Robert Creeley (1926-2005)
March 30, 2005 9:17 AM   Subscribe

Robert Creeley, one of the most exquisite and influential poets of our era, died this morning at age 78. I'd link to a story, but it's not in the news yet. This is a note from one of Robert's friends: "American poet Robert Creeley passed away this morning at 6:15 am in Odessa, Texas, where he was fulfilling a Residency at the Lannan Foundation. (Mr. Creeley was a recipient of the Lannan Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award.) His wife of twenty-eight years, Penelope, and son Will and daughter Hannah were at his side. The cause of death was complications from respiratory disease." Though a comrade and muse for Beat Generation writers like Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, Creeley was much less well-known, and had a style rather unlike theirs, distinguished by extreme economy of words and an understated approach toward emotion. Creeley was often cited as a pioneer by the so-called language poets, and his most creatively generative friendship was with another poet's poet, the late Charles Olson. Creeley's subtlety and balance will be missed.
posted by digaman (38 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
A Song

I had wanted a quiet testament
and I had wanted, among other things,
a song.
That was to be
of a like monotony.
(A grace
Simply. Very very quiet.
A murmur of some lost
thrush, though I have never seen one.

Which was you then. Sitting
and so, at peace, so very much now this same quiet.

A song.

And of you the sign now, surely, of a gross
(which is not reluctant, or if it is,
it is no longer important.

A song.

Which one sings, if he sings it,
with care.

-- Robert Creeley
posted by digaman at 9:20 AM on March 30, 2005

Tell story
as you know
how to.

This road
has ending,
hand in

Thanks, digaman. Glad I heard it here rather than in the news.
posted by dlugoczaj at 9:32 AM on March 30, 2005

"So There", done with Mercury Rev on the EP 'The hum is coming from her' is incredible if you can find it...
posted by glider at 9:32 AM on March 30, 2005

God. That man was my hero, him along with Gilles Deleuze for so long and now they are both dead. I saw him read several times and met him once. What a remarkable man he was.

I can't give him anything (especially now) except thanks.

Thank you, Robert Creeley.
posted by n9 at 9:43 AM on March 30, 2005

posted by Floydd at 9:49 AM on March 30, 2005

If you are here, you likely already know, but Creeley was a member of the Black Mountain College school of poets. Audio of a seminar given by Creeley at the Naropa Institute is available at the internet archive.

. . .
posted by prettyboyfloyd at 9:49 AM on March 30, 2005


Now I recognize
it was always me
like a camera
set to expose

itself to a picture
or a pipe
through which the water
might run

or a chicken
dead for dinner
or a plan
inside the head

of a dead man.
Nothing so wrong
when one considered
how it all began.

It was Zukofsky's
"Born very young into a world
already very old..."
The century was well along

when I came in
and now that it's ending,
I realize it won't
be long.

But couldn't it all have been
a little nicer,
as my mother'd say. Did it
have to kill everything in sight,

did right always have to be so wrong?
I know this body is impatient.
I know I constitute only a meager voice and mind.
Yet I loved, I love.

I want no sentimentality.
I want no more than home.

-- Robert Creeley
posted by n9 at 9:50 AM on March 30, 2005

It's actually thanks to Robert Creeley that UbuWeb survives today. Back in 2000 our ISP had a devastating crash that totally wiped-out the site. As the site lay smouldering, Creeley sent an email saying what a great loss for the poetry community this was and made a personal appeal for rebuiding. 6 months later, it was up and running, fueled by his encouragement.
posted by ubueditor at 10:03 AM on March 30, 2005 [1 favorite]

Bresson's Movies

A movie of Robert
Bresson's showed a yacht,
at evening on the Seine,
all its lights on, watched

by two young, seemingly
poor people, on a bridge adjacent,
the classic boy and girl
of the story, any one

one cares to tell. So
years pass, of course, but
I identified with the young,
embittered Frenchman,

knew his almost complacent
anguish and the distance
he felt from his girl.
Yet another film

of Bresson's has the
aging Lancelot with his
awkward armor standing
in a woods, of small trees,

dazed, bleeding, both he
and his horse are,
trying to get back to
the castle, itself of

no great size. It
moved me, that
life was after all
like that. You are

in love. You stand
in the woods, with
a horse, bleeding.
The story is true.

-- R.C.
posted by digaman at 10:05 AM on March 30, 2005

That's a fantastic site, UbuEditor -- one of my favorites.
posted by digaman at 10:09 AM on March 30, 2005

"Bresson's Movies" is my favorite Creeley poem.

