THE ARTISTS, POETS and PROFESSORS of BLACK MOUNTAIN COLLEGE (the college featured in the film THE LONGEST RIDE) Part 18 Robert Duncan


USA: Poetry: Robert Duncan and John Wieners (1965) by Richard O. Moore

Legend of Black Mountain


Robert Duncan 1959, photo © Patricia Jordan

The poet Robert Duncan came to teach at Black Mountain in 1956, very near the end of the extraordinary experiment in art and learning founded back in 1933. But he actually spent a very brief moment at BMC as a student in 1938. He later recalled,

I had not been there since sometime in 1938 when, having written from Berkeley I received an acceptance as a student and, as I remember, a part scholarship, and, precariously, set out, arriving there late one night, only to be turned away after the following day, firmly, with the notification by the instructor who had welcomed me that I was found to be emotionally unfit. Was it after the heated argument I got into the morning of that day concerning the Spanish Civil War? In my anarchist convictions, the Madrid government seemd to me much the enemy as Franco was. (1)

When Duncan returned in 1956, Charles Olson was rector of the college. Olson was also deeply engaged in letter correspondence with Duncan, who viewed Olson as a groundbreaking influence. He vowed to follow Olson into new activities of poetry, signaled by Olson’s famous essay on “projective verse,” first published in 1950. In Duncan’s “The H.D. Book” – a legendary collection of writings started in 1959, yet only properly published in book form in 2011 by University of California Press – he draws on transformative experiences under the stars, naming constellations, to summon the impact of Olson and Black Mountain:

The figure of the giant hunter in the sky brings with it, as often, the creative genius of Charles Olson for me. Since the appearance of Origin I a decade ago, my vision of what the poem is to do has been transformed, reorganized around a constellation of new poets – Olson, Denise Levertov, Robert Creeley – in which Olson’s work takes the lead for me. This man, himself a “giant’ – six foot seven or so – has been an outrider, my own Orion.
It was the same time of year, with Orion overhead, in 1955 (2), when Olson read aloud to Jess and me the beginnings of a new sequence of poems, O’Ryan. The scene in the bare room at Black Mountain with its cold and the blazing winter sky at the window springs up as I write. The fugitive hero of that sequence was drawn from Robert Creeley [.] (3)

At Black Mountain, Duncan taught poetry and theatre. In fact, as part of Olson’s plan to create a ‘college on wheels’ after the closure of the North Carolina campus, Duncan undertook establishing a Black Mountain theatre company in San Francisco. Truly, it was in Northern California that Duncan began to develope his unique, prophetic voice as a poet in the 1940s. He was an integral part of the ‘Berkeley Rennaissance’ and the Bay Area arts scene, along with his partner, the artist Jess Collins. But his activities at Black Mountain brought him into contact with ideas and pedagogical practices he could not have picked up anywhere else. For instance, Josef Albers’s teaching gave Duncan a clear example:

I just had what would be anybody’s idea of what Albers must have been doing. You knew that [Albers’s students] had color theory, and that they did a workshop sort of approach, and that they didn’t aim at a finished painting … I thought “Well, that’s absolutely right”… I think we had five weeks of vowels …and syllables … Numbers enter into poetry as they do in all time things, measurements. But … [with] Albers … it’s not only the color, but it’s the interrelationships of space and numbers. (4)

It was also at Black Mountain that Duncan completed many of the poems later collected in what is perhaps his most important book, “The Opening of the Field” (1960). The title refers clearly to Olson’s idea of ‘composition by field,’ and a poetics based on the breath rather than conventional verse forms. With the additional influence of Jess’s collage works, Duncan pushed Olson’s ideas even further, envisioning the poem as a ‘grand collage’ in which any and all activities of the poet – aesthetic, intellectual, visual, emotional, sexual, pedagogical, etc. – would interact. In what is probably Duncan’s most widely read poem from “The Opening of the Field”, he offers a stirring vision of this new space open for the poet and poetry:

‘Often I am permitted to Return to a Meadow’

as if it were a scene made-up by the mind,
that is not mine, but is a made place,

that is mine, it is so near to the heart,
an eternal pasture folded in all thought
so that there is a hall therein

that is a made place, created by light
wherefrom the shadows that are forms fall.

