Robert Creeley Essay - Creeley, Robert (Vol. 4)

Creeley, Robert (Vol. 4)

Creeley, Robert 1926–

Creeley, one of the founders of the "Black Mountain movement," is an American poet, novelist, and short story writer. Hayden Carruth calls Creeley a "superb technician" whose poems are "self-completing gestures of tone, syntax, logic, image, measure and connotative feeling." (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)

Superficially [Robert Creeley's] poems look like the cameos of Mallarmé—such still lifes as "Autre Éventail" or "Petit Air"—or the intense little epigrams of William Carlos Williams—the plums in the icebox, the wheelbarrow glazed by the rain or the cat stepping over the window sill. On close inspection Creeley's poems turn out to be anything but Imagism. They are erotic poems, but what gives them their terrific impact is neither love nor lust. Each is an excruciating spasm of guilt. It is obvious that so limited a subject matter hardly provides the scope for major poetry. But there is no question of Creeley's effectiveness within his self-imposed or perhaps inescapable limitations. In the last couple of years he seems to have become more at ease in the world and less haunted by his relations with others, and his poetry is, however slowly, gaining in humanity and breadth. What distinguishes it is the same thing that keeps Mallarmé important—remarkable skill and special sensitivity to the inflections of speech—however special a speech either Creeley's or Mallarmé's may be.

Kenneth Rexroth, "The New Poetry," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1961 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), February 12, 1961.

In St Martin's, a small collection of poems occasioned by a visit to the West Indies, Mr Creeley maintains his normal austerity of manner. Clipped and quiet, his speech combines a mild surface with sharp signs of turbulence below. His strenuous allegiance is to reality, to the truth of his unyielding nature and the bleak limitations of all human existence. The colourless imprecision of his language directs the reader to those burdens and pleasures of friendship and love that supply Mr Creeley with his special themes.

"Dubious Seer," in The Times Literary Supplement (reproduced by permission), July 23, 1971, p. 855.

Even when the surface of the poem is almost opaque, as dulled in its reflections as a black marsh pool, it is difficult not to respond to Creeley's poetry. There is always some movement, some breaking of the surface to the emotion below it. The surface is hard, but it isn't unyielding, and in the poems which are less opaque his voice has a presence and a distinctness that gives his poetry a sense of bitten, hard clarity. In long reaches of his poems the hardness gives a sense of difficulty—of difficulty with the words, the expression, with the poem, with the emotion—and in first encounters with Creeley's poetry there is a problem of deciding if the difficulty comes from a complexity in his poetic conception or if there is something in the poet that comes between the poem and its language….

Nothing draws him out—even a deeply felt emotion is terse and hard. Creeley is a poet who is driven to speak—but is almost unable to listen to the sound of his own voice. Not unable, since he does listen and write, but certainly guarded. And the tension of his poetic diction seems to be involved with this discomfort, not with any confusion in the poem itself. It's difficult, in many ways, to confront something as muted and withdrawn as the emotion in Creeley's poetry—it's even more difficult to realise that the poetry has in some ways become more withdrawn and more elusive as his concept of the poem has extended and deepened….

He has widened the limits of his poetry—the book Pieces, published in 1969, is a brilliant extended work, with a range of place and concern, of scene and accent, that gives his work an entirely new dimension—but the language is even more tightly drawn. He has thinned it down to the point where he has eliminated continuities, and the perception is left almost as word clusters—just as they must have been when they forced themselves on him. His honesty—and he is as honest as a poet as he is as a human being—can sometimes be a harrowing experience.

I don't feel at any point that Creeley is trying to make a poetic form out of emotions that are obscure or misunderstood—build a frame out of poles that are warped and splintered—or that he is trying to force poetry out of a kind of barren intellectualization that leaves the poem too heavily weighted down to have movement or direction—but that he's trying to bare himself, as a poet has to leave himself bare, as the poem at some point has to become the act of baring, and at the same time keep his bareness covered. The gestures have to be small, not move far from his body, his hands can't grasp or hold, but have to outline, suggest. The emotional power of the poems is in their half-glimpsed expression of the deeper emotion that forced him to the sudden act of baring that is the poem….

