The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

There is a deceptive simplicity to many of Robert Creeley’s poems which tends to camouflage the power the poet brings to his subject and temporarily delay a full apprehension of the work’s psychological penetration. A typical example is “I Know a Man,” one of Creeley’s most anthologized early lyrics, which is written in the discursive and reflective voice Creeley often uses. Its four stanzas are essentially a continuous expression in which nearly every word is a unit of meaning, its position and location amid punctuation, space, and other words crucial to its purpose.

This poem is an example of “open verse” or “composition by field,” which Creeley developed through his friendship and correspondence with Charles Olson; it is employed throughout the poems collected in For Love (1962) to permit Creeley an “obsessive confrontation with solipsism” (as Charles Altieri identified it) and an occasion for close scrutiny of the psychological mood of the speaker.

The opening lines, beginning “As I sd to my/ friend,” plunge into what appears to be an ongoing dialogue. Although there is a suggestion that the poem is part of a conversation, it is also a version of an inner dialogue in which dual components of the poet’s psyche are involved. The ambiguity is introduced in the second stanza when the speaker observes, after what seems like a direct address to his friend—the person called “John”—that it “was not...

(The entire section is 491 words.)