Jonathan Creasy
Trinity College Dublin / New Dublin Press

(1) Duncan, Robert. ‘Black Mountain College,’ March 1955. Robert Duncan Papers. Quoted in Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov: The Poetry of Politics, The Politics of Poetry. ed. Albert Gelpi and Robert J. Bertholf. Stanford University Press, 2006. p. 7
(2) Duncan and Jess visited Olson at BMC for one evening in 1955, before Duncan returned to teach in 1956.
(3) Duncan, Robert. The H.D. Book. University of California Press, 2011. p. 204
(4) Jarnot, Lisa. Robert Duncan, The Ambassador from Venus. University of California Press, 2012. p. 154


My first post in this series was on the composer John Cage and my second post was on Susan Weil and Robert Rauschenberg who were good friend of CageThe third post in this series was on Jorge Fick. Earlier we noted that  Fick was a student at Black Mountain College and an artist that lived in New York and he lent a suit to the famous poet Dylan Thomas and Thomas died in that suit.

The fourth post in this series is on the artist  Xanti Schawinsky and he had a great influence on John Cage who  later taught at Black Mountain College. Schawinsky taught at Black Mountain College from 1936-1938 and Cage right after World War II. In the fifth post I discuss David Weinrib and his wife Karen Karnes who were good friends with John Cage and they all lived in the same community. In the 6th post I focus on Vera B. William and she attended Black Mountain College where she met her first husband Paul and they later  co-founded the Gate Hill Cooperative Community and Vera served as a teacher for the community from 1953-70. John Cage and several others from Black Mountain College also lived in the Community with them during the 1950’s. In the 7th post I look at the life and work of M.C.Richards who also was part of the Gate Hill Cooperative Community and Black Mountain College.

In the 8th post I look at book the life of   Anni Albers who is  perhaps the best known textile artist of the 20th century and at Paul Klee who was one  of her teachers at Bauhaus. In the 9th post the experience of Bill Treichler in the years of 1947-1949  is examined at Black Mountain College. In 1988, Martha and Bill started The Crooked Lake Review, a local history journal and Bill passed away in 2008 at age 84.

In the 10th post I look at the art of Irwin Kremen who studied at Black Mountain College in 1946-47 and there Kremen spent his time focused on writing and the literature classes given by the poet M. C. Richards. In the 11th post I discuss the fact that Josef Albers led the procession of dozens of Bauhaus faculty and students to Black Mountain.

In the 12th post I feature Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) who was featured in the film THE LONGEST RIDE and the film showed Kandinsky teaching at BLACK MOUNTAIN COLLEGE which was not true according to my research. Evidently he was invited but he had to decline because of his busy schedule but many of his associates at BRAUHAUS did teach there. In the 13th post I look at the writings of the communist Charles Perrow. 

Willem de Kooning was such a major figure in the art world and because of that I have dedicated the 14th15th and 16th posts in this series on him. Paul McCartney got interested in art through his friendship with Willem because Linda’s father had him as a client. Willem was a  part of New York School of Abstract expressionism or Action painting, others included Jackson Pollock, Elaine de Kooning, Lee Krasner, Franz Kline, Arshile Gorky, Mark Rothko, Hans Hofmann, Adolph Gottlieb, Anne Ryan, Robert Motherwell, Philip Guston, Clyfford Still, and Richard Pousette-Dart.

In the 17th post I look at the founder Ted Dreier and his strength as a fundraiser that make the dream of Black Mountain College possible. In the 18th post I look at the life of the famous San Francisco poet Robert Duncan who was both a student at Black Mountain College in 1933 and a professor in 1956.


Fully Awake – PREVIEW

Tucked in the mountains of Western North Carolina, Black Mountain College (1933-1957) was an influential experiment in education that inspired and shaped 20th century modern art. Through narration, archive photography and interviews with students, teachers and historians, Fully Awake explores the development of this very special place – and how its collaborative curriculum inspired innovations that changed the very definition of “art”.