The effectiveness of the small movements is their interrelationship with the form of the poem. One of Creeley's greatest strengths as a poet is his nearly flawless sense of the word, its dissonances, its assonances, and its full and implied point of meaning. The strokes are short, the tonality muted, but each one is subtly placed and there is no touch that alters the tonal balance of the design….

In his refusal to use much of the clutter of contemporary poetic diction as a kind of impersonal concealment he has given his work its immediate identity….

If his language is difficult, if he has limited the range of the poetry, he has still—with oblique strokes—sketched in a self that we can respond to—even be drawn to. In his hesitancies, in his insistence on his inadequacies, the bareness of his hopes, he has become fierce in his honesty and soft in his gentleness. And the poem does exist on this other level as an expression of the poet's self, and in our response to this self, this person, then the poem becomes an incident in the expression of this self, and we can reach through it to the poet.

Samuel Charters, "Robert Creeley," in his Some Poems/Poets: Studies in American Underground Poetry Since 1945, Oyez, 1971, pp. 85-96.

These poems [St. Martin's] … are suffused with that same kind of uneasy idyllic atmosphere we find in "The Tempest." And, like Prospero, the poet confronts the contraries of life and nature, and, finally, brings them into a delicate balance of light and dark, identity and love, confidence and joy. The opening poem, "Do You Think …" is surely one of Creeley's finest. We can see now, more clearly than ever, that his poems are destined to be regarded as among the very best of his generation.

Virginia Quarterly Review, Vol. 48, No. 1 (Winter, 1972), p. xxiii.

[My] admiration for [Creeley's] earlier work is enthusiastic—and for reasons not unlike those held by Creeley's large audience: the right words and rhythms, the clear complexities, and the stories consistently told. I know that if Pieces came unsolicited by an unknown author to Scribner's, Creeley's publisher, or for that matter to any reputable publishing house, it would have been sent back by return mail or, failing that, it would not have made it past the first reader. What, then, is so bad about Pieces? It reads as if it were scattered entries in a personal journal. In this respect, the title is honest. There is little cohesion, drama, flair, or purpose to this book, which is comprised of brief poems, prose passages, and incidental statements.

Ronald Moran, in The Southern Review, Vol. 8, No. 1, Winter, 1972, p. 252.

If one could only harness the energy that must be in Creeley's mind. He has a knack for making the world recklessly sensual and vibrant. His poetry is deeply self-analytic and emotional. This latest effort [A Day Book] merits any awards it may win.

Virginia Quarterly Review, Vol. 49, No. 2 (Spring, 1973), p. lxii.

The Gold Diggers and Other Stories … is fiction that demands too much effort from the reader, for the little it offers in return. Most of the stories are difficult, with grammatical ambiguities such as doubtfully identifiable pronouns and "squinting modifiers."… Many modern writers are accused of obscurity, and some with justice; for deliberately to confuse a reader can succeed only if there are strong lures to make him decipher the puzzles. Creeley's stories in this volume lack these enticements…. The best of the collection are "The Grace," "Mr Blue," and "The Unsuccessful Husband," in that they suffer less from obscurity and mannerism. The plot of each of these three is satisfying; one is persuaded that the characters are real and complex; and one can draw a thematic inference from each. Too many of the others, departing from the forms and techniques many readers expect from fiction, yield too few hints to permit a reader to adjust his expectations to fit these stories.

Jeanette Gilsdorf, in Prairie Schooner (© 1973 by University of Nebraska Press; reprinted by permission from Prairie Schooner), Spring, 1973, pp. 91-2.

The particular value of Creeley's book [A Sense of Measure] is that it is not a statement of theory, but a personal testament. In a number of pieces, written from 1951 onwards, he muses over the way he himself writes, and over what the writing of his contemporaries means to him. Though his terms are all concrete, the effect of his syntax is to give them a curiously abstract value—it's rather like talking with a pillar of cloud. Nevertheless, he makes certain beliefs clear: that within the space/time continuum we now recognize, older concepts of category, a contained plot, for instance, or a completed thought, in fact any mancentred universe of art, become impossible. Art must not manipulate time and place, but express its belonging within them—since space/time is a continuum, the relations it expresses will always make sense. Similarly, the particular work of art is itself a time and place, which must not be infringed by considerations imported from outside.

Roger Garfitt, in London Magazine, June/July, 1973, Vol. 13, No. 2, p. 119.