Creeley, Robert (White) 1926-2005
CREELEY, Robert (White) 1926-2005
PERSONAL: Born May 21, 1926, in Arlington, MA; died, March 30, 2005, in Odessa, TX; son of Oscar Slade (a physician) and Genevieve (Jules) Creeley; married Ann MacKinnon, 1946 (divorced, c. 1955); married Bobbie Louise Hall, January 27, 1957 (divorced, 1976); married Penelope Highton, 1977; children: (first marriage) David, Thomas, Charlotte; (second marriage) Kirsten (stepdaughter), Leslie (stepdaughter; deceased), Sarah, Katherine; (third marriage) William, Hannah. Education: Attended Harvard University, 1943-44 and 1945-46; Black Mountain College, B.A., c. 1955; University of New Mexico, M.A., 1960.
CAREER: Poet, novelist, short story writer, essayist, and editor. Divers Press, Palma, Mallorca, Spain, founder and publisher, 1950-54; Black Mountain College, Black Mountain, NC, instructor in English, 1954-55; instructor at school for young boys, Albuquerque, NM, beginning 1956; University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, instructor in English, 1961-62, lecturer, 1963-66, visiting professor, 1968-69 and 1978-80; University of British Columbia, Vancouver, instructor in English, 1962-63; University of New Mexico, visiting lecturer, 1961-62, lecturer in English, 1963-66, visiting professor, 1968-69, 1979, 1980-81; State University of New York at Buffalo, visiting professor, 1966-67, professor of English, 1967-78, David Gray Professor of Poetry and Letters, 1978-89, University of New York at Buffalo, Samuel P. Capen Professor of Poetry and Humanities, 1989-2003, director of poetics program, 1991-92; distinguished professor of English for the Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Brown University, 2003—. San Francisco State College, visiting lecturer in creative writing, 1970-71; State University of New York at Binghamton, visiting professor, 1985 and 1986. Bicentennial chair of American studies at University of Helsinki, Finland, 1988. New York State Poet, 1989. Participated in numerous poetry readings and writers' conferences. Wartime service: American Field Service, India and Burma, 1944-45.
MEMBER: American Academy of Arts and Letters.
AWARDS, HONORS: Levinson Prize, 1960, for group of ten poems published in Poetry magazine; D. H. Lawrence fellowship (for summer writing), University of New Mexico, 1960; National Book Award nomination, 1962, for For Love; Leviton-Blumenthal Prize, 1964, for group of thirteen poems published in Poetry; Guggenheim fellowship in poetry, 1964-65 and 1971; Rockefeller Foundation grant, 1966; Union League Civic and Arts Foundation Prize, 1967; Shelley Award, 1981, and Frost Medal, 1987, both from Poetry Society of America; National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1982; Deutsche Austauschdienst Programme residency in Berlin, 1983 and 1987; Leone d'Oro Premio Speziale, Venice, 1984; Frost Medal, Poetry Society of America, 1987; Fulbright Award, 1988, 1995; Walt Whitman citation of merit, 1989; named New York State Poet, 1989-91; named distinguished professor, State University of New York at Buffalo, 1989; D.Litt., University of New Mexico, 1993; Horst Bienek Lyrikpreis, Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts, Munich, 1993; America Award for Poetry, 1995; Lila Wallace/Reader's Digest Writers Award, 1996; Bollingen Prize, 1999; Chancellor Norton Medal, 1999; Before Columbus Lifetime Achievement Award, 1999; Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award (with Edward Said), Lannan Literary Foundation, 2001.
Le Fou, Golden Goose Press, 1952.
The Kind of Act Of, Divers Press (Mallorca, Spain), 1953.
The Immoral Proposition, Jonathan Williams, 1953.
A Snarling Garland of Xmas Verse (published anonymously), Divers Press (Mallorca, Spain), 1954.
All That Is Lovely in Men, Jonathan Williams (Asheville, NC), 1955.