He's been teaching at Brown University for these past two years (where I am a student in the Literary Arts department). Wonderful poet, wonderful man. He'll be missed.
posted by rafter at 10:13 AM on March 30, 2005

posted by diftb at 10:32 AM on March 30, 2005

One of my best friends took a class with him when he was a professor at SUNY Buffalo. I always regretted that I wasn't able to.

posted by Kellydamnit at 10:45 AM on March 30, 2005

damn. another great poet gone. sigh....
posted by malaprohibita at 11:04 AM on March 30, 2005

Creeley was one of the writers I caught the writing bug from, too... If there's any justice left in the world, he'll be remembered as one of the greats.
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 11:10 AM on March 30, 2005


America, you ode for reality!
Give back the people you took.

Let the sun shine again
on the four corners of the world

you thought of first but do not
own, or keep like a convenience.

People are your own word, you
invented that locus and term.

Here, you said and say, is
where we are. Give back

what we are, these people you made,
us, and nowhere but you to be.

p.s. The first copy of Howl was typed by Creeley and mimeographed by Martha Rexroth.
posted by xowie at 11:12 AM on March 30, 2005

posted by joe lisboa at 11:18 AM on March 30, 2005

xowie, how do you know that? Very curious.
posted by digaman at 11:42 AM on March 30, 2005

I took two classes with Creeley at Buffalo. He was craggy-faced and wall-eyed and shaggy-haired and sexy and intense and he smoked like a fiend. He taught me how to read a poem, and admitted me to a senior seminar (grudgingly, as he was a bit of a chauvinist) when I was just a junior, and a baby poet. I wrote a (pretty embarrassing ...) paper on Robert Duncan, and his only comment written in scratchy black at the bottom of the page (which I still have) was vintage Bob: "Well, well, well. You can see and say! B+". He loved words and women and shooting the breeze, up where the air was rare.
posted by thinkpiece at 11:52 AM on March 30, 2005

It's in Linda Hamalian's biography of Rexroth, for one thing.

"At their first meeting over supper that April, Marthe [Rexroth] and Creeley were drawn to one another. Creeley himself was emerging from the dissolution of his marriage, and was hanging out with Jack Kerouac. As Ginsberg put it, 'Once they met, the two Catholic, New England, mill-town writers really loved each other.' Creeley was drinking heavily, and Kerouac often rescued him from violent bar scenes created by Creely's funny but vicious temper. He also needed money, and Marthe was able to get him a freelance typist's job [through] the Dean's office at State College. (One assignment was typing up Howl for a mimeographed edition that was to circulate among the various San Francisco poets.) Creely was an attractive, romantic, and serious young writer, who in spite of his dangerous antics was yearning for stability. Marthe was a lovely, intellectual young mother, acutely sensitive to the struggles of a poet's life, but miserable in her subservient and at times masochistic relationship with Rexroth. They fell in love, and saw no reason to hide their intent. Marthe declared an open break."

[Wrote Rexroth:] "I heard that you and your friends - Kerouac and all - are having orgies with Marthe in your cottage in Berkeley - you, Creeley and Kerouac." Ginsberg denied that Marthe had ever visited him... Rexroth's behavior became a local scandal; he would talk about his degrading fantasies, "of gangs of people fucking his wife."
posted by xowie at 12:16 PM on March 30, 2005

< sigh> What would my undergraduate experience have been like without Creeley's vast collected poems, a little weed, jugs of cheap wine and a screened-in porch?
posted by Toecutter at 12:23 PM on March 30, 2005

as an undergrad i had the pleasure of interviewing him on the phone and later meeting him. he told me a great story about meeting william carlos williams and being scared to death

"ever the doctor, he said, son you look white" creeley told me.

at the reading he stumbled across the words as if he hadnt read them before.

i thought that was so punk rock.
posted by tsarfan at 3:29 PM on March 30, 2005


As I was walking
I came upon
chance walking
the same road upon.

As I sat down
by chance to move
if and as I might,

light the wood was,
light and green,
and what I saw
before I had not seen.

It was a lady
by goat men
leading her.

Her hair held earth.
Her eyes were dark.
A double flute
made her move.

"O love,
where are you
me now?"

When I was passing through the town he lived in in the late '70s I wanted to call him up but chickened out. He'll be missed. Thanks for posting this, digaman.
posted by languagehat at 3:45 PM on March 30, 2005

You're welcome.

A little tribute from Anne Waldman, poet and co-founder of Naropa University, courtesy of Patti Smith.
posted by digaman at 3:56 PM on March 30, 2005

In the early sixties I edited a magazine called Nomad. We did a manifesto issue and this was Creeley's contribution:


Robert Creeley

I believe in a poetry determined by the language of which it is made. (Williams: 'Therefore each speech having its own character the poetry it engenders will be peculiar to that speech also in its own intrinsic form.') I look to words, and nothing else, for my own redemption either as man or poet. Pound, early in the century, teaches the tradition of. man-
standing-by-his-word,' the problem of sincerity, which is never as simple as it may be made to seem. The poet, of all men, has least cause and least excuse to pervert his language, since what he markets is so little in demand. He must find his living elsewhere. His aim must never be
deflected by anterior commitment, even to those whom he loves. Words cannot serve responsibly as an apology for those who may wish to make them one.

