Introductions to
Jas H. Duke

During his lifetime, Jas H. Duke was scarcely noticed during sojourns outside Australia, and not many poets outside his circle of friends in Australia recognized him, despite the energy he generated around himself wherever he went. Richard Kostelanetz includes an extreemly sketchy and not altogether accurte entry for him in his Dictionary of the Avant-Gardes, the only U.S. mention I can recall. Duke himself may not have required more than this - his Anarchism, was decentralist, and more oriented to the active scene in which he took part than in literary conquest, but it's a shame for the rest of us that he remains such a well kept secret. As an introduction to Duke, thalia's brief biography does very well.

If you can get recordings of Duke's readings and his sound poetry, or copies of his print publications (see thalia's remarks), don't hesitate. For now, I can only present examples of one type of the many types of visual poetry Duke produced. I call these pieces fablegrams. In other poems, from lyrics to sound poems to cartoons, Duke drew on fables and adventure stories read during childhood. At first these may come across as playful doodles. But greater familiarity reveals a greater depth of mythology, based at times in mundane details of life and the machinery Duke used in his day-job, at others in his Anarchist commitments. These move in and out of essential mythologies, old and new. Princesses and dragons can appear as easily as Xiutecuhtli, the Aztec god of fire, or the cyclical characters of William Blake's visionary books. The brevity of Duke's texts - many of them don't form complete sentences - suggest that they act more as nuclei around which larger formations can gather, according to the sensitivity and scope of the reader. Some of these brief utterances seem to have welled up from Duke's subconscious as part of his long, quirky dialogue with the world. Both the ability to tap his subconscious and to work carefully with what he found lead to one of my favorite of his Orphic declarations: "I LEARN BEFORE I GIVE [.] I'M EVERYWHERE."

Duke produced these poems using transfer type in spiral-bound notebooks. In several instances presented here, two open notebooks appear next to each other so you can get a feel for their spontaneity and for their uncanny ability to relate to each other both graphically and as text when juxtaposed out of sequence. Playful they certainly are, but the freedom of the disposition of letters underscores the quality and depth of Duke's Anarchism, and the stability of their design - alone or in association with other pieces - reveals the universality of Duke's vision.

- Karl Young

Go to Selected Fablegrams of Jas H. Duke.

Go to Jas H. Duke, A Biographic Sketch by thalia.

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