(With others) Ferrin and Others, Gerhardt (Germany), 1955.
If You, Porpoise Bookshop (San Francisco, CA), 1956.
The Whip, Migrant Books, 1957.
A Form of Women, Jargon Books (New York, NY), 1959.
For Love: Poems, 1950-1960, Scribner (New York, NY), 1962.
Distance, Terrence Williams, 1964.
Mister Blue, Insel-Verlag, 1964.
Two Poems, Oyez, 1964.
Hi There!, Finial Press, 1965.
Words (eight poems), Perishable Press, 1965.
Poems, 1950-1965, Calder & Boyars (London, England), 1966.
About Women, Gemini, 1966.
For Joel, Perishable Press, 1966.
A Sight, Cape Coliard Press, 1967.
Words (eighty-four poems), Scribner (New York, NY), 1967.
Robert Creeley Reads (with recording), Turret Books, 1967.
The Finger, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1968, enlarged edition published as The Finger Poems, 1966-1969, Calder & Boyars (London, England), 1970.
5 Numbers (five poems), Poets Press (New York, NY), 1968, published as Numbers (text in English and German), translation by Klaus Reichert, Galerie Schmela (Dusseldorf, Germany), 1968.
The Charm: Early and Collected Poems, Perishable Press, 1968, expanded edition published as The Charm, Four Seasons Foundation (San Francisco, CA), 1969.
Divisions and Other Early Poems, Perishable Press, 1968.
Pieces (fourteen poems), Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1968.
The Boy (poem poster), Gallery Upstairs Press, 1968.
Mazatlan: Sea, Poets Press (New York, NY), 1969.
Pieces (seventy-two poems), Scribner (New York, NY), 1969.
Hero, Indianakatz (New York, NY), 1969.
A Wall, Bouwerie Editions (New York, NY), 1969.
For Betsy and Tom, Alternative Press, 1970.
For Benny and Sabrina, Samuel Charters, 1970.
America, Press of the Black Flag, 1970.
In London, Angel Hair Books, 1970.
Christmas: May 10, 1970, Lockwood Memorial Library, State University of New York at Buffalo (Buffalo, NY), 1970.
St. Martin's, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1971.
1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-0, drawings by Arthur Okamura, Shambhala (New York, NY), 1971.
Sea, Cranium Press, 1971.
For the Graduation, Cranium Press, 1971.
Change, Hermes Free Press, 1972.
One Day after Another, Alternative Press, 1972.
For My Mother: Genevieve Jules Creeley, 8 April1887-7 October 1972 (limited edition), Sceptre Press (London, England), 1973.
His Idea, Coach House Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1973.
The Class of '47, Bouwerie Editions (New York, NY), 1973.
Kitchen, Wine Press, 1973.
Sitting Here, University of Connecticut Library, 1974.
Thirty Things, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1974.
Backwards, Sceptre Press (London, England), 1975.
Hello, Hawk Press (Christchurch, New Zealand), 1976, expanded edition published as Hello: A Journal, February 29-May 3, 1976, New Directions (New York, NY), 1978.
Away, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1976.
Presences (also see below), Scribner (New York, NY), 1976.
Selected Poems, Scribner (New York, NY), 1976, revised edition, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1991.
Myself, Sceptre Press (London, England), 1977.
Later, Toothpaste (West Branch, IA), 1978, expanded edition, New Directions (New York, NY), 1979.
Desultory Days, Sceptre Press (London, England), 1979.
Corn Close, Sceptre Press (London, England), 1980.
Mother As Voice, Am Here Books/Immediate Editions, 1981.
The Collected Poems of Robert Creeley, 1945-1975, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1982.
Echoes, Toothpaste (West Branch, IA), 1982, New Directions (New York, NY), 1994.
Going On: Selected Poems, 1958-1980, Dutton (New York, NY), 1983.
Mirrors, New Directions (New York, NY), 1983.