Robert DuncanHarry Redl

Described by Kenneth Rexroth as “one of the most accomplished, one of the most influential” of the postwar American poets, Robert Duncan was an important part of both the Black Mountain school of poetry, led by Charles Olson, and the San Francisco Renaissance, whose other members included poetsJack Spicer and Robin Blaser. A distinctive voice in American poetry, Duncan’s idiosyncratic poetics drew on myth, occultism, religion—including the theosophical tradition in which he was raised—and innovative writing practices such as projective verse and composition by field. During his lifetime, critics such as M.L. Rosenthal heralded him as “the most intellectual of our poets from the point of view of the effect upon him of a wide, critically intelligent reading.” Duncan’s work drew on a wide range of references, including Homer, Dante, and the work of modernist poets such as H.D. His many books of poetry include Heavenly City Earthly City (1947), The Opening of the Field(1960), Roots and Branches (1964), A Book of Resemblances (1966), Bending the Bow(1968), and, after a 15-year publishing hiatus, the influential volumes Ground Work I: Before the War (1984) and Ground Work II: In the Dark (1987). His Selected Poems(1993) was published posthumously, as was his volume of collected writings, and personal tribute to the work of H.D., The H.D. Book (2011). A decades-long project that distills much of Duncan’s thinking on poetry, modernism, and the role of the occult in the imagination, The Nation’s critic Ange Mlinko described The H.D. Book as a “palimpsest.” Mlinko noted the importance of book for being “not only revisited and restarted many times over the years, but incorporating different sources from different points in time… Duncan’s roving eye for patterns consistently saw relationships between the new science of his day and the ancient wisdom of the poets.”

Duncan was a syncretist possessing “a bridge-building, time-binding, and space-binding imagination” wrote Stephen Stepanchev in American Poetry since 1945. A typical Duncan poem, accordingly, is like a collage, “a compositional field where anything might enter: a prose quotation, a catalogue, a recipe, a dramatic monologue, a diatribe,” Davidson explained. The poems draw sources and materials together into one dense fabric. Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Jim Harrison called the structure of a typical Duncan poem multi-layered and four-dimensional (“moving through time with the poet”), and compared it to “a block of weaving… Bending the Bow is for the strenuous, the hyperactive reader of poetry; to read Duncan with any immediate grace would require Norman O. Brown’s knowledge of the arcane mixed with Ezra Pound‘s grasp of poetics… [Duncan] is personal rather than confessional and writes within a continuity of tradition.”

Duncan was born in 1919 in Oakland, California. His childhood experiences shape and inform his later poetics. Adopted at an early age by a couple who selected him on the basis of his astrological configuration, his adopted parents’ chosen religion, theosophy, and reverence for the occult was a lasting influence on his poetic vision. Encouraged by a high school English teacher who saw poetry as an essential means of sustaining spiritual vigor, Duncan chose his vocation while still in his teens. He studied at the University of California-Berkeley for two years before leaving California to briefly attend Black Mountain College. Duncan also lived in New York for a period, and made the acquaintance of literary figures like Arthur Miller and Anaïs Nin. Duncan was drafted in 1941, but discharged after coming out as gay. One of the first literary figures to openly acknowledge his sexuality, Duncan’s article “The Homosexual in Society” appeared in the influential journal Politics in 1944. Duncan returned to San Francisco in 1945, where he met Rexroth, Spicer, Blaser and others. He studied Medieval and Renaissance literature at Berkeley. During the 1950s and ‘60s, Duncan was, according to Paul Christensen “at the center of the San Francisco renaissance; his connections to Olson and Black Mountain College, where he taught in 1956, put him at the center of the Black Mountain movement as well.” In 1951 Duncan met Jess Collins, a painter and collagist. The two remained lovers for the rest of Duncan’s life.

