Robert Creeley (b. 1926)

    Contributing Editor:
    Thomas R. Whitaker

    Classroom Issues and Strategies

    "Hart Crane"

    Dedicated to a friend of Crane who became a friend of Creeley, this is the opening poem in For Love. Is it a negative portrait or a sympathetic study of difficulties central to Creeley's own career? Certainly it contains many leitmotifs of Creeley's poetry: stuttering, isolations, incompletion, self-conscious ineptness, the difficulty of utterance, the need for friends, the confrontations of a broken world.

    "I Know a Man"

    The colloquial anecdote as parable? How does the stammering lineation complicate the swift utterance? Why should the shift in speakers occur with such ambiguous punctuation--a comma splice? According to Creeley, "drive" is said not by the friend but by the speaker.

    "For Love"

    The closing poem in For Love, this is informed by the qualities attributed to Crane in the volume's opening poem. "For Love" is one of many poems to Bobbie--wife, companion, muse, and mother of children--that wrestle with the nature of love, the difficulty of utterance, and a mass of conflicting feelings: doubt, faith, despair, surprise, self-criticism, gratitude, relief. The poem is a remarkable enactment of a complex and moment-by-moment honesty.


    This poem drives yet further inward to the ambiguous point where an inarticulate self engages an imperfectly grasped language. Not the wife or muse but "words" seem now the objects of direct address, the poem's "you." Nevertheless, the poem's detailed phrases and its movement through anxious blockage toward an ambiguously blessed release strongly suggest a love poem.


    Though seldom an explicitly political poet, Creeley here brings his sardonic tone and his belief in utterance as our most intimate identity to bear on the question, What has happened to the America that Whitman celebrated? "The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem," Whitman had said in his Preface to the 1855 Leaves of Grass. And he had often spoken of the "words" belonging to that poem, as in "One's-Self I Sing" and in the reflections on "the People" in Democratic Vistas.

    "America" modulates those concerns into Creeley's own more quizzical language. We may read it as a dark response, a century later, to Whitman's "Long, Too Long America" in Drum-Taps. For Creeley's more extended response to Whitman, see his Whitman: Selected Poems.

    Significant Form, Style, or Artistic Conventions

    In "Projective Verse" Charles Olson quotes Creeley's remark that "Form is never more than an extension of content." Creeley liked, as an implicit definition of form, a Blakean aphorism that he learned from Slater Brown: "Fire delights in its form." His central statement of open poetics, involving "a content which cannot be anticipated," is "I'm Given to Write Poems" (A Quick Graph, pp. 61-72).

    It is useful to know that, when reading his poetry aloud, Creeley always indicates line-ends by means of very brief pauses. The resultant stammer--quite unlike the effect of Williams's reading--is integral to Creeley's style, which involves a pervasive sense of wryly humorous or painful groping for the next line.

    Comparisons, Contrasts, Connections

    William Carlos Williams told Robert Creeley, "You have the subtlest feeling for the measure I have encountered anywhere except in the verses of Ezra Pound." For Creeley's relation to Williams, see his essays in A Quick Graph and Paul Mariani, "Robert Creeley," in A Usable Past (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1984). For his relation to Pound, see "A Note on Ezra Pound" (A Quick Graph), and for his sustained and mutually valuable relation to Charles Olson, see again A Quick Graph.

    Perhaps the class would like to compare "Hart Crane" with Robert Lowell's "Words for Hart Crane" in Life Studies. Two views of Crane, two modes of portraiture, and two historically important styles of mid-century American verse; these plus "The Broken Tower" itself would make a fascinating unit of study.


    Refer to headnote in the text for complete information.