A Calendar: Twelve Poems, Coffee House Press (West Branch, IA), 1984.
The Collected Prose of Robert Creeley, Scribner (New York, NY), 1984.
Memories, Pig Press, 1984.
Memory Gardens, New Directions (New York, NY), 1986.
The Company, Burning Deck, 1988.
Window, edited by Richard Blevins, State University of New York at Buffalo (Buffalo, NY), 1988.
(With Libby Larsen) A Creeley Collection: For MixedVoices, Solo Tenor, Flute, Percussion, and Piano, E. C. Schirmer, 1989.
(With Francesco Clemente) 64 Pastels, Bruno Bischofberger, 1989.
Places, Shuffaloff Press, 1990.
Windows, New Directions (New York, NY), 1990.
Have a Heart, Limberlost Press, 1990.
Selected Poems, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1991.
The Old Days, Ambrosia Press, 1991.
Gnomic Verses, Zasterle Press, 1991.
A Poetry Anthology, Edmundson Art Foundation, 1992.
Life and Death, Grenfell Press, 1993, New Directions (New York, NY), 1998.
Loops: Ten Poems, Nadja, 1995.
Ligeia: A Libretto, Granary Books, 1996.
So There: Poems 1976-83, New Directions (New York, NY), 1998.
En Famille: A Poem by Robert Creeley, Granary Books, 1999.
(With Alex Katz) Edges, Peter Blum, 1999.
(With Max Gimblett and Alan Loney) The Dogs ofAuckland, Holloway Press, 1998.
(With John Millei) Personal: Poems, Peter Koch, 1998.
(With Daisy DeCapite) Cambridge, Mass 1944, Boog Literature, 2000.
Thinking, Z Press, 2000.
Clemente's Images, Backwoods Broadsides, 2000.
For Friends, Drive He Sd Books, 2000.
(With Archie Rand, illustrations) Drawn and Quartered, Distributed Art Publishers, 2001.
Just In Time: Poems, 1984-1994, New Directions (New York, NY), 2001.
If I Were Writing This, New Directions (New York, NY), 2003.
Charles Olson, Mayan Letters, Divers Press (Mallorca, Spain), 1953.
(With Donald M. Allen, and contributor) New American Story, Grove (New York, NY), 1965.
(And author of introduction) Charles Olson, SelectedWritings, New Directions (New York, NY), 1966.
(With Donald Allen, and contributor) The New Writing in the U.S.A., Penguin (New York, NY), 1967.
Whitman: Selected Poems, Penguin (New York, NY), 1973.
(And contributor) The Essential Burns, Ecco Press (New York, NY), 1989.
Tim Prythero, Peters Corporation, 1990.
Olson, Selected Poems, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1993.
(With David Lehman) The Best American Poetry 2002, Scribner (New York, NY), 2002.
The Gold Diggers (short stories), Divers Press (Mallorca, Spain), 1954, expanded edition published as The Gold Diggers and Other Stories, J. Calder, 1965.
The Island (novel), Scribner (New York, NY), 1963.
A Day Book (poems and prose), Scribner (New York, NY), 1972.
Mabel: A Story, and Other Prose (includes A Day Book and Presences), Calder & Boyars (London, England), 1976.
Collected Prose, Marion Boyars (New York, NY), 1984, corrected edition, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1988, Dalkey Archive Press (Chicago, IL), 2001.
An American Sense (essay), Sigma Press, 1965.
A Quick Graph: Collected Notes and Essays, edited by Donald M. Allen, Four Seasons Foundation (San Francisco, CA), 1970.
Notebook, Bouwerie Editions (New York, NY), 1972.
A Sense of Measure (essays), Calder & Boyars (London, England), 1972.
Inside Out (lecture), Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1973.
The Creative (lecture), Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1973.
Was That a Real Poem and Other Essays, Four Seasons Foundation (San Francisco, CA), 1979.
