15 April 2007

The Buffalo Connection – Robert Creeley

Way back when I attended the University of Buffalo (SUNY Buffalo) I had a chance to listen to poet Robert Creeley read his work. Creeley was an English faculty member for about thirty years, resurrecting the idea of a Black Mountain College II in Buffalo. His short, sparse style of poem appealed to me. I would have to name him as an influence on my own work, but he was an influence that wouldn't surface until many years after I heard him read.

Robert Creeley (1926 - 2005) was a contemporary of Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Jackson Pollock and included them in his circle of friends. The interconnectedness of the arts at that time shows in Creeley's poetry, it is often terse with no excess verbiage to weigh it down. He often wrote poems about family, love, and personal issues that radiated with intensity despite the leanness of his words. His work reflects his interest in the process of poetry, over the finished product. It's like getting a glimpse inside the mind of a poet without having to worry about the mess.

The Measure
by Robert Creeley

I cannot
move backward
or forward.
I am caught

in the time
as measure.
What we think
of we think of—

of no other reason
we think than
just to think—
each for himself.

Creeley made use of line and stanza breaks to increase the emotional impact of his work. In 'The Measure', he breaks the first stanza with 'I am caught', letting the words carry over into the next stanza and line, setting up a natural resonance. "I am caught//in the time as measure". In the last stanza he uses the same technique but instead employs a dash to carry the reader through. "just to think—each for himself".

Inside My Head
by Robert Creeley

Inside my head a common room,
a common place, a common tune,
a common wealth, a common doom

inside my head. I close my eyes.
The horses run. Vast are the skies,
and blue my passing thoughts' surprise

inside my head. What is this space
here found to be, what is this place
if only me? Inside my head, whose face?

Here Creeley uses a playfulness to cover the intensity of what he is trying to say. The rhymes and repetition lull the reader into thinking the poem is all lightness. The use of enjambment between the first and second stanza, then in the last stanza lets the punch sneak up on the reader. 'a common doom / / inside my head'. By the last stanza, the end rhymes are irrelevant, and the emotional plea takes the forefront. 'what is this place / if only me?'

I Know a Man
by Robert Creely

As I sd to my
friend, because I am
always talking, -- John, I

sd, which was not his
name, the darkness sur-
rounds us, what

can we do against
it, or else, shall we &
why not, buy a goddamn big car,

drive, he sd, for
christ's sake, look
out where yr going.

"I Know a Man" is one of Creeley's most well known poems. Startling in it's skeletal framework, it uses humor to deftly deflect the reader away from the speaker's mania and onto 'John'. The staccato effect is helped along by Creeley's use of 'sd' and 'yr' in place of entire words, and the use of enjambment to drive the reader forward at a rapid pace. You know the narrator is prone to ramble. You know 'John' is a man of few words, and even those words are dispersed grudgingly.
SUNY Buffalo keeps a collection of his work and mini Internet shrine to Creeley located HERE.

There are also numerous interviews that showcase the man's personality, humor, and dedication to his craft.

An Interview with Creeley

Courtland Review Interview

Paris Review Interview(.pdf file)

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