Although associated with the Projectivist school of Black Mountain poetry, Duncan is known as a romantic poet and a mystic whose verse often baffles readers. For example, John Crowe Ransom, after accepting “Sections Towards an African Elegy” (the original title of “An African Elegy”) in 1943, returned it to Duncan the next year writing: “It seems to me to have obvious homosexual advertisement, and for that reason not to be eligible for publication.” Ransom had re-read Duncan’s poem after reading Duncan’s essay “The Homosexual in Society” and saw things in it he hadn’t before. “Is it not possible,” he wrote Duncan, “that you have made the sexual inferences inescapable, and the poem unavailable?” Duncan biographer Ekbert Faas writes that even though Duncan acknowledged to Ransom that the sexual inferences in the poem were “inescapable,” Faas himself does not find them as such. Faas sees Ransom’s refusal to publish “An African Elegy” as the “sudden end to what easily might have turned into a successful literary career sanctioned by the new Critical establishment.”
Mark Andrew Johnson praises Duncan’s “powerful imagery” and “roiling vowels” in the poem and notes that the use of Shakespearean characters anticipates Duncan’s “The Venice Poem.” In his introduction to his volume The Years as Catches, Duncan writes that “An African Elegy,” along with a few other of his early poems, displayed...
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