Windows, the eleventh book of poetry by Robert Creeley, contains both open-ended, improvisational poems of the type with which he has experimented since Pieces (1969) and many elegiac, even lyrical, poems, which, though definitely written in his inimitable style, verge toward more traditional structure and content. Creeley remains the premier American practitioner of minimalism in poetry, working with a short-lined, imagistically spare verse form that struggles to communicate the immediacy of experience without relying on the techniques associated with traditional poetry—for example, simile, metaphor, symbol, extended description, or predictable sound patterns. Within the tight focus of Creeley’s poetry, the interaction of the poet’s perceiving consciousness and the events that directly impinge upon it become brilliantly highlighted, resulting in a body of poetry that is both personal and profound.
When asked about the circumstances surrounding the composition ofWindows, Creeley replied that many of the poems resulted from his travels to Austria and Finland. More interesting was his statement that a large number of the poems had to do with painting and painters, representing, in his words, “a frame for/of seeing.” It is particularly Creeley’s sense of windows as a “frame for/of seeing” that describes his unique sense of poetics. Associated with the Projectivist movement in poetry during the 1950’s and 1960’s, a movement captained by Charles Olson that promoted open-form, nontraditional composition, Creeley has developed his own idiosyncratic postmodern poetics that abandons all systems which evaluate and interpret experience in favor of direct seeing.
Although Olson also wanted a poetry that presented the perceptual immediacy of direct seeing without the interference of egocentric systems and categories seeking to control and explain experience, he wanted to express as concretely as possible an image of man, a point of view that transcends the purely personal perspective. In Windows, Creeley illustrates how rigorously he has relinquished all conceptual schemes: “Trying to get image ofman/ like trying on suit/too small, too loose,/ too late, too soon—” Like a suit on the rack, the “image of man” will fit neither a specific body nor an individual self Even more than Olson, Creeley desires a poem unrestrained by any code of significance that would cover experience with meaning, centered purely on the present moment seen from the perspective of the poet. The frame of seeing is immediate and not mediated through any cultural or aesthetic schema.
Besides Charles Olson, Creeley has been heavily influenced by William Carlos Williams, whose object-centered poetics is summed up in the famous line from “A Sort of a Song” (1944): “No ideas/ but in things.” Surpassing his former friend and teacher, Creeley has developed a poetry whose major principle might be stated as no ideas, only words as things. Since Pieces, Creeley has used words as physical acts and has constructed poems in the same way that the influential Abstract Expressionist painter Jackson Pollock created paintings from the drip and splatter of paint. The result is a poetry resembling an imprint from experience, rather than a comment on it.
Creeley has described his recent poetic technique as “scribbling, of writing for the immediacy of pleasure and without having to pay attention to some final code of significance.” A good example of the limitations of this style from Windows is the poem “Texas Reverse,” which is, simply, “You all/ go.” Even if the poem does communicate a feeling of loneliness, the poem is not memorable, based as it is on simple word play.
Although Creeley generates some poetry of this tedious sort whenever he is “scribbling,” he can often use this method of juxtaposing words and colloquial phrases to produce poems that reverberate with meaningful potentialities. A successful poem is “Nature Morte”: “It’s still/life. It/just ain’t moving.” The first line break at “still” emphasizes the horrific lack of movement that characterizes death. The second line beginning with “life,” however, changes the grammatical function of “still” from an adjective signifying immobility to an adverb signifying continuation. Also, the hidden phrase “still life” suggests that an art that produces physical stasis, a still life, causes an aesthetic death as terrible as a biological one. In order not to immobilize either life or death, Creeley uses “it” without a discernible referent, illustrating his singular practice of employing ambiguous pronouns so that meaning is not fixed at one source but can enter into the poem from many sources external to the poem. Finally, the colloquial ending does not bring the poem to...
(The entire section is 1983 words.)