Duncan, Robert

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Duncan, Robert Gender: M
born on 7 January 1919 at 06:15 (= 06:15 AM )
Place Oakland, California, 37n48, 122w16
Timezone PST h8w (is standard time)
Data source
From memory
Rodden Rating A
Collector: Scholfield
Astrology data s_su.18.gif s_capcol.18.gif 16°15' s_mo.18.gif s_piscol.18.gif 21°58 Asc.s_sagcol.18.gif 28°06'


American major contemporary poet, considered a presiding voice of the San Francisco Bay area specifically, which he helped establish as a major center of poetry in the United States. Duncan became the leading spokesperson for open poetry in America, and his full powers are considered best displayed in "The Venice Poem," 1948, patterned after Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements.

Duncan’s mother died shortly after giving birth to him and his father, a day laborer, put him up for adoption when he was six months old. Adopted by a couple who chose him on the basis of his astrology chart, he grew up as Robert Edward Symmes, reverting to his original surname in 1942. Raised mainly in Bakersfield, California, his adopted father was an architect and both of his parents were theosophists. He was deeply affected by metaphysical influences throughout the family; his grandmother had been an elder in a Hermetic order similar to William Butler Yeats’s Order of the Golden Dawn.

He attended the University of California at Berkeley from 1936-1938, and published his first poems in school magazines. He then moved to New York, where he befriended Anais Nin and others. Early influences included Edith Sitwell, Jean Cocteau and the French Surrealists. He returned to San Francisco in 1945 after publishing "The Homosexual in Society" and in "Politics," 1944. He moved to Berkeley in 1946 and joined a small group of poets there, studied medieval and Renaissance civilization and in 1951, began a long-standing relationship with painter Jess Collins.

In 1952, he joined a group of poets publishing in "Origen" magazine, followed by an association with "Black Mountain Review." He taught briefly at the experimental Black Mountain College in Western North Carolina before it closed in 1956.

Duncan became the leading spokesman for the poetry of open form in America. In 1972, he courageously announced he would not publish again until 1983 when a volume to be called "Ground Work" would lay the foundation for the work of his final years.

His poems have been collected in two volumes, "The First Decade: Selected Poems 1940-1950," and "Derivations Selected Poems 1950-1956," 1968.

Died 2/03/1988, San Francisco, CA.

Link to Wikipedia biography



Source Notes

Sy Scholfield quotes "Robert Duncan: The Ambassador from Venus" by Lisa Jarnot (Chicago Review, 1999. Vol. 45, Iss. 2): "Duncan's sister Anne conjured the scene from her own memory some sixty years later: 'I stood at the foot of my mother's bed and watched Robert being born. I was two years old, and I remember a great deal of blood and water. He was born at six o'clock in the morning and mother died, I think, at four o'clock the same afternoon.' While the rest of the children stood quietly in the bedroom's doorway, Marguerite's husband Edward sat beside the bed, his weary profile reflected in the room's single window, facing west toward downtown Oakland and toward the Pacific beyond. It was close to dawn when the baby arrived. The birth was recorded in official records as occuring at 6:30 A.M., though it's probable that Duncan was born at least a half-hour earlier, a detail which would be particularly significant in the subsequent readings of his astrological chart."

Scholfield requested the birth certificate from Alameda county including payment of the fee but received no reply.

Aaron Fischer quotes biographer Ekbert Faas "Young Robert Duncan, Portrait of the Poet as Homosexual in Society" (Black Sparrow, Santa Banbara, 1983) "At dawn . . . I was born, with the sun before rising of just below the horizon in the false dawn, and Saturn in his own house, in Capricorn." (Despite his respectful reference, Saturn was in Leo at the time.).


  • Family : Childhood : Adopted (At six months)
  • Family : Childhood : Family traumatic event (Mom died when he was an infant)
  • Family : Relationship : Cohabitation more than 3 yrs (Long term with Jess Collins)
  • Family : Relationship : Mate - Same sex
  • Passions : Sexuality : Homosexual male
  • Vocation : Writers : Poet
  • Notable : Book Collection : Culture Collection