Many of Duncan’s best-known poems were shaped by ideas associated with Olson and the Black Mountain School of poetry. Both “projective verse,” poetry shaped by the rhythms of the poet’s breath, and “composition by field,” in which the page becomes a field of language activity beyond its traditional use of margins and spacing, influenced Duncan’s poetry from The Opening of the Field (1960) onward. Generally, Duncan advocated a poetry of process, not conclusion. In some pages from a notebook published in Donald Allen’s The New American Poetry: 1945-1960, Duncan stated: “A longing grows to return to the open composition in which the accidents and imperfections of speech might awake intimations of human being… There is a natural mystery in poetry. We do not understand all that we render up to understanding… I study what I write as I study out any mystery. A poem, mine or another’s, is an occult document, a body awaiting vivisection, analysis, X-rays.” The poet, he explained, is an explorer more than a creator. “I work at language as a spring of water works at the rock, to find a course, and so, blindly. In this I am not a maker of things, but, if maker, a maker of a way. For the way is itself.” As in the art of marquetry (the making of patterns by enhancing natural wood grains), the poet is aware of the possible meanings of words and merely brings them out. “I’m not putting a grain into the wood,” he told Jack R. Cohn and Thomas J. O’Donnell in a Contemporary Literatureinterview. Later, he added, “I acquire language lore. What I am supplying is something like… grammar of design, or of the possibilities of design.” The goal of composition, he wrote in a Caterpillar essay, was “not to reach conclusion but to keep our exposure to what we do not know.”

Known for his anarchic political views, Duncan’s work frequently took on political dimensions as well. Books like Bending the Bow and Groundwork I: After the Warattempt to trace the difference between organic and imposed order, and the necessity and scope of an individual’s political commitment. In his introduction to Ground Work (2006), the combined edition of After the War and In the Dark, poet Michael Palmer noted of the connections between Duncan’s politics and his poetics: “War will follow war, within and without. Any opposition to the immediate war must acknowledge its various meanings, the forms of contention that for Duncan are also the source of poesis, poetic making and meaning. The poet is everywhere implicated in such human and metaphysical circumstances. He or she cannot stand apart or above. The poem itself cannot preach without betraying its nature; it must enact.” Duncan’s political views on the Vietnam War cost him his friendship with the poet Denise Levertov. Their correspondence is collected in The Letters of Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov (2003).

Robert Duncan died in San Francisco in 1988 after a long battle with kidney disease. His papers are housed at the State University of New York-Buffalo. Even after his death, Duncan has continued to exert a powerful and profound influence on the shape of American poetry. The publication of The H.D. Book in particular was heralded as a milestone in both Duncan scholarship and the history of modernism. As Christensen noted, “His work embodies the restless spirit of midcentury, with its exploration of sexuality and religion and its need to investigate the hidden corners of the psyche.”



Poet. Worked at various times as a dishwasher and typist. Organizer of poetry readings and workshops in San Francisco Bay area; Experimental Review, co-editor with Sanders Russell, publishing works of Henry Miller, Anais Nin, Lawrence Durrell, Kenneth Patchen, William Everson, Aurora Bligh (Mary Fabilli), Thomas Merton, Robert Horan, and Jack Johnson, 1940-41; Berkeley Miscellany, editor, 1948-49; lived in Banyalbufar, Majorca, 1955-56; taught at Black Mountain College, Black Mountain, NC, spring and summer, 1956; assistant director of Poetry Center, San Francisco State College, under a Ford grant, 1956-57; associated with the Creative Writing Workshop, University of British Columbia, 1963; lecturer in Advanced Poetry Workshop, San Francisco State College, spring, 1965; core professor in the Poetics Program at New College of California, 1980-1986.



