LS: Born in 1926, Robert Creeley is the winner of a Bollingen Prize in Poetry in 1999, a Lifetime Achievement Award conferred by the Before Columbus Foundation in 2000, and a Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001. From Black Mountain to wherever we are now, Creeley remains one of our most enduring and vital poets, “vital” spelled energetic and alive. His latest book just out this fall is If I Were Writing This from New Directions. I have him on the phone from Providence, Rhode Island where he is a distinguished professor at Brown University. Welcome, Robert.
RC: Thank you, Leonard. I hope the various beeps and gurgles (from the phone line) don’t throw us off.
LS: “Beeps and Gurgles” might make a good title for a new book.
RC: Yes, “and things that go bump in the night...”
Edited by John Tranter, introduced by David Lehman.
1. Ethel Malley — Letter to Max Harris, 28 October 1943 2. David Lehman — The Ern Malley Hoax — Introduction 3. Max Harris — Introduction [his original Introduction to the Ern Malley poems in Angry Penguins magazine, Autumn 1944] 4. Ern Malley — The Complete Poems 5. Ern Malley’s recently discovered Last Will and Testament 6. Max Harris — Two pieces [immediately following the Ern Malley poems in Angry Penguins magazine, Autumn 1944] 7. David Lehman — A Note on Harold Stewart [written after a visit with ‘Uncle Harold’ Stewart in Kyoto in 1990] 8. John Thompson — The Ern Malley Story: audio — the 1-hour radio documentary in RealAudio, with the voices of all those involved in the hoax, made by the Australian Broadcasting Commission in 1959. [You can download the free basic model of the RealAudio plug-in for your browser here: http://www.real.com/] 9. John Thompson — The Ern Malley Story: transcript — the full transcript of the radio documentary above; first published as an Appendix to Clement Semmler, For the Uncanny Man — Essays, Mainly Literary, 1963.
I am writing a review of Kent Johnson’s Day although I haven’t read a word of it. That’s not a problem, since Johnson’s Day is identical to Kenneth Goldsmith’s Day, which is itself a transcription of an entire issue of The New York Times from left to right, ignoring the divisions between columns, articles and advertisements. In fact, Johnson’s Day is an actual copy of Goldsmith’s Day, with stickers of Johnson’s name covering Goldsmith’s name, as well as some jacket blurbs from Juliana Spahr, Christian Bök, and “Kenny” Goldsmith himself. Not surprisingly, the blurbs from Spahr and Bök were originally for Goldmith’s Day; the blurb attributed to Goldsmith is Johnson’s riff on various comments Goldsmith has made on Flarf and conceptual poetry.
However, I haven’t read Goldsmith’s Day either. Although I consider myself a big fan of his work, I’ve read almost none of it. (I made it through about 50 pages of Soliloquy, his transcription of everything he said over the course of a week, and thought it was brilliant.)
Editors’ note: Preface to Against the Silences, by Paul Blackburn, published by The Permanent Press, London and New York, 1981. Reprinted with permission from The Collected Essays of Robert Creeley, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1989. — Jacket2
I’D LIKE TO SPEAK personally of this extraordinary poet, and take that license insofar as these poems are personal, often bitterly so. I wonder if any of us have escaped the painful, self-pitying and meager defenses of person so many of them invoke. What we had hoped might be, even in inept manner worked to accomplish, has come to nothing — and whose fault is that, we ask. Certainly not mine? Having known both of these dear people, and myself, I have to feel that there will never be a human answer, never one human enough.
When Paul Blackburn died in the fall of 1971, all of his company, young and old, felt a sickening, an impact of blank, gray loss. I don’t know what we hoped for, because the cancer which killed him was already irreversibly evident — and he knew it far more literally than we. But his life had finally come to a heartfelt peace, a wife and son so dear to him, that his death seemed so bitterly ironic.
Recalling now, it seems we must have first written to one another in the late forties, at the suggestion of Ezra Pound, then in St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. We shared the same hopes for poetry, the same angers at what we considered its slack misuses. Paul was without question a far more accomplished craftsman than I and one day, hopefully, the evidence of his careful readings of the poems I sent him then will be common information.
I want to say a few simple things about reading, and hope that my illustrations will justify the time taken, even if the purpose to which they are put is dull. Is this an apology? I mean it to be a model of reading. For reading too is a way of taking time, one in which the ostensible aim — meaning — is often of less interest than the compensatory pleasures offered up along the way.
This dynamic — between the expectation of meaning and the sensual enjoyment of what makes meaning possible — is one manifestation of a difference we often feel between reading analytically and reading for pleasure, a difference that often collapses when we start to look closely at its constituent parts. There is, for instance, a pleasure to be had in analysis, and, likewise, there are analyses to be made in the midst of pleasure. Who can say where the emphasis should fall when push comes to shove in the mind, when confronted with lines like these by Robert Creeley:
The men in my life were three in number, a father, uncle, grand-
father — and with that father an interchangeable other — the Man — whom
to score with, scream at. The wind rises in a fucking, endless volume.