Collected Essays, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1989.
Autobiography, Hanuman Books, 1990.
Day Book of a Virtual Poet (essays), Spuyten Duyvil (New York, NY), 1998.
Listen (play; produced in London, 1972), Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1972.
Contexts of Poetry: Interviews, 1961-1971, Four Seasons Foundation (San Francisco, CA), 1973.
Charles Olson and Robert Creeley: The Complete Correspondence, ten volumes, edited by George F. Butterick, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1980–96.
Jane Hammond, Exit Art, 1989.
Irving Layton and Robert Creeley: The Complete Correspondence, edited by Ekbert Faas and Sabrina Reed, University of Toronto Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1990.
Tales out of School: Selected Interviews, University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1993.
Robert Creeley, reading with jazz musicians David Cast, Chris Massey, Steve Swallow, and David Torn accompanying, Cuneiform Records, 1998.
(Author of foreword) The Turning, Hilda Morley, Asphodel Press, 1998.
(With Elizabeth Licata and Amy Cappellazzo) InCompany: Robert Creeley's Collaborations (from a traveling art show), University of North Carolina Press (Chapel Hill, NC), 1999.
(Contributor; with others) Susan Rothenberg: Paintings from the Nineties, Rizzoli International (New York, NY), 2000.
Work represented in numerous anthologies, including The New American Poetry: 1945-1960, edited by Donald Allen, Grove (New York, NY), 1960; A Controversy of Poets, edited by Paris Leary and Robert Kelly, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1965; Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, edited by Richard Ellmann and Robert O'Clair, Norton (New York, NY), 1973; The New Oxford Book of American Verse, edited by Richard Ellmann, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1976; and Poets' Encyclopedia, edited by Michael Andre, Unmuzzled Ox Press, 1980. Contributor to literary periodicals, including Paris Review, Nation, Black Mountain Review, Origin, Yugen, and Big Table. Founder and editor, Black Mountain Review, 1954-57; advisory editor, Sagetrieb, 1983—; advisory editor, American Book Review, 1983—; contributing editor, Formations, 1984—; and advisory editor, New York Quarterly, 1984—.
The major collection of Creeley's manuscripts and correspondence is housed in Special Collections, Stanford University, Stanford, CA. Other collections include the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library of the Yale University Library, New Haven, CT (correspondence with William Carlos Williams), Humanities Research Center, University of Texas Libraries, Austin (correspondence with Ezra Pound), John M. Olin Library, Washington University, St. Louis, MO (manuscripts and correspondence predating 1965), Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington (manuscripts and correspondence with Cid Corman), Simon Fraser University Library, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada (correspondence with Richard Emerson), and University of Connecticut Library, Storrs (correspondence with Charles Olson).
SIDELIGHTS: Once known primarily for his association with the group called the "Black Mountain Poets," Robert Creeley has become an important and influential literary figure in his own right. His poetry is noted as much for its concision as its emotional power. Albert Mobilio, writing in the Voice Literary Supplement, observed: "Creeley has shaped his own audience. The much imitated, often diluted minimalism, the compression of emotion into verse in which scarcely a syllable is wasted, has decisively marked a generation of poets."
Creeley first began to develop his writing talents while attending Holderness School in Plymouth, New Hampshire, on a scholarship. His articles and stories appeared regularly in the school's literary magazine, and in his senior year he became its editor in chief. Creeley was admitted to Harvard in 1943, but his academic life was disrupted while he served as an ambulance driver for the American Field Service in 1944 and 1945.
Creeley returned to Harvard after the war and became associated with such writers as John Hawkes, Mitchell Goodman, and Kenneth Koch. He began corresponding with Cid Corman and Charles Olson, two poets who were to have a substantial influence on the direction of his future work. Excited especially by Olson's ideas about literature, Creeley began to develop a distinctive and unique poetic style.