I mean then words - as opposed to content. I care what the poem says, only as a poem - I am no longer interested in the exterior attitude to which the poem may well point, as sign-board. That concern I have found it best to settle elsewhere. I will not be misled by the. niceness, of any sentiment, or its converse, malevolence. I do not think a poet is necessarily a nice man. I think the poem's morality is contained as a term of its structure, and is there to be determined and nowhere else. (Pound: 'Prosody is the total articulation of the sound in a poem.') Only craft
determines the morality of a poem.

Louis Zukofsky offers. A Test Of Poetry' as. the range of pleasure it affords as sight, sound, and intellection.' I am pleased by that poem which makes use of myself and my intelligence, as a partner to its declaration. It does not matter what I am told - it matters, very much, how I am
there used. Our world has been so delivered to the perversion of language ( the word qua trick or persuader) that my own soul, such as I know it, comes to life in whatever clarities are offered to it. Poems allow me to go on living, and I am grateful for my life.
posted by donfactor at 3:59 PM on March 30, 2005

(Letter to students and faculty.)
posted by rafter at 4:20 PM on March 30, 2005

That's fantastic, donfactor. I'm sending it to Creeley's friends.
posted by digaman at 4:26 PM on March 30, 2005

Too sad.

Noone is as precise
as this man
posted by punkbitch at 4:32 PM on March 30, 2005

posted by juv3nal at 7:51 PM on March 30, 2005

posted by dobbs at 9:25 PM on March 30, 2005

posted by pyramid termite at 9:47 PM on March 30, 2005


Your personal world echoes
in ways common enough,
a parking lot, common cold,
the others sitting at the table.

I have no thoughts myself,
more than myself. I feel
here enough now to think
at least I am here.

So you should get to
know me? Would I be
where you looked? Is it
hands across this body of water?

Is anyone out there,
they used to say, or was
they also some remote chance
of people, a company, together.

What one never knows is,
is it really real, is
the obvious obvious, or else
a place one lives in regardless.
posted by ori at 10:47 PM on March 30, 2005

Matt, this may be a first - at least its the first I remember here - where everybody has had something positive to say or quote in memory of this great American human being and poet.
posted by donfactor at 10:59 PM on March 30, 2005


thanks for the post, d.
posted by matteo at 3:25 AM on March 31, 2005

posted by lilboo at 7:16 AM on March 31, 2005

If I'd spent half the energy trying to get into his class as I spent drinking at Anacone's in Buffalo, well, damn. Great posts, and now I'm digging some stuff out. I've always found Creeley a 'say it out loud' poet - no mumbling to myself but rather finding myself reading his poems out loud, playing with the rhythm, finding the stresses and discoveries that just reading won't uncover.
posted by TomSophieIvy at 10:30 PM on March 31, 2005

I had the privilege of being a student of Robert Creeley's at U of New Mexico in 1963-4. While I never became a poet, nor an academic, what I learned from Bob Creeley has been a part of my ethos for all my life. He opened doors---metaphysically at least---for me and I am profoundly thankful for his influence. We later crossed paths in Knokke, Belgium in, I believe 1969 and it was like getting 'booster shot' of poetic influence. A fine man who was a credit to to arts and the community of man.
posted by psmaps at 9:46 AM on April 6, 2005

Sadly, I had recently discovered that Robert Creeley's mother and ancestors were from the Bucksport, Bangor etc area of Northern Maine and I was looking for his whereabouts to contact him for an interview about what his mother's rememberances might have been for a documentary of a particular stagecoach and inn centered in Bucksport Maine - but encompassing all of Downeast Maine from Gardiner to Calais.

He is gone now just a few days, so I missed the opportunity to make his aquaintance by a bit, but am happy to report that an audio of one of his sessions gave me a sense of what you folks have said and what he was all about - much more than the many photos and obits.

While my reading in recent decades is largely historical non-fiction sources, a wonderful introduction to Elliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" changed my life as a pre-teen New England student - and I can see from these recent posts in remembrance of Creeley that the genealogy of modern poets has a pattern of evolution that even I can follow.

Robert Creeley was of my father's generation, and I see that he lived a full life and produced an enormous body of work that will inspire folks for generations to come.

If any of Robert Creeley's friends or family have a rememberance that Creeley might have had regarding our Downeast Stagecoach Maine project, please reference the overview at and contact us.

Condolences to all who will miss this man and I am extremely sorry I did not make his aquaintance in person.

Sharon Sergeant
posted by AncestralManor at 11:21 PM on April 6, 2005

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