoon the 30th June. And tell me whats the best way of getting to your house.
Please remember me to Jess, who was so nice on the phone.

To you,
love
and a thousand thanks.
Alberto

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June 4/70

dear Alberto, I reassured Jess that as a guest you tended to be a ghost, without, that is, the suggestion of the ghastly that can adhere to
either guest or ghost. And he enjoyd the so personable mode of your letter (as he had remarked that you had a pleasing voice on the
phone). My own apprehensions then are put at ease, and I am freely delited that you will be here for that visit I had urged you to make.
He will be in the final stages (inches) of a painting he has been some five months on, and I was uneasy about how willing he was to
have someone else around. You and I will explore the city, and visit some of San Franciscos over five hundred poets. There will
certainly be the time for a small evening here. And the guest (ghost) room does provide the privacy of a world of your own, something
more than a corner, and quite separate from our own living rooms.
But do not (except as you may want to explore) think in terms of eating out. Our meal times are our social times, and quite
regular.
Unless you have heavy luggage, when you are at the Airport enquire about getting a greyhound bus ticket to San Francisco and
where to get the bus (there is a station at the airport). It is not the fact that the fare is cheaper, which it is, but that it is much the easiest
way to get from the city terminal of the greyhound bus to our house. Once in San Francisco, walk one block south to Mission Street,
take a 14-MISSION (but not a MISSION LIMITED), a 9 Richland or a 12 Mission-Ocean, and get off at 20th Street. We live 2 !
short blocks east, a eucalyptus tree in front, and a wrought-iron gate at the door.
Were looking forward to the 30th.
love
Robert

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September 4/1970

dear Alberto,
How often we think now of your so pleasant visit the Eigners, the Burtons and Bromiges (the poet and his wife we met for
lunch in Berkeley) and Peter (that first day in North Beach) all have remarkt upon their pleasure. I hope London will yield some sunny
days as our city did for you. As if for you especially; for, tho today is again magnificent, we have had an unusually cold and overcast
summer.
I hope you have not undertaken the purchase of the Berlioz Trojans, for our music shop windows are displaying the Philips set as
if they had just burst into full bloom. And there are numerous opportunities here for special sale prices. I will wait until I have an All
clear signal from you, and then, if you have not got one already on the way, run out and get one.
We have heard from Kitaj, who will be in California (at U.C.L.A.) this year; with the Creeleys arriving this month to settle in for
his term at San Francisco State College it looks like a busy Autumn. My sessions at Santa Cruz are less than a month away.
Jess sends his regards. We got a Sunday paper and shudderd at the rental rates. How fortunate we were indeed to have graduated
from that realm when we did! Two or three rooms are listed at $150200!
And was Portugal somewhat redeemed this visit?
love
Robert


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A. de Lacerda
52 Tite Street
Chelsea
London, SW3
England
London
Sept 70

Dear Jess
Dear Robert
What an unforgettable week that was! I shall always be grateful to both of you for being such marvellous hosts. The whole visit
has a kind of glow for me something that will remain.
Lisbon was . . . interesting, but a lot of times very annoying. Im afraid I lost touch completely with those people. The Portuguese
dont enjoy anything, dont go into anything; I feel nothing in common with them. And, great gods!, they are the ugliest race on earth.
Yes, the city is ravishing but I need more than visual beauty. Thats the miracle of San Francisco: the blending of place and people.
Im glad to be back in London: its the centre of happiness. It has a truth about it, an inner tranquility. It will always remain my
headquarters. Lousy climate, but I suppose one must pay something for paradise.
Kitajs wife commited suicide; they were more or less separated for several years, but it must have been a shock for him all the
same.
Jess, I havent found out yet about that painting, but I will not forget.

I hadnt bought yet the Trojans. So, go ahead. Ive sent you already (but thats a gift) the Proust biography. Tell me when you get it.
I received one of the parcels; not the second one. I suppose it will take some time. You didnt register it, which is a mistake, as
otherwise one has no way of tracing it; it was the parcel (the one I havent got) that had a lot of signed books (yours, McLure, etc.), the
hot magazines, etc. Lets hope for the best.
Write to me. Give my love to friends.
Love
Alberto

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Oct. 6, 1970

Dear Alberto
It was so very good to receive your letter to know you are well, back where you are most at home. I am all apologies about the
non-registration of your parcels I procrastinated in the mailing (painting got too absorbing) and Robert took them to the P.O. I
think he has no faith in officialdoms registries I do hope that the packages finally have arrived there This is my (just
publisht) Gallowsongs, herewith.* A consolation prize. I lookt at the rentals ads + was horrified to see how theyve leapt since last I
was shopping Ill send an ad-section tho if youre interested It wld be such a pleasure if you had a season teaching in the Bay Area
somewhere (pleasure for us; I cant think of teaching as a pleasure) But Robert is now off teaching TuesThurs in Santa Cruz
each week; this will be his first week of the semester.
We finally have the front porch stairs rebuilt (painting it today) after a midnite drunk demolisht them explosively with his auto I
thot sleepily that had come the Revolution! The night-wanderer had dented up five other cars en passage, + ended wrong-
side-up down the block weltering in blood, glass and whatnot He got home from the hospital in two days, we were informd. Flesh
bounces as well as squashing
So keep well and whatever betides bounce!
Love
Jess

*Started to send book airmail with enclosed letter, then decided to economize + send it regular parcel post registerd.

just a note today is my off-to-Santa Cruz day, where three days a week I am teaching. I do hope all the packages arrived! We wonder
where (if Portugal is so feo) Albertos persona came from.
Love
Robert

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[postcard from London postmarked 15 December 1970]

A thousand wishes, dear friends, for Christmas and the New Year
Love
Alberto

Did you get the Proust and the E.S.?