Commentaries - April 2009
Robert Creeley, "I Know a Man"
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.
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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.
Wystan Curnow, art critic and poet, spoke at the Writers House this evening on curating as a critical practice. The event was shown live on KWH-TV and is already available as a video recording. Wystan was born in Christchurch, New Zealand in 1939, and studied English and History at the University of Auckland, and took his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania. Yes, Penn. So his two-week visit here is actually a return to his alma mater many many years later. This afternoon he joined me and Charles Bernstein and Bob Perelman to record a PoemTalk episode on a poem by Louis Zukofsky — which will be released in a few months. Then we all went downstairs for his very good talk on curating. Have a look.
Frank Sherlock read from his poetry recently at the Writers House. Here is a video recording. Frank is the author of Over Here (Factory School 2009) and the coauthor of Ready-To-Eat Individual (Lavender Ink 2008), a collaborative work with the Poet Laureate of Dumaine Street, Brett Evans. A duet with CAConrad entitled The City Real & Imagined: Philadelphia Poems is forthcoming from Factory School in fall 2009.