  • Heavenly City, Earthly City, drawings by Mary Fabilli, Bern Porter, 1947.
  • Medieval Scenes (1947), Centaur Press (San Francisco), 1950, reprinted with preface by Duncan and afterword by Robert Bertholf, Kent State University Libraries, 1978.
  • Poems, 1948-49 (actually written between November, 1947 and October, 1948), Berkeley Miscellany, 1950.
  • The Song of the Border-Guard, Black Mountain Graphics Workshop, 1951.
  • The Artist’s View, [San Francisco], 1952.
  • Fragments of a Disordered Devotion, privately printed, 1952, reprinted, Gnomon Press, 1966.
  • Caesar’s Gate: Poems, 1949-55, Divers Press (Majorca), 1956, 2nd edition, Sand Dollar, 1972.
  • 1953-56 Letters, drawings by Duncan, J. Williams (Highlands, NC), 1958.
  • Selected Poems (1942-50), City Lights Books, 1959.
  • 1956-59 The Opening of the Field, Grove, 1960, revised edition, New Directions, 1973.
  • 1959-63 Roots and Branches, Scribner, 1964.
  • Wine, Auerhahn Press for Oyez Broadsheet Series (Berkeley), 1964.
  • Uprising, Oyez, 1965.
  • Of the War: Passages 22-27, Oyez, 1966.
  • A Book of Resemblances: Poems, 1950-53, drawings by Jess, Henry Wenning, 1966.The Years as Catches: First Poems, 1939-46, Oyez, 1966.
  • Boob, privately printed, 1966.
  • Christmas Present, Christmas Presence!, Black Sparrow Press, 1967.
  • Epilogos, Black Sparrow Press, 1967.
  • My Mother Would Be a Falconress, Oyez, 1968.
  • 1952-53 Names of People, illustrations by Jess, Black Sparrow Press, 1968.Bending the Bow, New Directions, 1968.
  • The First Decade: Selected Poems, 1940-50, Fulcrum Press (London), 1968.
  • Derivations: Selected Poems, 1950-1956, Fulcrum Press, 1968.
  • Achilles Song, Phoenix, 1969.
  • Playtime, Pseudo Stein; 1942, A Story [and] A Fairy Play: From the Laboratory Records Notebook of 1953, A Tribute to Mother Carey’s Chickens, Poet’s Press, c.1969.
  • Notes on Grossinger’s “Solar Journal: Oecological Sections,” Black Sparrow Press, 1970.
  • A Selection of Sixty-Five Drawings from One Drawing Book, 1952-1956, Black Sparrow Press, 1970.
  • Tribunals: Passages 31-35, Black Sparrow Press, 1970.
  • Poetic Disturbances, Maya (San Francisco), 1970.
  • Bring It up from the Dark, Cody’s Books, 1970.
  • A Prospectus for the Prepublication of Ground Work to Certain Friends of the Poet, privately printed, 1971.
  • An Interview with George Bowering and Robert Hogg, April 19, 1969, Coach House Press, 1971.
  • Structure of Rime XXVIII; In Memoriam Wallace Stevens, University of Connecticut, 1972.
  • Poems from the Margins of Thom Gunn’s Moly, privately printed, 1972.
  • A Seventeenth-Century Suite, privately printed, 1973.
  • Dante, Institute of Further Studies (New York City), 1974.
  • (With Jack Spicer) An Ode and Arcadia, Ark Press, 1974.
  • The Venice Poem, Poet’s Mimeo (Burlington, VT), 1978.
  • Veil, Turbine, Cord & Bird: Sets of Syllables, Sets of Words, Sets of Lines, Sets of Poems, Addressing… , J. Davies, c. 1979.The Five Songs, Friends of the University of California, San Diego Library, 1981.
  • Towards an Open Universe, Aquila Publishing, 1982.
  • Ground Work: Before the War, New Directions, 1984.
  • A Paris Visit, Grenfell Press, 1985.
  • The Regulators, Station Hill Press, 1985.
  • Ground Work II: In the Dark, New Directions, 1987.
  • Selected Poems, edited by Robert J. Bertholf, New Directions, 1993.
  • Ground Work, combined edition of Before the War and In the Dark, introduced by Michael Palmer, New Directions, 2006.


  • Writing Writing: A Composition Book of Madison 1953, Stein Imitations (poems and essays, 1953), Sumbooks, 1964.
  • As Testimony: The Poem and the Scene (essay, 1958), White Rabbit Press, 1964.
  • Six Prose Pieces, Perishable Press (Rochester, MI), 1966.
  • The Truth and Life of Myth: An Essay in Essential Autobiography, House of Books (New York City), 1968.
  • Fictive Certainties: Five Essays in Essential Autobiography, New Directions, 1979.
  • Selected Prose, New Directions, 1995.
  • The H.D. Book (The Collected Writings of Robert Duncan), edited by Michael Boughn and Victor Coleman, University of California Press, 2011.


  • 1959-60 Faust Foutu: Act One of Four Acts, A Comic Mask, 1952-1954 (an entertainment in four parts; first produced in San Francisco, CA, 1955; produced in New York), decorations by Duncan, Part I, White Rabbit Press (San Francisco), 1958, reprinted, Station Hill Press, 1985, entire play published as Faust Foutu, Enkidu sur Rogate (Stinson Beach, CA), 1959.
  • Medea at Kolchis; [or] The Maiden Head (play; first produced at Black Mountain College, 1956), Oyez, 1965.
  • Adam’s Way: A Play on Theosophical Themes, [San Francisco], 1966.


