Creeley, Robert (White)

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CREELEY, Robert (White)

Nationality: American. Born: Arlington, Massachusetts, 21 May 1926. Education: Holderness School, Plymouth, New Hampshire; Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1943–44, 1945–46; Black Mountain College, North Carolina, B.A. 1954; University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, M.A. 1960. Military Service: American Field Service in India and Burma, 1944–45. Family: Married 1) Ann MacKinnon in 1946 (divorced 1955), two sons and one daughter, 2) Bobbie Louise Hall in 1957 (divorced 1976), three daughters; 3) Penelope Highton in 1977, one son and one daughter. Career: Farmer near Littleton, New Hampshire, 1948–51; lived in France, 1951–52, and Mallorca, 1952–53; instructor, Black Mountain College, spring 1954 and fall 1955; teacher in a boys school, Albuquerque, 1956–59, and on a finca in Guatemala, 1959–61; visiting lecturer, 1961–62, and visiting professor, 1963–66, 1968–69, 1978–80, University of New Mexico; lecturer, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, 1962–63; visiting professor, 1966–67, professor 1967–78, Gray Professor of Poetry and Letters, 1978–89, and since 1989 Samuel P. Capen Professor of poetry and humanities, State University of New York, Buffalo. Visiting Professor, San Francisco State College, 1970–71, and State University, of New York, Binghamton, 1985, 1986. Operated the Divers Press, Palma de Mallorca, 1953–55; editor, Black Mountain Review, North Carolina, 1954–57, and associated with Wake, Golden Goose, Origin, Fragmente, Vou, Contact, CIV/n, and Merlin magazines in early 1950s, and other magazines subsequently; advisory editor, since 1983, American Book Review and Sagetrieb, and since 1984, New York Quarterly; since 1984 contributing editor, Formations.Awards: D.H. Lawrence fellowship, 1960; Guggenheim fellowship, 1964, 1971; Rockefeller grant, 1965; Shelley memorial award, 1981; National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1982; DAAD fellowship, 1983, 1987; Leone d'Oro Premio Speziale (Venice), 1984; Frost Medal, 1987. New York State poet, 1989–91; Distinguished Professor award, State University of New York, Buffalo, 1989; Horst Bienek Preis fur Lyrick, Munich, 1993; the America award for poetry, 1995; Lila Wallace Reader's Digest Writers' award, 1996; Bollingen prize, 1999; Chancellor's medal, SUNY, Buffalo, 1999. Member: American Academy, 1987. Address: 313 Clemens, State University of New York, Buffalo, New York 14260, U.S.A.



Le Fou. Columbus, Ohio, Golden Goose Press, 1952.

The Kind of Act of. Palma, Mallorca, Divers Press, 1953.

The Immoral Proposition. Karlisruhe-Surlach, Germany, Jonathan Williams, 1953.

A Snarling Garland of Xmas Verses. Palma, Mallorca, DiversPress, 1954.

All That Is Lovely in Men. Asheville, North Carolina, Jonathan Williams, 1955.

Ferrini and Others, with others. Berlin, Gerhardt, 1955.

If You. San Francisco, Porpoise Bookshop, 1956; London, Lion and Unicorn Press, 1968.

The Whip. Worcester, Migrant Press, and Highlands, North Carolina, Jonathan Williams, 1957.

A Form of Woman. New York, Jargon-Corinth, 1959.

For Love: Poems 1950–1960. New York, Scribner, 1962.

Distance. Lawrence, Kansas, Terrence Williams, 1964.

Two Poems. San Francisco, Oyez, 1964.

Hi There! Urbana, Illinois, Finial Press, 1965.

Words (single poem). Rochester, Minnesota, Perishable Press, 1965.

About Women. Los Angeles, Gemini, 1966.

Poems 1950–1965. London, Calder and Boyars, 1966.

For Joel. Madison, Wisconsin, Perishable Press, 1966.

A Sight. London, Cape Goliard Press, 1967

Words (collection). New York, Scribner, 1967.

Robert Creeley Reads (with recording). London, Turret-Calder and Boyars, 1967.

The Finger. Los Angeles, Black Sparrow Press, 1968.

5 Numbers. New York, Poets Press, 1968.

The Charm: Early and Uncollected Poems. Mount Horeb, Wisconsin, Perishable Press, 1968; London, Calder and Boyars, 1971.

The Boy. Buffalo, Gallery Upstairs Press, 1968.

Numbers. Stuttgart and Dusseldorf, Domberger-Galerie Schmela, 1968.

Divisions and Other Early Poems. Mount Horeb, Wisconsin, Perishable Press, 1968.

Pieces. Los Angeles, Black Sparrow Press, 1968.

Hero. New York, Indianakatz, 1969.

A Wall. New York and Stuttgart, Bouwerie-Domberger, 1969.

