Robert Creeley and Black Mountain Poetry

Robert Creeley

Robert Creeley was born in Arlington, Massachusetts. He lost his father, and the use of his left eye, before he was 5, and was subsequently brought up on a farm in West Acton. A year with the American Field Service in India and Burma (1944/5) interrupted his time at Harvard; on his return he married, left Harvard without graduating, and, in 1948, went to New Hampshire to try subsistence farming. His attempt two years later to launch his own magazine failed, but prompted a long correspondence with Charles Olson and provided material for Cid Corman’s journal, Origin. In search of a cheaper way of life, the Creeleys moved in 1951 to France and the following year to Mallorca (the setting for Creeley’s only novel, The Island, 1963), where they stayed until their divorce in 1955. There they set up the Divers Press and printed books by Creeley himself (including The Gold Diggers, 1954; eleven stories), Robert Duncan, Olson, and others. At Olson’s invitation Creeley taught at Black Mountain College (spring 1954 and autumn 1955) and founded and edited the Black Mountain Review (1954-7).

His first three books of poetry, Le Fou (1952), The Kind of Act of (1953), and The Immoral Proposition (1953), appeared in quick succession while he was in Europe, and his next two, All That is Lovely in Men (1955) and If You (1956), shortly after his return to America. In 1956 Creeley settled in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he remarried, taught at a boy’s school until 1959, and took an MA from the University of New Mexico in 1960. Having worked as a tutor on a Guatemalan plantation, in the early 1960s he began a new academic career–which led him in later years to the State University of New York, Buffalo–and became nationally known with For Love: Poems 1950-1960 (1962). He divorced again, and married for the third time in 1977.

Creeley’s poetry is predominantly concerned with love and the emotions attending intimate relationships. Among his strongest influences he lists not only poets, like Olson, William Carlos Williams, and Ginsberg, who reassured him that ‘you can write directly from that which you feel’, but also jazz musicians, who demonstrated that feelings could be expressed no less powerfully for eschewing prescribed forms. Creeley’s early poems, collected in Poems 1950-1965 (1966), are minutely detailed–often obscure–analyses of feelings, their verse invariably free, their lines and stanzas short, and their sentences terse. A new disillusionment with analytical thinking is evident in Words (1967), Pieces (1969), and A Day Book (1972), and a less exalted view of love in Later (1978) and Echoes (1982). More notable for its continuities than for its changes, however, his poetry has sustained its unique brand of vigilant minimalism for the last four decades. Most of it is gathered in The Collected Poems 1945-1975 (Berkeley, Calif., 1982; London, 1983), most of his criticism in Was That a Real Poem and Other Essays, ed. Donald Allen (Bolinas, Calif., 1979), and all of his fiction in The Collected Prose (New York and London, 1984). See also Charles Olson and Roben Creeley: The Complete Correspondence, ed. George F. Butterick and Richard Blevins, 9 vols. (Santa Barbara, Calif, 1980-90), and Robert Creeley’s Poetry: A Critical Introduction, by Cynthia Dubin Edelberg (Albuquerque, N. M., 1978). See also Selected Poems 1945-90 (London and New York, 1991).

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