Featured Poet: Andrew Duncan (UK)

Andrew Duncan creates a poetic world, self-contained and self-sufficient, which resonates squarely with contemporary dilemmas. How does an artist function in a society torn apart by wars and ideological confusions? More pertinently, is this an important or useful function?

Duncan approaches these dilemmas from a stance equal parts anguished resolve, mediated acceptance, and willful refusal. Duncan is a poet of deliberate ambiguities and artfully balanced evasions; world and language are processed as palpable and impalpable substances, agents of being and non-being. Duncan’s shards-of-glass prosody is notable not only because it is sustained, but because he makes us feel its’ edges.

Duncan has released many collections of poetry, including “In a German Hotel”, “Alien Skies”, and “Skeleton Looking at Chinese Pictures.” A “Selected” poems, “Anxiety Before Entering a Room”, was released by Salt Publishing in 2001.

Here is an in-depth interview with Andrew Duncan.

from In a German Hotel (1977-78)


I live in a room of white walls
I only come here at night
Which no one sees but me

And Ali has a day off and on his day off
He walks in the village square in his new suit
Walks and then goes back inside

I wear the sweater on my day off
And I could never wear it any other day
And I could never wear it without crying


Day shift in the windowless room. Fall behind a few minutes every
hour. A landscape of shouts. And you can’t cover up. An expression
of fear on you; inside, a freezing river.

It’s contact with the world that hurts me. I think in pidgin. The
landscape of shouts. My stomach hurts with worry.

We see food and we see its wreckage. Watch the waitress eat off
the plates the guests leave, the pretty waitresses. I can’t think in
English any more. our eyes are buried deep in the soil. The waste
product of perception. We are the bowels of many rich men. I see a
week of hours and a week of weeks. Two hundred meals an hour.
It’s the instants I can’t stand. Ten per cent too fast turns all
thoughts to pains. memory hurts too. We are the victims of desire.
Do straw dogs ache for a straw death?


Three years’ work and it’s worth nothing.
Less than that nothing worth
The dole of L13 each Tuesday from other hands.
You pay for the printing, you work on the setting.
You put it out and no one buys it.
Amateur! The pros tell how it feels to be rich
In paperbacks as bright as sweet packets.

Who’d have thought I cared so much for money?
My years fold in pleat on pleat of yellow treason.

I’m exhausted by warring shadows.
More calm? more force? unclear, I start to shake.

I draw benefit, one of the leisured class.
I don’t have to work. There is none.
I think all the time. I try to remember
The Welsh poetic vocabulary.

A principle of silence has ordered our habits.
How long? how long?

I’m almost blind with total light, with
Dew, half drunk by the sun, half weighed down by night.
I love my art; cruel sister, remote princess.

A strong man needs strong enemies:
Poverty, madness, disdain, compromise, silence.

Years of thought. At last I crawl across the floor
To put my hands in the boss’s pockets.


Rain silvers the slate roofs, smoke blows through the rain.
The hawthorn hedges are a red haze.
The hills above the town are blurred by mist.
Beauty is stripped away.
Light is pierced with nostalgia, slow and lax.
Decadent season.
Water forms as a haze between light and rain.
Flowers and leaves decaying in the streams
Mix earth and water in slow dispersal.
Blur steals over visible forms,
Smoke and moulder stir in the ash of light.
The pools are sorrowful, the sips of flowers split.
I find a single apple whole after all these weeks,
Skin whole and pulp firm as sapwood.

In a slush of softness and excrescence,
Late berries languish on the tendrils,
Lush to dissolution, spoilt with juice,
Blacker than nature with a white tinge like regret.
In the shadow of the sunny fronds,
Where the dew never dries, they drink and rot.
Rain on the leaf, dew on the bine. Mites
Finger the abacus of their flesh.
Rain silvers the roof-slates, smoke blows through the rain.

Season of memory and regret.
Barrels coop up the giddy hearts for recollection.
The animals grow lazier and furrier:
Search out shelter and apathy!
The heady noon is gone, the soft inner of the blossoms
And their offer. The rarer veins are frozen in their course.
We waited for the glance of the sun.
The osier of bare birch twigs seems like smoke
Against the red glow of the Apple going down.

Rain silvers the roof-slates, smoke blows through the rain.
A swirl of leaves like heavy fire
Pours through the tamping of a world on the wane.
The darkened sky withholds the weary forms.
Crepuscle, dissolution of concepts;
Season of case-hardening ash,
Season of ferment and thorough steeping.
Fruits infringe their brinks and streams their brims
Overlapping the thick pulp of fallen things.

The principle of ice shall come to judgment
On the lusts of Nature, searching out the flaw.
Bare branches detach pure metre from an obese rhetoric.
Blue glare shall stake out the torpid mist,
Pure-axile crystals shall affirm the morass.