  • The Cat and the Blackbird (children’s storybook), illustrations by Jess, White Rabbit Press, 1967.
  • The Letters of Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov, edited by Robert Bertholf and Albert Gelpi, Stanford University Press, 2003.

Represented in anthologies, including Faber Book of Modern American Verse, edited by W. H. Auden, 1956, The New American Poetry: 1945-1960, edited by Donald M. Allen, 1960, and many others. Contributor of poems, under the name Robert Symmes, to Phoenix and Ritual. Contributor to Atlantic, Poetry, Nation, Quarterly Review of Literature, and other periodicals.



  • Allen, Donald M., The New American Poetry, 1945-1960, Grove, 1960.
  • Allen, The Poetics of the New American Poetry, Grove, 1973.
  • Bertholf, Robert J. and Ian W. Reid, editors, Robert Duncan: Scales of the Marvelous, New Directions, 1979.
  • Charters, Samuel, Some Poems/ Poets: Studies in American Underground Poetry since 1945, Oyez, 1971.
  • Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale, Volume 1, 1973, Volume 2, 1974, Volume 4, 1975, Volume 7, 1977, Volume 15, 1980, Volume 41, 1987, Volume 55, 1989.
  • Dickey, James, Babel to Byzantium, Farrar, Straus, 1968.
  • Dictionary of Literary Biography, Gale, Volume 5: American Poets since World War II, 1980, Volume 16: The Beats: Literary Bohemians in Postwar America, 1983.
  • Faas, Ekbert, editor, Towards a New American Poetics: Essays and Interviews, Black Sparrow Press, 1978.
  • Fass, Ekbert, Young Robert Duncan: Portrait of the Homosexual in Society, Black Sparrow Press, 1983.
  • Fauchereau, Serge, Lecture de la poesie americaine, Editions de Minuit, 1969.
  • Foster, Edward Halsey, Understanding the Black Mountain Poets, University of South Carolina Press (Columbia), 1995.
  • Mersmann, James F., Out of the Viet Nam Vortex: A Study of Poets and Poetry against the War, University Press of Kansas, 1974.
  • Parkinson, Thomas, Poets, Poems, Movements, University of Michigan Research Press, 1987.
  • Pearce, Roy Harvey, Historicism Once More: Problems and Occasions for the American Scholar, Princeton University Press, 1969.
  • Rexroth, Kenneth, Assays, New Directions, 1961.
  • Rexroth, American Poetry in the Twentieth Century, Herder and Herder, 1971.
  • Rosenthal, M. L., The New Poets: American and British Poetry since World War II, Oxford University Press, 1967.
  • Stepanchev, Stephen, American Poetry since 1945, Harper, 1965.
  • Tallman, Warren, Godawful Streets of Man, Coach House Press, 1976.
  • Weatherhead, Kingsley, Edge of the Image: Marianne Moore, William Carlos Williams, and Some Other Poets,University of Washington Press, 1967.


  • Agenda, autumn/winter, 1970; autumn, 1994, p. 308.
  • American Book Review, May, 1989, p. 12.
  • Audit/Poetry (special Duncan issue), Number 3, 1967.
  • Boundary 2, winter, 1980.
  • Caterpillar, number 8/9, 1969.
  • Centennial Review, fall, 1975; fall, 1985.
  • Concerning Poetry, spring, 1978.
  • Contemporary Literature, spring, 1975.
  • History Today, January, 1994, p. 56.
  • Hudson Review, summer, 1968.
  • Library Journal, March 1, 1993, p. 81, August, 1994, p. 132.
  • London Review of Books, March 10, 1994, p. 20.
  • Maps (special Duncan issue), 1974.
  • Minnesota Review, fall, 1972.
  • New York Review of Books, June 3, 1965; May 7, 1970.
  • New York Times Book Review, December 20, 1964; September 29, 1968; August 4, 1985.
  • Poetry, March, 1968; April, 1969; May, 1970.
  • Publishers Weekly, February 15, 1993, p. 232; May 16, 1994, p. 63.
  • Sagetrieb, winter, 1983; (special Duncan issue) fall/winter, 1985.
  • Saturday Review, February 13, 1965; August 24, 1968.
  • School Library Journal, August, 1994, p. 132.
  • Southern Review, spring, 1969; winter, 1985.
  • Sulfur 12, Volume 4, number 2, 1985.
  • Times Literary Supplement, May 1, 1969; July 23, 1971; November 25, 1988, p. 1294.
  • Unmuzzled Ox, February, 1977.
  • Voice Literary Supplement, November, 1984.
  • World Literature Today, autumn, 1988, p. 659; spring, 1994, p. 373.