Mazatlan: Sea. San Francisco, Poets Press, 1969.

Mary's Fancy. New York, Bouwerie, 1970.

In London. Bolinas, California, Angel Hair, 1970.

The Finger: Poems 1966–1969. London, Calder and Boyars, 1970.

For Betsy and Tom. Detroit, Alternative Press, 1970.

For Benny and Sabina. New York, Samuel Charters, 1970.

As Now It Would Be Snow. Los Angeles, Black Sparrow Press, 1970.

America. Miami, Press of the Black Flag, 1970.

Christmas: May 10, 1970. Buffalo, Lockwood Memorial Library, 1970.

St. Martin's. Los Angeles, Black Sparrow Press, 1971.

Sea. San Francisco, Cranium Press, 1971. Berkeley, California, and San Francisco, Shambala-Mudra, 1971.

For the Graduation. San Francisco, Cranium Press, 1971.

Change. San Francisco, Hermes Free Press. 1972.

One Day after Another. Detroit, Alternative Press, 1972.

A Day Book (includes prose). New York, Scribner, 1972.

For My Mother. Rushden, Northamptonshire, Sceptre Press, 1973.

Kitchen. Chicago, Wine Press, 1973.

His Idea. Toronto, Coach House Press, 1973.

Sitting Here. Storrs, University of Connecticut Library, 1974.

Thirty Things. Los Angeles, Black Sparrow Press, 1974.

Backwards. Knotting, Bedfordshire, Sceptre Press, 1975.

Away. Santa Barbara, California, Black Sparrow Press, and Solihull, Warwickshire, Aquila, 1976.

Selected Poems. New York, Scribner, 1976.

Myself. Knotting, Bedfordshire, Sceptre Press, 1977.

Thanks. Deerfield, Massachusetts, Deerfield Press, 1977.

The Children. St. Paul, Truk Press, 1978.

Hello: A Journal, February 23—May 3, 1976. New York, New Directions, and London, Boyars, 1978.

Later (single poem). West Branch, Iowa, Toothpaste Press, 1978.

Desultory Days. Knotting, Bedfordshire, Sceptre Press, 1978.

Later: New Poems. New York, New Directions, 1979; London, Boyars, 1980.

Corn Close. Knotting, Bedfordshire, Sceptre Press, 1980.

Mother's Voice. Santa Barbara, California, Am Here-Immediate, 1981.

The Collected Poems of Robert Creeley 1945–1975. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1982; London, Boyars, 1983.

Echoes. West Branch, Iowa, Toothpaste Press, 1982.

A Calendar. West Branch, Iowa, Toothpaste Press, 1983.

Mirrors. New York, New Directions, 1983; London, Boyars, 1984.

Memories. Durham, Pig Press, 1984.

Four Poems. Santa Barbara, California, Handmade, 1984.

Memory Gardens. New York, New Directions, 1986; London, Boyars, 1987.

7 & 6. Albuquerque, New Mexico, Hoshour Gallery, 1988.

Gedichte (German & English). Salzburg, Residenz, 1988.

The Company. Providence, Rhode Island, Burning Rock, 1988.

Windows. New York, New Directions, 1990; London, Boyars, 1991.

Places. Buffalo, New York, Shuffalof Press, 1990.

Have a Heart. Boise, Idaho, Limberlost Press, 1990.

Gnomic Verses. La Laguna, Tenerife, Islas Canarias, Zasterle Press, 1991.

Selected Poems 1945–1990. Berkeley, University of California Press, and London, Boyars, 1991.

Life & Death. New York, Gagosian Gallery, 1993.

Loops: Ten Poems. Kripplebush, New York, Nadja, 1995.

Echoes. New York, New Directions, 1994; London, M. Boyars, 1995.

Four Days in Vermont. Durham, England, Pig Press, 1995.

Robert Creeley. Brattleboro, Vermont, Longhouse, 1995.

The Dogs of Auckland. Buffalo, New York, Meow Press, 1996.

So There: Poems 1976–1983. New York, New Directions, 1998.

Personal: Poems. Berkeley, California, Peter Koch, 1998.

Life & Death. New York, New Directions, 1998.

Edges. New York, Blum, 1999.

En Famille: A Poem. New York, Granary, 1999.

Recordings: Today's Poets 3, with others, Folkways; Robert Creeley Reads, Turret-Calder and Boyars, 1967.


Listen (produced London, 1972). Los Angeles, Black SparrowPress, 1972.


The Island. New York, Scribner, 1963; London, Calder, 1964.

Short Stories

The Gold Diggers. Palma, Mallorca, Divers Press, 1954.

Mister Blue. Frankfurt, Insel, 1964.

The Gold Diggers and Other Stories. London, Calder, and New York, Scribner, 1965.


An American Sense (essay). London, Sigma, 1965(?).

