Robert Creeley Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Consider the statement made by Robert Hass that Robert Creeley way “has been to take the ordinary, threadbare phrases and sentences by which we locate ourselves and to put them under the immense pressure of the rhythms of poetry and to make out of that what dance or music there can be.” How would you reconcile what Hass refers to as “the ordinary, threadbare phrases” used in everyday life with the odd rhythms and line breaks in Creeley’s verse that seem anything but “ordinary”? What does this mixture suggest about the individuality of Creeley’s poetic voice?

Creeley lost his left eye very early in his life. Is it possible that this physical loss affected Creeley’s intellectual take on the world around him? How might such a notion influence the way readers view his poems?

How do the poems “Plague” and “Age” build upon each other as works focused on taboos? Do they move readers to think solely of mortality and how to deal with it on a daily basis, or does each poem serve to alleviate the fears that society commonly associates with death, loss, and aging?

Creeley is best known for his experimental uses of rhythm and language. Choose three of his poems and discuss how they differ in form from one another and from other poets from Creeley’s era.

Creeley’s most famous statement is, arguably, “form is never more than an extension of content.” Discuss this statement as it may pertain to the poems you have read. How do form and content influence each other in any work or art?

The bulk of Creeley’s best-known poetry was written during the 1960’s and 1970’s. How does his work handle or deal with the historical changes that took place in American society during these years?

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Robert Creeley worked in a number of literary genres, including the short story (a collection, The Gold Diggers, was published in 1954 and revised in 1965) and the novel (The Island, 1963). A Day Book includes both prose and poetry. Creeley’s nonfiction includes A Quick Graph (1970), Presences (1976), Collected Essays (1983), and The Collected Prose (1984). His ten-volume correspondence with Charles Olson was published in 1980-1996 as Charles Olson and Robert Creeley: The Complete Correspondence. His Day Book of a Virtual Poet appeared in 1998.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Robert Creeley is one of the most celebrated American postwar poets. Early identified as a member of the Black Mountain, or Projectivist, school, he established his individuality with a series of striking works and transcended early factionalism to find a place in most anthologies of the period for a poetry that has no peer. He brought the modernist vision and achievements of William Carlos Williams and Ezra Pound through the changes that profoundly altered the world after 1945 to give them fresh life in his distinctive wry diction and approach to poetic conventions. For Love, his first collection to receive wide distribution, had by 1978 sold more than forty-seven thousand copies; it was nominated for a National Book Award in 1962, the year of its publication.

Creeley won a range of additional awards during his long career: the Levinson Prize in 1960 and a Leviton-Blumenthal Prize in 1964 for groups of poetry published in Poetry, a Guggenheim Fellowship in poetry from 1964 to 1965 and in 1971, a Rockefeller Foundation grant in 1966, and a Union League Civic and Arts Poetry Prize in 1967. He won many honors in the 1980’s, including the Shelley Memorial Award (1981), a Frost Medal (1987), a National Endowment for the Arts grant, a Leone d’Oro Premio Speziale in Venice, a Fulbright Award, and a Walt Whitman citation of merit. He was named poet laureate of New York State (1989-1991) and won the America Award for Poetry (1995), the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writers’ Award (1996), the Bollingen Prize and a Chancellor Norton Medal (both 1999), a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Before Columbus Foundation (2000), and the Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award (2001). He became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1987 and served as chancellor for the Academy of American Poets from 1999 to 2002.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Altieri, Charles. “Robert Creeley’s Poetics of Conjecture: The Pains and Pleasures of Staging a Self at War with Its Own Lyric Desires.” In Self and Sensibility in Contemporary American Poetry. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1984. Brilliant discussion of a key element in Creeley’s work: the struggle between representation and the activity of representing. The imperatives of this struggle, says Altieri, connect Creeley’s poetry to the romantic attempt to create a language, a rhetoric, that can express “the opposition between thinking and thought.”

Altieri, Charles. “The Struggle with Absence: Robert Creeley and W. S. Merwin.” In Enlarging the Temple. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1979. Altieri provides a useful discussion of Creeley’s aesthetics of presence, an epistemological inquiry into the dialectics of presence and absence in his writings. “Creeley is trying to resolve the dualisms of man and nature, subject and object, and embody their harmonious inter-relationships. But [his] solution tends to be solipsistic.”

Bernstein, Charles. “Hearing ‘Here’: Robert Creeley’s Poetics of Duration.” In Content’s Dream: Essays, 1975-1984. Los Angeles: Sun & Moon Press, 1986. This essay features an approach, incorporating, without specific attribution, many phrases...

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