Throughout the 1950s, Creeley was associated with the "Black Mountain Poets," a group of writers including Denise Levertov, Ed Dorn, Fielding Dawson, and others who had some connection with Black Mountain College, an experimental, communal college in North Carolina that was a haven for many innovative writers and artists of the period. Creeley edited the Black Mountain Review and developed a close and lasting relationship with Olson, who was the rector of the college. The two engaged in a lengthy, intensive correspondence about literary matters that has been collected and published as Charles Olson and Robert Creeley: The Complete Correspondence. Olson and Creeley together developed the concept of "projective verse," a kind of poetry that abandoned traditional forms in favor of a freely constructed verse that took shape as the process of composing it was underway. Olson called this process "composition by field," and his famous essay on the subject, "Projective Verse," was as important for the poets of the emerging generation as T. S. Eliot's "Tradition and the Individual Talent" was to the poets of the previous generation. Olson credited Creeley with formulating one of the basic principles of this new poetry: the idea that "form is never more than an extension of content."
Creeley was a leader in the generational shift that veered away from history and tradition as primary poetic sources and gave new prominence to the ongoing experiences of an individual's life. Because of this emphasis, the major events of his life loom large in his literary work. Creeley's marriage to Ann MacKinnon ended in divorce in 1955. The breakup of that relationship is chronicled in fictional form in his only novel, The Island, which drew upon his experiences on the island of Mallorca, off the coast of Spain, where he lived with MacKinnon and their three children in 1953 and 1954. After the divorce Creeley returned to Black Mountain College for a brief time before moving west to make a new life. He was in San Francisco during the flowering of the "San Francisco Poetry Renaissance" and became associated for a time with the writers of the Beat Generation: Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Michael McClure, and others. His work appeared in the influential "beat" anthology The New American Poetry: 1945-1960, edited by Donald Allen.
In 1956 Creeley accepted a teaching position at a boys' school in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he met his second wife, Bobbie Louise Hall. Though Creeley published poetry and fiction throughout the 1950s and 1960s and had even established his own imprint, the Divers Press, in 1952, his work did not receive important national recognition until Scribner published his first major collection, For Love: Poems 1950-1960, in 1962. This book collected work that he had been issuing in small editions and magazines during the previous decade. When For Love debuted, Mobilio wrote, "it was recognized at once as a pivotal contribution to the alternative poetics reshaping the American tradition. . . . The muted, delicately contrived lyrics . . . were personal and self-contained; while they drew their life from the everyday, their techniques of dislocation sprang from the mind's naturally stumbled syntax."
The very first poem in For Love, "Hart Crane," with its unorthodox, Williams-like line breaks, its nearly hidden internal rhymes, and its subtle assonance and sibilance, announces the Creeley style—a style defined by an intense concentration on the sounds and rhythms of language as well as the placement of the words on the page. This intensity produces a kind of minimal poetry, which seeks to extract the bare linguistic bones from ongoing life experiences. In his introduction to The New Writing in the U.S.A., Creeley cites approvingly Herman Melville's definition of "visible truth"—"the apprehension of the absolute condition of present things"—and supplements it with William Burroughs's famous statement from Naked Lunch about the writer's task: "There is only one thing a writer can write about: what is in front of his senses at the moment of writing. . . . I am a recording instrument . . . I do not presume to impose 'story' 'plot' 'continuity.'"
In Pieces, A Day Book, Thirty Things, and Hello: A Journal, February 29-May 3, 1976, all published between 1968 and 1978, Creeley attempts to break down the concept of a "single poem" by offering his readers sequential, associated fragments of poems with indeterminate beginnings and endings. All of these works are energized by the same heightened attention to the present that characterizes Creeley's earlier work, but in Hello, a book written as journal entries over a five-week period while Creeley traveled in the Orient and South Pacific, he speculates on the possibility of using memory rather than the present as a poetic source. The poetry remains stubbornly rooted in the present despite the insistent intrusion of memories, both recent and long past.