Contexts of Poetry. Buffalo, Audit, 1968.

A Quick Graph: Collected Notes and Essays. San Francisco, Four Seasons, 1970.

A Day Book. Berlin, Graphics, 1970.

Notebook. New York, Bouwerie, 1972.

A Sense of Measure (essays). London, Calder and Boyars, 1973.

The Creative. Los Angeles, Black Sparrow Press, 1973.

Contexts of Poetry: Interviews 1961–1971, edited by Donald Allen. Bolinas, California, Four Seasons, 1973.

Inside Out: Notes on the Autobiographical Mode. Los Angeles, Black Sparrow Press, 1973.

Presences: A Text for Marisol. New York, Scribner, 1976.

Mabel: A Story, and Other Prose. London, Boyars, 1976.

Was That a Real Poem or Did You Just Make It Up Yourself. Santa Barbara, California, Black Sparrow Press, 1976.

Was That a Real Poem and Other Essays, edited by Donald Allen. Bolinas, California, Four Seasons, 1979.

Charles Olson and Robert Creeley: The Complete Correspondence, edited by George F. Butterick. Santa Barbara, California, Black Sparrow Press, 8 vols., 1980–87.

The Collected Prose of Robert Creeley. New York and London, Boyars, 1984.

The Collected Essays of Robert Creeley. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1989.

Autobiography. Madras, New York, Hanuman Books, 1990.

Tales out of School: Selected Interviews. Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 1993.

Day Book of a Virtual Poet. New York, Spuyten Duyvil, 1998.

In Company: Robert Creeley's Collaborations. Greensboro, North Carolina, University of North Carolina Press, 1999.

Editor, Mayan Letters, by Charles Olson. Palma, Mallorca, Divers Press, 1953; London, Cape, and New York, Grossman, 1968.

Editor, with Donald Allen, New American Story. New York, Grove Press, 1965.

Editor, Selected Writings, by Charles Olson. New York, New Directions, 1966.

Editor, with Donald Allen, The New Writing in the U.S.A. London, Penguin, 1967.

Editor, Whitman. London, Penguin, 1973.

Editor, Going On: Selected Poems 1958–1980, by Joanne Kyger. New York, Dutton, 1983.

Editor, The Essential Burns. New York, Ecco Press, 1989.

Editor, Selected Poems by Charles Olson. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1993.


Bibliography: Robert Creeley: An Inventory 1945–1970 by Mary Novik, Montreal, McGill-Queen's University Press, 1973.

Manuscript Collection: Washington University, St. Louis.

Critical Studies: Measures: Robert Creeley's Poetry by Ann Mandel, Toronto, Coach House Press, 1974; "Robert Creeley Issue" of Boundary 2 (Binghamton, New York), spring-fall 1978; Robert Creeley's Poetry: A Critical Introduction by Cynthia Edelberg, Albuquerque, University of New Mexico Press, 1978; Robert Creeley by Arthur L. Ford, Boston, Twayne, 1978; The Lost America of Love: Rereading Robert Creeley, Edward Dorn, and Robert Duncan by Sherman Paul, Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University Press, 1981; Poet's Prose: The Crisis in American Verse by Stephen Fredman, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1983; Robert Creeley: The Poet's Workshops edited by Carroll F. Terrell, Orono, Maine, National Poetry Foundation, 1984; Robert Creeley's Life and Work: A Sense of Increment, edited by John Wilson, Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 1987; The Lyric and Modern Poetry: Olson, Creeley, Bunting by Brian Conniff, New York, P. Lang, 1988; Robert Creeley, Edward Dorn, and Robert Duncan: A Reference Guide by Willard Fox III, Boston, G.K. Hall, 1989; Poet's Prose: The Crisis in American Verse by Stephen Fredman, Cambridge, England, Cambridge University Press, 1990; Robert Creeley and the Genius of the American Common Place: Together with the Poet's Own Autobiography by Tom Clark, New York, New Directions, 1993; Understanding the Black Mountain Poets by Edward Halsey Foster, Columbia,University of South Carolina Press, 1994; "Awake to Particulars: The Prose of Robert Creeley" by D. Barone, in Review of Contemporary Fiction, 15(3), 1995; by Alistair Wisker, in American Poetry: The Modernist Ideal, edited by Clive Bloom and Brian Docherty, New York, St Martin's Press, 1995; Robert Creeley issue of Review of Contemporary Fiction (Normal, Illinois), 15(3), fall 1995; "Love and Frangibility: An Appreciation of Robert Creeley" by Heather McHugh, in American Poetry Review (Philadelphia), 26(3), 1997; "Robert Creeley and Robert Duncan: A World of Contradiction" by Alice Entwistle, in Journal of American Studies, 32(2), 1998; interview in Salt Hill Journal (Syracuse, New York), 5, 1998.

