(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Creeley was raised by several women after his father died, including his mother, his grandmother, and a slightly retarded woman named Theresa whom his father had brought home to work as a maid. Creeley came to think of her as an “emotional ally” who was not as severe as his family and who needed his friendship in her alien condition. Among the poems Creeley wrote about his family, “Theresa’s Friends” is a reminiscence that excludes some of the complex emotional intensity that sometimes almost overwhelms the poet so that here he can enjoy his reflections without feeling forced to wring nuance from every particle of memory.

“From the outset,” he recalls, he was “charmed” by the soft, quick speech of Theresa’s friends. Typically, it is their use of language that captivates him, the “endlessly present talking” that gave him his first sense of being Irish, which included the cultural mix of “the lore, the magic/ the violence, the comfortable/ or uncomfortable drunkenness.” Each of these features is a source of recollective pleasure, not an element to be worried over, and as the poem narrows in focus, an ironmonger is depicted patiently telling the young man “sad, emotional stories/ with the quiet air of an elder.” This is a feature of the oral tradition that informs Creeley’s work as a poet of sound and speech, and the relaxed, conversational pace of the poem—more like a narrative than most of Creeley’s works—sets the structure for a concluding insight that is especially dramatic because of its sudden increase in emotional pitch.

After the gradual preparation he has received from Theresa’s friends concerning his cultural heritage, Creeley’s mother tells him “at last when I was twenty-one” that “indeed the name Creeley was Irish,” including him officially in the community of tale and mood toward which he has been drawn. The information comes with the effect of revelation, certifying all that Creeley had instinctively sensed about his origins, his destiny, and his gifts. In an unusually traditional concluding stanza, Creeley raises the level of language to inform and convince the reader/listener fully of the depth of his feeling:

and the heavens opened, birds sang,and the trees and the ladies spokewith wondrous voices. The power of the gloryof poetry—was at last mine.


(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.