Washington University Libraries Home
Final Versions Home

Teach with A Book of Resemblances

As Duncan revised his Book of Resemblances for publication, both times, once with Auerhahn Press and once with Henry Wenning acting as agent, several considerations involving the poetry's presentation arose. Duncan’s methods in dealing with the poetry in A Book of Resemblances can certainly be used to teach revision in either the composition classroom or the creative writing classroom. In fact, students may not often consider the usefulness of collaboration and visual aids in essays. Teachers can use the following exercises in the writing classroom to work with the visual material in A Book of Resemblances.

1. A visual analysis coupled with an analysis of the corresponding poems. Teachers should ask students to first consider one of Jess' illustrations without reading the poetry. Next, have students read the poem and discuss the way in which the illustrations and the language interact.

2. Once students have discussed how the poems and the drawings work together, have students attempt something more radical, such as adding images to one of their essays, poems, or stories. Or, have students draw visual representations of their language (particularly useful for art students taking a writing course).

3. Robert Duncan did not usually make many changes to the language in his poetry; however, he did write "Asia," the book's preface, six times. Writing about one's writing can be a very difficult task. Teachers can begin with an analysis of "Asis," located in the "Compare Drafts" tab, and then have students preface some of their own essays in Duncan's style.

4. Collaboration: have students collaborate on an essay. Teachers could approach this in a rather traditional manner by having students simply read each other's essay and comment, or teachers could have the students locate visual aids that might help the other student's essay.

5. As Duncan and Jess came to publish A Book of Resemblances, they made two mock-ups for the book. Each of these mock-ups pays an extreme amount of attention to the position of the words on the page, the illustrations on each page, and the actual visual presentation of the book. Have students create a mock-up of their own poetry, essays, or stories. In so doing, careful attention should be paid to how a reader will experience the material. Which line is it best to end a page upon? Why?

If teachers wish to use this web-site to create a lesson plan regarding Robert Duncan and the status of mid-Century American poetry (for either an entry level, 20th Century Literature survey course or something more specialized, like a course on Beat Poetry or Late Modernist Poetry), some suggested topics for discussion follow.

1. In some ways Duncan's A Book of Resemblances does indeed bear some correspondence with the ways in which High Modernists like James Joyce and Ezra Pound went about publishing their books. However, some differences also exist. This topic could be used for both a discussion of the roles that the object, the book itself, held for Duncan in contrast or comparison to his High Modernist predecessors and as a suggested topic of research.

2. Why would Duncan choose to publish this book in such an elaborate way? Several lines of inquiry exist.

3. A Book of Resemblances may be interesting to the literary scholar, but students and teachers of printmaking and bookmaking will most likely find it even more interesting. Within this site, several images pertain to the actual physical process that the manuscripts went through in order to arrive at their final, lavish state. A lecture on printmaking and the illustrated book which pays careful attention to the process of creating the book would surely expand both the art students' and the literature students' sense of what a book entails.