The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The five poems whose group title is Tribunals form part of a much longer sequence called Passages. The publication of Passages spans several books by Robert Duncan. He began to compose them in 1964, and a considerable number of them can be found in his 1968 book Bending the Bow. The poems in Passages are open in form, built up of phrasings defined by various lengths of white space, and usually several pages in length. They tend to “cluster,” so that, as with Tribunals, thematic as well as formal considerations help unite a small group, defining that group as distinct within the entirety of the production. Duncan had been a longtime associate of the poet Jack Spicer, whose five-, six-, and seven-poem clusters came to be called “serial poems,” and that term seems to fit Tribunals. Although there is no sequential matter that binds the poems together, there are identities of scale and tone.

In Tribunals, these identities are grand, making this group perhaps the greatest of the groupings that constitute Passages. From the first lines of Passages 31, “The Concert,”

Out of the sun and the dispersing stars go forth the elemental sparks, outpouring vitalities,stir in the Saliter of the earth a living Spirit,

to the final lines of Passages 35, “Before the Judgment,”

Children of Kronos, of the Dream beyond death, secret of a Life...

(The entire section is 711 words.)