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...

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Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The spare and urgent lyricism, as Charles Molesworth described it, which is the essence of Creeley’s style in “I Know a Man,” is developed through the employment of a vernacular mode of speech, by the arrangement of this language into tightly controlled rhythmic patterns, and by the organization of these rhythms into a structural frame that permits abrupt changes in psychic mood.

One of Creeley’s governing poetic principles is the precept that a poem cannot be arranged in any previously anticipated form, but that its shape develops from the circumstances of its composition. In “I Know a Man,” the concise, monosyllabic terseness of the first line establishes a clipped form of utterance in which the weight of each unit of meaning is important. Creeley is particularly attentive to nuances of stress, so that the opening statement moves toward completion in the second line, underscoring the importance of the “friend” who is addressed. The line then continues toward the phrase “I am,” intensifying the personal nature of the declaration, a point pushed further by the third use of the word “I” to conclude the stanza. At the same time, the thought is carried directly to the next stanza by the power of the third “I” reaching across the space to the second use of “sd.”

This firm control of perspective culminates in the brilliant ambiguity of the last stanza, where, as Creeley has described it, “the poem protects...

(The entire section is 583 words.)


(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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.