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  Duncan/Levertov & The War Now
John BalabanSaturday, February 28, 2009

How should artists as citizens respond to war? What response is possible beyond protest?

Over the course of their decades-long friendship, Devinse Levertov and Robert Duncan wrote passionately and eloquently about their writing and revision processes. During the years of the Vietnam war, however, their once-close friendship began to show signs of strain. Their diverging views on how to respond to in the face of that war ultimately caused the friendship to founder. In 2006 a group of poets and Woodland Pattern community members starting meeting regulary to read and discuss the decades long correspondence between Duncan and Levertov. Our reading group then became a poetic "research" group leading to The War Now forum. Looking at the lessons drawn from the dissolution of friendship between Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov, we hope to promote further conversations and collaborations among artists, scholars, and activists about the role that literary texts play in disseminating information in war-time. The schedule for the day will include a panel session followed by an open forum. The event will close with forum participants joining John Balaban in a group reading in the evening.

The War Now

2:00 Panel: Robert Duncan, Denise Levertov, and The War Now Panelists (Ed Block, Faith Barrett, Karl Gartung, Andrew Graff, Dale Ritterbusch, and John Balaban) will consider what lessons artists can draw from the correspondence between Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov, two poets with deeply considered responses to the war(s) of their time. To what extent can literary texts represent the horrors of battlefield violence and should writers try to do so? In what ways might poetry be particularly well-suited to the task of representing war, and what ways might it be a particularly limiting or confining form of representation? Does an artist have a responsibility to register some artistic "truth" or to persuade? What is a "just" response? Is it possible, being human, to respond to events both contemporaneously and justly?

Each panelist will offer 3-5 minutes of prepared remarks, with presenters responding to one another as well as raising further questions for the audience members and panelists to discuss.

3:00 Open Forum with Paul Lacey: Participants include Peter O'Leary, Anne-Marie Cusac, Angela Sorby, John Balaban, Ed Block, Faith Barrett, Karl Gartung, Andrew Graff, Dale Ritterbusch, Chuck Stebelton, Peggy Hong, Roberto Harrison, William Allegrezza, and Woodland Pattern community members.

7:00 Reading & Reception: Forum participants will join John Balaban in a group poetry reading at 7pm. Each poet will present a short set of their own writing in addition to sharing work that relates to the Duncan-Levertov debate or a poem from the tradition of war writing. $8 / $7 /$6

John Balaban is the author of twelve books of poetry and prose, including four volumes which together have won The Academy of American Poets' Lamont prize, a National Poetry Series Selection, and two nominations for the National Book Award. His Locusts at the Edge of Summer: New and Selected Poems won the 1998 William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America. In 2003, he was awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship. In 2005, he was a judge for the National Book Awards. His latest book of poetry is Path, Crooked Path, published by Copper Canyon Press (March, 2006).

Faith Barrett is Assistant Professor of English at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. With Cristanne Miller, she co-edited Words for the Hour: A New Anthology of American Civil War Poetry (U Mass Press 2005). She has also published articles on the Civil War era poetry of Whitman, Dickinson, and Melville, and she is currently completing a manuscript on American poetry of the Civil War.

Ed Block is Professor of English at Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He has been editor of Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature since 1995. He has overseen the publication of two special issues of the journal (1997 and 2005) on Levertov and her work. He has authored or co-authored three essays on Denise Levertov and is currently at work on an essay on Levertov and her poems for paintings.

Andy Graff is completing an English degree at Lawrence University. He is currently writing a novella titled Flat Black which draws on his time served in Kandahar, Afghanistan in the US Air Force during the spring of 2002. Andy is also working on a book of prose poetry, design, and photography in collaboration with his brother, Aaron Graff. This manuscript in progress is titled "The Bishop Project."

Paul Lacey is Professor of English emeritus at Earlham College and is currently chair of the national board of the American Friends Service Committee. His publications include The Inner War (1971) on the work of poets Levertov, Bly, Wright, and Sexton, as well as several articles on Levertov. He is also the editor of Levertov's posthumous poems This Great Unknowing and her Selected Poems. He is currently working on an edition of Levertov's collected poems.

Dale Ritterbusch is the author of Lessons Learned, a collection of poems centered on the Vietnam War and its aftermath, and more recently, Far From the Temple of Heaven, a collection that contains, as well, war poems derived from more recent military ventures. He served in the U.S. Army from 1966 to 1969. After receiving his commission from the Infantry School at Ft. Benning, he served as a hazardous munitions escort officer before being attached to JUSMAAG/MACTHAI where he was responsible for coordinating shipments of aerial mines for dispersal along the Ho Chi Minh trail and elsewhere in Vietnam. He is Professor of Languages and Literatures at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and served as Distinguished Visiting Professor in the Department of English and Fine Arts at the United States Air Force Academy for the academic year 2004-2005.

Karl Gartung was born in Liberal, Kansas in 1947. He married artist Anne Kingsbury in 1970. In 1976 he was hired to run a small press bookstore (Boox, Inc.) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Gartung says this was the beginning of his serious apprenticeship to contemporary literature. In 1979 he was a co-founder, with Karl Young and Anne Kingsbury, of Woodland Pattern Book Center. His first full-length poetry collection, Now That Memory Has Become So Important, was recently published by MWPH Books in Fairwater, Wisconsin.

Responsibility is to keep the ability to respond.
- Robert Duncan

It is hard to be an artist in this time because it is hard to be human.
- Denise Levertov


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