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On This Gay Day: Poet Robert Duncan was born in California

American Poet Robert Duncan was born

Robert Duncan was born on this day back in 1919 in Oakland, California.

He was born Edward Howard Duncan. His mother died in childbirth and in 1920 when his father was unable to take care of him he was adopted by Edwin and Minnehaha Symmes.

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His adoptive parent renamed him Robert Edward Symmes, it was only after he was discharged from the army for being a homosexual that he decided to take on the name Robert Edward Duncan, a combination of his birth and adoptive names.

Duncan developed an interest in writing poetry and lived Bohemian communities. After a spell in Philadelphia, he moved to a commune in Woodstock, New York.

In 1944 Duncan had a notable affair with the painter Robert De Niro Sr, the father of actor Robert De Niro.

The same year Duncan wrote the landmark essay The Homosexual in Society. The essay, in which Duncan compared the plight of homosexuals with that of African Americans and Jews is credited as being a major influence on the growth of gay rights.

His essay made him one of the first Americans with a public profile to reveal that they were homosexual. In 1951 he met the visual artist Jess Collins, who would go on to be known under the mononym Jess. They remained a couple until Duncan’s death in 1988.

Duncan became an acclaimed poet publishing many different works. One of his best-known poems Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow was published in his book The Opening of the Field in 1960.

This post was first published on 7 January 2020.

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