Echoes Essay - Critical Essays

Robert Creeley


Long associated with the experimental Black Mountain College poets of the 1950’s, including Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov, Robert Creeley established a uniquely minimalist voice in American poetry. His short, spare, haiku-like poems anticipated the close readings of contemporary “language poets” (such as Charles Bernstein) and other writers who make the word or phrase the primary unit of composition. The result of these compressed and pared-down utterances is that they approximate the actual give-and-take of thought itself. Typically, Creeley’s poems engage the reader and encourage a participation in the poet’s train of thought and imagery. Creeley called this process “projective verse,” and it has become his trademark over the years.

ECHOES continues this tradition and offers generous samples of Creeley at his best, writing passionately and personally about nature, landscape, the process of aging, and lost loves. All of the experiences in the book are somehow “echoes” of time and memory, as suggested by the stark black- and-white photograph on the dust jacket, showing a winding stairway, curving into a garden, each tread of the stair being an “echo” of the previous one. Creeley perceives these echoes everywhere: Memories and words are echoes, as are photographs, clouds, lost lovers, dancing steps, breathing, fog, fence posts, seasons, parts of the body, and bends in the road. ECHOES, then, amounts to a profoundly brilliant meditation on the process of thinking and how time qualifies and defines every act of perception so that even a simple white picket fence “echoes barn, house.” Creeley also includes several long poems in ECHOES, each composed of smaller, echoing poems. These cluster poems bear titles such as “Parts,” “Sonnets,” “Gnomic Verses,” and “Billboards.” To read Creeley is to hear and see the echoes that were always there. ECHOES is a significant book of poetry because, finally, it will enhance and enlarge the world of all its fortunate readers.