Many of the poems in Hello refer to the last days of Creeley's relationship with his second wife, Bobbie. That marriage ended in divorce in 1976, the same year he met Penelope Highton, his third wife, while traveling in New Zealand. In this sense, the book may be described in much the same terms as Sherman Paul, in his book The Lost America of Love, describes For Love, "Poems of two marriages, the breakup of one, the beginning of another." For all of Creeley's experimentation, he has always been in some ways an exceedingly domestic poet; his mother, children, wives, and close friends are the subjects of his best work. Because Creeley's second marriage lasted nearly twenty years, the sense of a major chunk of his life drifting away from him is very strong in Hello. Creeley here conveys the traumatic emotional state that almost always accompanies the breakup of long-term relationships. En route to Perth, he writes: "Sitting here in limbo, there are / people walking through my head." In Singapore he remarks on his tenuous hold on things: "Getting fainter, in the world, / fearing something's fading. . . ." Although Hello is superficially a record of Creeley's travels, the poems are not really about the countries he has visited, but rather about the landscape of mind he has brought with him.
It was not until Creeley's next major collection, 1979's Later, that the poetry seemed to shift into a new phase characterized by a greater emphasis on memory, a new sense of life's discrete phases, and an intense preoccupation with aging. In "Myself," the first poem in Later, he writes: "I want, if older, / still to know / why, human, men / and women are / so torn, so lost / why hopes cannot / find a better world / than this." This futile but deeply human quest captures the spirit of Creeley's later work. It embodies a commonly shared realization: one becomes older but still knows very little about essential aspects of life, particularly the mysteries of human relationships. And as Alan Williamson observed in his New York Times Book Review assessment of Later, "In general, the stronger the note of elegiac bafflement and rage (the past utterly gone, the compensating wisdom not forthcoming), the better the writing."
The ten-part title poem, "Later," was written over a period of ten days in September of 1977. The poem presents a kaleidoscopic view of various times and events important to Creeley's life, beginning with an evocation of lost youth. Youth, in later life, can only become a palpable part of the present through the evocative power of memory. Another section of the poem comments on how certain empirical sensations are repositories of memory. A taste, a smell, a touch, can evoke a lost world. "Later" continues to present a flood of childhood memories: a lost childhood dog that Creeley fantasizes running into again after all these years; memories of his mother and friends and neighbors; sights and sounds of his early days all evoked and made a part of the poetry he is composing in an attic room in Buffalo, September, 1977.
In the work produced after the material included in The Collected Poems of Robert Creeley, 1945-1975 there is an increasing tendency to derive poetry from what the English Romantic poet William Wordsworth called "emotion recollected in tranquility." It is a poetry that remembers and reflects and seems much less tied to the exigencies of the present than the earlier work.
Mirrors reveals how much a part of our characters memories become with each passing year, so that as we age we accumulate the mannerisms of our parents and reexperience past situations. This theme of the present incorporating the past is most literal in "Prospect," one of the most memorable poems in Mirrors. It is an atypical Creeley poem because it utilizes conventional elements of poetry—symbolism, metaphor, and imagery—in a surprisingly traditional manner. In fact, the poem has a remarkably unique resonance because Creeley's physical description of nature conveys both present and past psychological states. It takes no deep looking into the poem to see the landscape as emblematic of the state of Creeley's later life, invigorated by a new marriage and the birth of a new child, his son William. The poem concludes with the reflections awakened by a contemplation of the landscape, which is described as peaceful and beautiful, yet in the end "faintly painful." The final phrase surprises, coming at the end of an otherwise tranquil and nearly celebratory poem. It reminds the reader that although embarking on a new life can create the illusion that it is possible to exist in an Edenic landscape apart from time, in reality the past remains an integral part of the present. "Faintly painful," with its echoing first syllable rhyme, is exactly right to convey the contrary feelings of both relief and regret that the poem ultimately leaves the reader with—relief that the thoughtfulness the landscape provokes is not more painful, regret that there is any pain at all.
