Ronald Duncan: about his writing
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Ronald Duncan wrote poetry from a young age but his first literary publication in 1940 was a book of three plays: The Dull Ass’s Hoof. His first poems Postcards to Pulcinella (1941) encouraged his promotion by T. S. Eliot. From the 1950s his poetry and plays were published by Faber & Faber.
In 1937 Ezra Pound had encouraged Duncan to set up a modernist arts magazine Townsman (1938-1945) which later became The Scythe a title that signalled Duncan's growing interest in agriculture and husbandry. He wrote a popular first book on farming: Journal of a Husbandman (Faber 1944) while his passion for music and drama led to a collaboration with Britten: work on the libretto The Rape of Lucretia (1946). Duncan went on to write plays for the London stage and by 1956 he had become known as a dramatist equivalent to Christopher Fry as well as a founder of the English Stage Company which ran the Royal Court theatre in London...
This Way to the Tomb is an important post-war verse drama performed at the Mercury Theatre in 1945. It was followed by Duncan’s adaptation of Cocteau's L’aigle à deux têtes as The Eagle has Two Heads (1946). Tallulah Bankhead and Marlon Brando appeared in the U.S. production. Stratton was published in 1950. Our Lady's Tumbler was performed in Salisbury Cathedral for the Festival of Britain in 1951. Don Juan was first performed in 1953 and The Death of Satan: a comedy in 1954. A joint production of the two latter plays was presented by the English Stage Company at the Royal Court Theatre in 1956 directed by George Devine. In 1962 there was controversy over the refusal of the Lord Chamberlain to permit public performance of The Catalyst Duncan’s play about a ménage à trois.
The most significant poetry is The Solitudes (Faber, 1960). Gandhi’s writings were a permanent interest with Duncan editing the Selected Writings in 1951.
During the 1960s Duncan the author continued to publish poetry, fiction and books about Devon. He also worked on his three autobiographies, all of them lively and controversial. All Men Are Islands (1964) covered his life to 1943; How to Make Enemies (1968) continued the story until the late 1950s. Obsessed (1977) mainly described his relationship with the actress Virginia Maskell. At the end of the decade he’d also managed to produce the film script for Girl on a Motorcycle (dir. Jack Cardiff, 1968), which starred Marianne Faithfull.
A long poem about science and human development: Man - was published in five parts between 1970 and 1975. A substantial Collected Poems appeared in 1982. The Collected Plays had appeared from Rupert Hart-Davis in 1971. Among them was the experimental work O—B—A—F—G: A Play in One Act for Stereophonic Sound (1964).
There were collections of short stories, a novel and a variety of late political works including a 1981 play entitled Lenin partly based on conversations with Armand Hammer who had known Lenin.
The final publication in Duncan’s lifetime was the controversial Working with Britten (excerpt) which described their work together and a friendship that had begun in 1935. This was published by the Devon-based Rebel Press, in 1981.
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