Robert Creeley comments:

I write to realize the world as one has come to live in it, thus to give testament. I write to move in words, a human delight. I write when no other act is possible.

*  *  *

In a note from 1960 Robert Creeley writes, "I believe in a poetry determined by the language of which it is made … I look to words, and nothing else, for my own redemption … I mean then words, as opposed to content." Creeley speaks of words as the abstract expressionist painters spoke of paint. The poems are, as it were, events, physiological events, movements. This can be seen, for example, in "Water Music":

   The words are a beautiful music.
   The words bounce like in water.
   Water music,
   loud in the clearing
   off the boats,
   birds, leaves.
   They look for a place
   to sit and eat—
   no meaning,
   no point.

This, like Creeley's other poems, does not belong to the same art as, for example, the poems of A.R. Ammons. As it turns out, the terms "underground" and "academic," as they were applied to American poetry in the 1950s, marked a profound and enduring division. But Creeley and many of the other so-called underground poets have turned out to make their livings in the universities. The distinction, which has still not been adequately named, is between two kinds of attention. The academic poets, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, write writing as it is prepared, whereas Creeley writes writing as it is written. Or, in terms suggested by Creeley's contemporary and friend Robert Duncan, academic writing is conventional, while Creeley's writing is formal. Thus, Creeley's art is improvisatory, responsive not to a tradition of poetry but to an immediate engagement with language in the crisis of living. Although the quatrains that are common in Creeley's earlier work superficially resemble a preferred stanzaic convention of the academics, his use of them is utterly different. Creeley gives the convention the same respect (and disrespect) that jazz musicians such as Charlie Parker and Bud Powell gave the show tunes on which they based their improvisations:

   Comes the time when it's later
   and onto your table the headwaiter
   puts the bill, and very soon after
   rings out the sound of lively laughter—

Creeley's is an art not of preparation but of discovery. In this playful, ironic poem, "The Wicker Basket," the implicit closure of the tight rhymes is not a requirement of the convention Creeley has chosen to obey but rather a function of the subject matter. In a statement quoted by Charles Olson in the influential essay "Projective Verse," "Form is never more than an extension of content." This practical poetic advice inverts the conventional wisdom not only of the literary tradition but also of the entire Western philosophical tradition. Obviously related to the existentialist dictum that existence is prior to essence, Creeley's formulation has the advantage of posing the work not in relation to will but in relation to process. In another poem, "Kore," addressed to the feminine archetype, he writes,

   It was a lady
   by goat men
     leading her.
   Her hair held earth.
     Her eyes were dark.
   A double flute
     made her move.
   "O love,
     where are you
     me now?"

The beautifully articulated, discrete poems from the volumes For Love and Words (1967), including "Kore," give way in the 1968 Pieces to a poetry of pure process. The opening passage is at once the proposition of the work and a demonstration of it:

   As real as thinking
   wonders created
   by the possibility—
   forms. A period
   at the end of a sentence
   began it was
   into a present,
   a presence
   as it goes.

In Pieces Creeley arrives at a certain mastery in which poetry is not assertion but choice. All of the possibilities are available to be used:

   Here we are.
   There are five
   ways to say this.

The poem is no longer the occasion of a masterpiece in which incoherence must be overwhelmed by force. All of the possibilities are available, and thus no ad hoc metaphors or symbolic vaguenesses need be employed. Meaning exists through itself, not by reference to some deferred thing:


For the reader who seeks flash and dazzle in poetry, of course, this will not satisfy, but for those who want poetry to tune itself constantly to the in-itselfness of things, this little measure, marking the rhythm of all to which the impersonal pronoun refers, is an exhilarating salute to the medium poetry modulates.

Creeley is the Mallarmé of the new poetry. He represents this particular poetic possibility at its least compromising. The other Black Mountain poets, notably Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, Denise Levertov, and Edward Dorn, while firmly grounded in the immediacy of the poem itself, are speculative, each in his or her own way addressing the world as a larger construct. When Creeley's poetry is dull, as it sometimes is, it is the dullness of the real, and when it is exciting, as it often is, it is the excitement of the real. In the preface to Words (1967) Creeley writes, "Things continue, but my sense is that I have, at best, simply taken place with that fact."

Creeley's influence on the generation of poets who came into their maturity in the 1970s was immense, especially the poets of the language school, including Robert Grenier, Michael Palmer, and Charles Bernstein. They were attracted to the fact that Creeley's work, especially in Pieces and after, is nonrepresentational, not fundamentally exemplary of speech or ideal emotion. One might say that Creeley's most characteristic late work is a series of very short pieces—one-liners—engraved on a series of sculptural pieces. They address their readers with questions, conundrums, and assertions from some completely nonpersonal vantage, as if they occur somehow in the air.

—Don Byrd