Robert Creeley

Digitizing Creeley's reel-to-reel tapes

Robert Creeley and son Will (photo by Bruce Jackson)

Will Creeley sent us at PennSound this great note after hearing a PoemTalk episode about one of his father's poems:

I saw word of this latest episode via PennSound's excellent & useful Twitter feed, and figured it was a good opportunity to say thank you again to Al, Charles and everyone at PennSound & Kelly Writers House for taking in our big cardboard boxes and digitizing the reel-to-reel recordings inside with such care and precision.

Creeley near the end

A beautiful late reading given by Robert Creeley, CUE Art Foundation, January 18, 2005. We at PennSound provide the video and also the audio-only recording of this event.

"When I think of where I come from....of what a life is, or was...," begins the first poem in the reading. Creeley died in March of '05, just a few months later.

Asking Creeley about Williams

Note: Robert Creeley was a Kelly Writers House Fellow in April 2000. I conducted a public interview and moderated a discussion on April 11 before an audience of eighty people. The recording (both video and audio) of the interview has been available both on the Kelly Writers House site and at PennSound.  Recently Michael Nardone transcribed it. We expect to publish the entire transcript in Jacket2 before too long. Meantime, below we present the portion of the discussion in which I ask Creeley about William Carlos Williams.


Al Filreis: Now back to Williams, your initial response to Williams — according to something you said at Camden in December [1999] — was that what mattered to you in reading Williams, particularly The Wedge, was that the work was driven by anger. This is what, at least, Ron Silliman posted to the Buffalo poetics listserv afterwards. And then he went on to comment on how Williams had a huge impact on him as well, but it was a very different Williams. So, if anger is not quite operating as much, what’s your Williams now? How does Williams animate you now?

Robert Creeley: Back to Ron’s point, that that wasn’t the Williams he read, he reads the later Williams.

Filreis: The Desert Music.

Creeley: Yeah. Which is not an unangry poem, so to speak. But it certainly isn’t nearly as angry as the poems he was writing in the thirties or twenties. Spring and All, for example. Or The Descent of Winter, or “March First.” Many of the early poems are really angry, and their emotional base is their revulsion and anger at the world he finds around him.

Filreis: So, now when you look back at Williams, how does it feel?

Creeley: Well, it feels very much like my own life. I, when young, felt a dismay, let’s put it, that such things as the Holocaust or the Second World War or the Depression or many other factors in one’s real life, that these could be so unremarkable to the body politic, that it seemed not to matter.

Levertov here and there

We don’t have any recordings of Denise Levertov yet in PennSound, but Levertov appears, one way or another, here and there throughout our archive. Robert Creeley talks about her (with me at the Writers House). Ken Irby reads one of her poems. John Weiners in 1965 at Berkeley reads a poem dedicated to her. Albert Gelpi talks with Leonard Schwartz about the letters of Duncan and Levertov. And a letter Duncan wrote Levertov as he was finishing the poem “Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow” is discussed in passing in our Duncan PoemTalk episode.

Asking Creeley about Williams

Robert Creeley as a Kelly Writers House Fellow, 2000

Interview and discussion in April 2000:

FILREIS:
Now back to Williams, your initial response to Williams — according to something you said at Camden in December [1999] — was that what mattered to you in reading Williams, particularly The Wedge, was that the work was driven by anger. This is what, at least, Ron Silliman posted to the Buffalo poetics listserv afterwards. And then he went on to comment at how Williams had a huge impact on him as well, but it was a very different Williams. So, if anger is not quite operating as much, what’s your Williams now? How does Williams animate you now?

CREELEY:
Back to Ron’s point, that that wasn’t the Williams he read, he reads the later Williams.

FILREIS:
The Desert Music.

CREELEY:
Yeah. Which is not an unangry poem, so to speak. But it certainly isn’t nearly as angry as the poems he was writing in the thirties or twenties. Spring and All, for example. Or the “Descent of Winter,” or “March First.” Many of the early poems are really angry, and their emotional base is their revulsion and anger at the world he finds around him.

FILREIS:
So, now when you look back at Williams, how does it feel?

CREELEY:
Well, it feels very much like my own life. I, when young, felt a dismay, let’s put it, that such things as the Holocaust or the Second World War or the depression or many other factors in one’s real life, that these could be so unremarkable to the body politic, that it seemed not to matter.

four new Creeley recordings

Thanks to the work of Henry Steinberg, we’ve just added four new recordings of Robert Creeley reading his poems: “The Dishonest Mailman,” “Please,” “After Lorca,” and “The Ballad of the Despairing Husband.” We’ve also included links to four YouTube video clips of the same reading.

Creeley on prosody and pacing

Back in 2000 I interviewed Robert Creeley in front of a live audience of eighty people or so at the Writers House. The recording (video and audio both) of the interview has long been available, but recently Michael Nardone has begun to draft a transcription. Note that it’s not by any means finalized yet. Toward the beginning of the discussion Creeley brought out a small laptop which had loaded in it a software program called “Libretto.” It was a primitive version of the much better voice transcription programs or voice recognition programs now available. In this early version a rudimentary avatar would speak a piece of text fed into it. Creeley was experimenting with prosody and wanted to dehumanize (for instance) the ballad stanza, to hear the words performed without subjectivity — as a machine would sound them. In this part of the transcript we find Creeley struggling a bit with the machine. Once it works, we hear the ballad (but it is by now unrecognizable so we’ve left out the verse itself in the transcript) and then Creeley discusses. (Here is a link to the audio segment transcribed.)

