The Edge Summary (Robert Creeley)

Robert Creeley


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The insistent inspection and dissection of linguistic possibility for which Creeley was known reaches a kind of peak in “The Edge.” The very short, elliptic word-unit common to Creeley’s style throughout his writing life is fused into compact three-line stanzas, which are linked by a continuing focus on edges or boundaries in thought and action, poetry and life. Each stanza has a tentative hold, and then a release into the next one; a hesitancy that occurs after almost every unit of meaning.

Creeley suggests that the poem itself is unclear in its way or course, “this long way comes with no purpose,” just as the life it expresses seems unsure of its direction as the poet continues seeking, experimenting, testing, trying, and measuring language and form. Uncertainty does not preclude action, however; the poem’s tentativeness is not an indication of paralysis but of an effort to discover a true course after many missteps. The poem itself expresses the poet’s desire to construct or discover meaning through the repetition of small actions:

I take the world and lose it,miss it, misplace it,put it back or try to, can’tfind it, fool it, even feel it.

There is no end to this, and the poem does not have an ending, only another thrust further into being, as the poet proclaims “This must be the edge/ of being before the thought of it! blurs it.” As Charles Molesworth aptly observes, poems such as this one are “a dramatization of the limits of Creeley’s existential, improvisatory stance,” statements where language and thought shift perception even as it occurs.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Allen, Donald, ed. Contexts of Poetry: Interviews with Robert Creeley, 1961-1971. Bolinas, Calif.: Four Seasons, 1973.

Clark, Tom. Robert Creeley and the Genius of the American Commonplace. New York: New Directions, 1993.

Edelberg, Cynthia. Robert Creeley’s Poetry: A Critical Introduction. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1978.

Faas, Ekbert, and Maria Trombaco. Robert Creeley: A Biography. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 2001.

Ford, Arthur. Robert Creeley. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1978.

Foster, Edward Halsey. Understanding the Black Mountain Poets. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1995.

Fox, Willard. Robert Creeley, Edward Dorn, and Robert Duncan: A Reference Guide. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1989.

Oberg, Arthur. Modern American Lyric: Lowell, Berryman, Creeley, and Plath. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1977.

Rifkin, Libbie. Career Moves: Olson, Creeley, Zukofsky, Berrigan, and the American Avant-Garde. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2000.

Terrell, Carroll, ed. Robert Creeley: The Poet’s Workshop. Orono, Maine: National Poetry Foundation, 1984.

Wilson, John, ed. Robert Creeley’s Life and Work: A Sense of Increment. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1987.