This is the third gathering of Robert Duncan’s essays, following Duncan’s own selection of thirteen in Fictive Certainties, 1984, and Robert Bertolf’s selection of twenty in A Selected Prose in 1994. Maynard’s new selection of 41 essays certainly eclipses the other two, although it doesn't live up to its title of “Collected Essays” – something which Maynard hints in his introduction may have troubled him. He describes Collected Essays there, somewhat paradoxically, as including only “most of Duncan’s longer and more well-known essays along with a representative selection of other prose “ (xxxiv-xxxv) and calls for the publishing of “a necessary companion volume for all of Duncan’s remaining uncollected prose” (xxxvi); he also provides a five-page “Appendix of Uncollected Essays and Other Prose.” His book’s title was possibly his publisher’s decision, perhaps dictated by its being part of the press’s series “The Collected Works of Robert Duncan.” Although Maynard also describes his new selected as a “reader’s edition” and only “lightly” edited, it is by far the most scholarly of the three, with a 51-page section of notes and a lengthy bibliography of the works and editions which Duncan appears to have cited.
Duncan’s 1984 selection, on which he worked intermittently for at least fifteen years, contained most of the essays that were influential in the reception of his poetry during the 1960s, its most productive decade – “Ideas on the Meaning of Form,” “Towards an Open Universe,” “The Sweetness and Greatness of Dante’s Divine Comedy,” “The Truth and Life of Myth,” and “Man’s Fulfillment in Order and Strife.” Bertolf in 1994 omits all but the first two of these, I suspect because the other three are among the most theosophical, performative and rhetorically extravagant of Duncan’s prose. One gets a sense that Duncan presented the essays he wanted to disseminate and be known by, and Bertolf those that he thought it politic for him to be known by. Maynard merely wants Duncan’s essays known and includes both these essays of wondrous excess and the somewhat more circumspect – “Ideas on the Meaning of Form” and “A Critical Difference of View.” Even in the latter, however, while writing less ecstatically, Duncan found it