CREELEY:
It will come. I still have to get the appropriate file. I just took two verses from actually a very — it doesn’t use the syncopation quite at all very much, but I am also interested in pacing, what the intervals apparent are. Again, as I say this voice is in no way expressive or interpretive. I was visiting in a pleasant school, masters school, in just Dobb’s Ferry in New York and one pleasant teacher there, a Chinese American, said “Sounds just like my uncle.” So here we go.

Wait a minute.

Speak.

COMPUTER MONOLOGUE READS:
[INAUDIBLE]

CREELEY:
Wait a minute I’m sorry. Let’s start again.

FILREIS:
In the room, if Aaron does some —

CREELEY:
Let me just stop this. Abort.

I haven’t got the speaker turned on.

I’m an old man. I’m totally confused.

FILREIS:
He’s an old man with a libretto playing a voice synthesizer.

CREELEY:
Be that as it may.

PoemTalk update

Who's counting? Well, but...Who's counting? Well, but... Here are the most often listened-to PoemTalk episodes in the last two weeks: 1) W. C. Williams, 2) Robert Creeley, 3) Wallace Stevens, 4) Jaap Blonk, 5) Cid Corman, 6) Allen Ginsberg singing Blake, 7) Amiri Baraka, 8) Ezra Pound, 9) Barbara Guest. I'm not counting the new Vachel Lindsay show; it received the largest number of hits but was just released, so its traffic resulted in folks responding to a widespread announcement. We'll see next month if people are still listening to the Lindsay. I certainly hope so.

Because I am always talking (PoemTalk #16)

Robert Creeley, 'I Know a Man'

LISTEN TO THE SHOW

Robert Creeley’s “I Know a Man” is in many ways a signature poem. Few poems we choose to discuss on PoemTalk are such. Many are downright unrepresentative. This one might indeed be unrepresentative but if a person knows just one Creeley poem this is probably it.

It’s been much written about. In The San Francisco Renaissance Michael Davidson explores the “Beat ethos” with a detailed reading of “I Know a Man.” Similarly, PoemTalkers Randall Couch, Jessica Lowenthal and Bob Perelman find beat here — but also its counterargument, and/or a rejoinder to its dark depth and to the beat propensity for driving nowhere (or somewhere) fast. Robert Kern in boundary 2 — a 1978 essay — finds postmodern poetics in the Creeleyite anthem: in a nutshell, composition as recognition. Cid Corman (himself the topic of an upcoming PoemTalk) finds and commends the “basic English” of the poem, comparing it with a “more refined” and less effective poem on a similar topic by Louis MacNeice. Walter Sutton back in ‘73 drew a line of influence from Charles Olson’s poetics to Creeley’s “laconic” and “spasmodic” lineation and rhetoric.

The PoemTalkers talk about this remarkable instance of eloquent stammering. The stammer is perhaps the apt way — since form is never more than an extension of content, and vice versa, after all! — of heading into the surrounding mid-1950s darkness, only to be brought up short by the actual needs of the actual American road. It is not a resolution and not a capitulation, but an assertive and possibly ironic (funny, anyway) means of bringing up short. Or, in short: more stammering.

Because I am always talking (PoemTalk #16)

Robert Creeley, "I Know a Man"

LISTEN TO THE SHOW

Robert Creeley's "I Know a Man" is in many ways a signature poem. Few poems we choose to discuss on PoemTalk are such. Many are downright unrepresentative. This one might indeed be unrepresentative but if a person knows just one Creeley poem this is probably it.

It's been much written about. In The San Francisco Renaissance Michael Davidson explores the "Beat ethos" with a detailed reading of "I Know a Man." Similarly, PoemTalkers Randall Couch, Jessica Lowenthal and Bob Perelman find beat here--but also its counterargument, and/or a rejoinder to its dark depth and to the beat propensity for driving nowhere (or somewhere) fast. Robert Kern in boundary 2--a 1978 essay--finds postmodern poetics in the Creeleyite anthem: in a nutshell, composition as recognition. Cid Corman (himself the topic of an upcoming PoemTalk) finds and commends the "basic English" of the poem, comparing it with a "more refined" and less effective poem on a similar topic by Louis MacNeice. Walter Sutton back in '73 drew a line of influence from Charles Olson's poetics to Creeley's "laconic" and "spasmodic" lineation and rhetoric.

The PoemTalkers talk about this remarkable instance of eloquent stammering. The stammer is perhaps the apt way--since form is never more than an extension of content, and vice versa, after all!--of heading into the surrounding mid-1950s darkness, only to be brought up short by the actual needs of the actual American road. It is not a resolution and not a capitulation, but an assertive and possibly ironic (funny, anyway) means of bringing up short. Or, in short: more stammering.

I Know a Man

As I sd to my
friend, because I am
always talking,—John, I

sd, which was not his
name, the darkness sur-
rounds us, what

can we do against
it, or else, shall we &
why not, buy a goddamn big car,

drive, he sd, for
christ’s sake, look
out where yr going.

Our friends at the Poetry Foundation have listed and linked all episodes of PoemTalk here. And, as always, one can subscribe to PoemTalk through the iTunes music store; simply type "PoemTalk" in the Music Store search box.

There are, at last count, eight different recordings of Creeley reading this poem - all to be found, along with much more, on PennSound's Creeley author page. Not long after his father's death, Will Creeley brought to us boxes of reel-to-reel tapes, which we have gone through carefully, digitizing, segmenting, identifying poem by poem.

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