  • Los Angeles Times, February 4, 1988.
  • New York Times, February 2, 1988.
  • Times (London), February 11, 1988.

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The Longest Ride

NEW YORK — Though it’s likely to prove a crowd pleaser, the romantic drama “The Longest Ride” (Fox) amounts to little more than a sentimental soap opera.

Reliant on contrived methods of dramatization, director George Tillman Jr.’s adaptation of Catholic author Nicholas Sparks’ novel also includes late plot developments that send an ambiguous signal about marital fidelity.

Britt Robertson and Scott Eastwood star in a scene from the movie "The Longest Ride." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (CNS photo/Fox)

Amid lush rural scenery and a glorification of contemporary cowboy culture such as might be featured in a pickup truck commercial, Wake Forest University senior Sophia (Britt Robertson) falls for professional bull rider Luke (Scott Eastwood). Shy Sophia has only to witness Luke’s cattle-subduing stamina during what is literally her first time at the rodeo for love to start bucking her world.

The ride home from Sophia and Luke’s initial get-together takes an unusual turn when they stop to rescue 90-year-old Ira (Alan Alda) from the roadside wreckage of his car, thereby saving his life. At Ira’s feebly voiced behest, Sophia also retrieves a wicker box that turns out to contain a series of letters young Ira (Jack Huston) wrote to the girl of his dreams, Ruth (Oona Chaplin).

What better way to pass Ira’s stint in the hospital than for Sophia to read these epistles aloud to him? Screenwriter Craig Bolotin can certainly think of none, so we get Ira’s back story.

Ruth was a vibrant Jewish refugee from Nazi-occupied Vienna whose exile in Greensboro, North Carolina, was softened by her budding relationship with Ira. But Ira’s battlefield heroism during World War II shortly after the two became engaged led to a problem that threatened their impending marriage.

When she’s not providing Ira with the opportunity to narrate his saga, Sophia agonizes over the barriers that seem to obstruct her own path to happiness. These include the fact that she’s soon to depart the Tar Heel State for far-off New York City where she’s landed a prestigious internship at an art gallery — but whither her beau, alas, will not be following.

Worse yet, homespun Luke, it seems, don’t cotton to Kandinsky and such.

The device of using Ira’s letters to Ruth to tell their story has a fatal flaw: Unlike the audience, after all, Ruth would presumably not have needed Ira’s elaborate written explanations to understand events she herself had just experienced. On the other hand, touches of humor do keep things moving along.

Circumstances between Ira and Ruth take a turn that can be read either as undercutting or supporting nuptial faithfulness. Though the outcome is a morally positive one, steps along the way to it suggest that wedding vows can legitimately be set aside if they seriously impede a spouse’s self-fulfillment.

The film contains brief combat violence with mild gore, a few scenes of semi-graphic premarital sexual activity, partial nudity, a couple of instances of profanity and a smattering of crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.


The Longest Ride Official Trailer #1 (2015) – Britt Robertson Movie HD

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FRANCIS SCHAEFFER ANALYZES ART AND CULTURE Part 47 Woody Allen and Professor Levy and the death of “Optimistic Humanism” from the movie CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS Plus Charles Darwin’s comments too!!! (Feature on artist Rodney Graham)

FRANCIS SCHAEFFER ANALYZES ART AND CULTURE PART 46 Friedrich Nietzsche (Featured artist is Thomas Schütte)

RESPONDING TO HARRY KROTO’S BRILLIANT RENOWNED ACADEMICS!! Part 21 (Dr. Lawrence Krauss, theoretical physicist and cosmologist at Arizona State, “…most scientists don’t think enough about God…There’s no evidence that we need any supernatural hand of God”)



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