Another of Creeley's collections, Life and Death, examines the poet's increasing age and mortality. A Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote: "For all of his complexity, [Creeley's] responses to his own sense of aging are surprisingly witty, lyrical, and grounded." Speaking of two specific poems in the collection, Yale Review contributor Stephen Burt offered the following praise for Creeley's work: "The best poems in Life and Death do touch on subjects other than isolation and dying—subjects that triangulate, that help Creeley place his obsessions. One such poem is 'Old Poems'; another is 'Given,' whose unfinished sentences, loping through their subdued quatrains, depict childhood as old age remembers it. It seems to me an extraordinary success, in part a triumph of prosody, and in part a triumph of a few details—never has one doughnut done more verbal work."
But pain has been one of the most constant elements in Creeley's work, and his later poetry continues to search for words to express it with sensitivity and exactness and without the sometimes maudlin excesses of "confessional" verse. Though these poems are more rooted in memory than the earlier work, Creeley remains committed to the poetic task of getting things exactly right. This has been the task of his writing throughout his career, and as readers look into the "mirror" of Creeley's work, they can see not only his aging, but their own.
After Life and Death, other volumes of poetry followed in regular succession. Some of them are Loops: Ten Poems, in 1995; Ligeia: A Libretto, in 1996; So There: Poems 1976-83, in 1998; En Famille: A Poem by Robert Creeley, in 1999; Cambridge, Mass 1944, with Daisy DeCapite in 2000; Thinking, in 2000; For Friends, in 2000; Drawn and Quartered, with Archie Rand's illustrations in 2001; Just In Time: Poems, 1984-1994, in 2001; and If I Were Writing This, in 2003. R. D. Pohl in the Buffalo News, praised If I Were Writing This highly, declaring that it "contains some of the starkest and most memorable poems Creeley has written." For instance, "'Conversion to Her' is a dense and emotionally charged meditation on sexual identity that appears to suggest that the male ego succumbs to the feminine order of the universe only in death." Pohl and a Publishers Weekly reviewer both saw If I Were Writing This as a companion volume to Life and Death, each of them "composed primarily of poems dedicated to family and friends (dead and living), collaborative verses, and such poems as 'For You' in which intimacy of tone coincides with cryptic, lyrical abstraction." Pohl noted that If I Were Writing This is the first major volume to appear since Creeley joined the ranks of such poetic giants as Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens and John Ashbery by winning the prestigious Yale University Bollingen Prize in 1999 and regretted that the publisher placed the fifty-four quatrains from Creeley's collaboration with artist Archie Rand early in the book without any explanation. "A casual or browsing reader might easily come to the mistaken conclusion that Creeley in his dotage had now turned to writing light verse," Pohl complained. However, Pohl delighted in the rest of the volume, in which, he said, Creeley "has no intention of presiding over his own canonization." He continued: "The fragility of our common experience in language and the world resonates through every line of Creeley's recent work" as in, "Somewhere in all the time that's passed / was a thing in mind became the evidence, / the pleasure even in fact of being lost / so quickly, simply that what it was could never last." To a question from J. M. Spalding of the 2003 Cortland Review—"What has changed in your work between Echoes and Life and Death?"—Creeley answered "Not a great deal. Perhaps a continuing relaxation, call it, an increased belief that says only being in the world matters at all and that it means, literally, finding one's way to others. I realized that just as childhood is lonely without other children to be with, old age is awful in isolation. One doesn't want to be stacked like planes waiting to take off, only with one's 'peer' group."
Creeley has also written a considerable amount of prose and been editor of a number of volumes, including Best American Poetry 2002, of which a Publishers Weekly writer remarked that it "is refreshing for what it isn't: a compendium of September 11 poems." Creeley, he said, has made a choice of poems that is "balanced and satisfying, providing space for contemplation, while opening a rare window on dissent." Among the poets included are John Ashbery, Frank Bidart, Anne Carson, W. S. Merwin, Sharon Olds, Carl Phillips, Charles Wright, Amiri Baraka, Alice Notley, Benjamin Friedlander, Steve Malmude, and MongLan. The Seattle Times's Richard Wakefield, however, asserted, "Most of the poems selected by Robert Creeley for inclusion in The Best American Poetry 2002 are so awful that the reader is hard put to explain how five or ten good ones sneaked in." He found poems by W. S. Merwin, Donald Hall, and T. Alan Broughton among the few he would recommend. Amy Bracken Sparks in the Plain Dealer, on the other hand, enjoyed the "sea change" in poetry she recognized as "the avant-garde, going on fifty or so funneled from the margins by longtime progressive poet Robert Creeley." "It's thick," she wrote, "with lists, prose poems, fragments, foreign tongues and chunks of text dueling on the page." Even though she acknowledged that for "the legion of those who love Poet Laureate Billy Collins' poems," the poetry in this volume is not "accessible to all; they are innovative in both concept and structure, and therefore risk losing the reader," she added, "They are refreshingly unapologetic about being book-smart in an era when poetry has been dumbed-down at the microphone across America. Some have footnotes; one poem is entirely composed of them. Others juxtapose words in tight formation, or swing them across free-ranging lines that look like paint flung onto a canvas. Yes, it's a bit of work when not everything is explained. Pretension lurks about, but there's always Diane Di Prima keeping everything earthbound and Sharon Olds writing yet again about her father." As Eric McHenry of the Westchester Journal News, pointed out, "In the words of series editor David Lehman, The Best American Poetry is more properly viewed as a chronicle of 'the taste of our leading poets.' The best predictor of whether or not you'll like the poems in a given volume is whether or not you like the poetry of the person who chose them."
Creeley's prose includes a novel, essays, and short stories, as well as a play, collected letters, and an autobiography, published in 1990. But primarily a poet, he rejoices, as he says, in words, their immediacy, their availability to everyone, their insistence, in poems, that we just be with them. Don Byrd quoted him in Contemporary Poets: "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." Asked by Spalding about "good" poems, Creeley, who had written in the introduction to Best American Poetry 2002, the poem is "that place we are finally safe in" where "understanding is not a requirement. You don't have to know why. Being there is the one requirement," responded, "If one only wrote 'good' poems, what a dreary world it would be. 'Writing writing' is the point. It's a process, like they say, not a production line. I love the story of Neal Cassidy writing on the bus with Ken Kesey, simply tossing the pages out the window as he finished each one. 'I wonder if it was any good,' I can hear someone saying. Did you ever go swimming without a place you were necessarily swimming to—the dock, say, or the lighthouse, the moored boat, the drowning woman? Did you always swim well, enter the water cleanly, proceed with efficient strokes and a steady flutter kick? I wonder if this 'good' poem business is finally some echo of trying to get mother to pay attention." Poets, he says, do not need encouragement. They live to write.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Allen, Donald M., editor, Robert Creeley, Contexts ofPoetry: Interviews, 1961-1971, Four Seasons Foundation (San Francisco, CA), 1973.
Altieri, Charles, Self and Sensibility in ContemporaryAmerican Poetry, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1984.
Butterick, George F., editor, Charles Olson and RobertCreeley: The Complete Correspondence, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1980.
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Contemporary Poets, 5th edition, edited by Tracy Chevalier, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1991.
Corman, Cid, editor, The Gist of Origin, Viking (New York, NY), 1975.
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Faas, Ekbert, and Sabrina Reed, editors, Irving Layton and Robert Creeley: The Complete Correspondence, 1953-1978, McGill-Queen's University Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1990.
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University of Illinois, Department of English,http://www.english.uiuc.edu/ (March 8, 2004).*