Tuesday, May 19, 2020

A MINOR LEAGUE PRETENDER

I was in high school during the late sixties and early seventies, suffering from all the belated-arrival blues that was the usual blend for teens who wished they were older than they were, thus more experienced and hip. The daily aggravation started with a look in the mirror and sighing loudly, too loudly, that my facial hair wasn't coming in thick enough. I was particularly pissed that I'd missed out on the Beat era, and that I was too young to truly be involved in the college folk revival.Still, I took my Dylan very seriously, although I considered him at the time to be an also-ran--the last great age of hipness was the fifties--and I went about my way, my rather self centered and self righteous way, to become a campus poet, seer, gadfly, intellectual, man of mystery. I had long hair, wire frame glasses, I wore as much black as I could, which was absurd since I was living in Southern California, a terrain where I still hang a shingle and get my mail.Black clothing makes sense, I guess, if you're in colder, damper, more overcast climates, ala NYC, San Francisco, Detroit, Chicago, but in So Cal there was and remains a surfeit of sun, which made attempt to be a gloomy, dark, frost-bitten avatar of hip a ridiculous enterprise. It's only beginning to occur to me how absurd my middle class yearnings for street credibility really were. I'd lived up to that point as a self-conscious, shy, hard-of hearing and overweight nerd who was often the brunt of abuse from others because I was thought of as dull and dumb do to my hearing loss--I didn't always catch on to what others were talking about and tried, often times, to bluff my way through a conversation. My responses to what others had said or had asked me , or what I put forward in attempts to become part of a conversation already in progress, were as often as not guesses at the topic, based on what the words I thought the phonemes resembled . It was a poetry of its own sort, and I felt absolutely exhilarated when what I had offered at risk wound up being dead on, and it was even more electric when my mad stab at relevance somehow managed to jump the rails of the subject and introduce a related tangent that others hadn’t considered and thought was a brilliant leap on my part. Too often, though, my remarks caused a quiet in the room that had the dead solemnity of a tombstone; I was the Coltrane of Confusion, the Mozart of Misspeak, and the Picasso of Puzzlement. It went something like this:

"I just got a new bike..."
That's great. What kind is it?"
"One o'clock..."

Norm Crosby, a comedian who was a regular player on the Ed Sullivan Show, came up with that joke, but it got the experience of a hard of hearing fellow trying to make his way through the world without letting on that he had a loss. Crosby got the absurdity of it precisely right and I still use the quip as a reference point some forty years later Even so, I wrote poems, did special readings in 7-11 parking lots, and performed some original verse at an ersatz antiwar rally where in an especially precious ad lib I announced that Bob Dylan was "...the father of us all". One might have wondered how I discovered half the paternity of the counter culture. 

My nonsense utterances gathered many rueful looks; I was among those weenies that went to dances to listen to the band. During my senior year I'd made something of a name for myself as a faux bohemian, dark and mysterious as previously described, taken to mispronouncing names of famous men and writing reams of awful poetry of which there is not a single line in existence; I tossed the poems into the trash one night, all three folders and four notebooks. It was liberating, if that word ever had any meaning. It was as if someone had taken a big boot from my throat. I was now free to be a pompous git on my terms alone. Not perfect, but progress, no?

Monday, May 18, 2020

FEAR OF POETRY

Is it allowed to bring a pen and paper into the Celestial Room?Kim Rosen of the Huffington Post wondered in a 2010 post if Americans are afraid of poetry; some of the essays is a warmed over a collection of the usual symptoms, and some of it is intriguing, worth a gander. I don't think Americans are afraid of poetry; rather it's a matter of not many Americans, comparatively, think of poetry as a resource since we, as a culture, are not an introspective culture, but instead, one that continuously looks forward to a future to be created. Poetry, so far as the general reader is concerned, is a matter of one being alone with their thoughts and structuring their experience in a narrative form, a narrative that not only chronicles events along a timeline, but also the nuance of experience, the fleeting sensation of something changing in their psyche. This requires making the language do extraordinary things to accommodate an uncommon interpretation of experience, and Americans, a people reared on the ideology of what can be done in the face of adversity, have no expansive desire to do something so impractical. Language is a thing meant to help us solve material problems, to achieve material goals, and poetry, a strange extension of linguistic twists and shadings, does nothing to put food on the table, put money in the bank, to further the quest to cure an endless variety of incurable diseases. 

Poetry is immaterial to purpose, function, policy; the absence of larger audiences for poetry isn't about fear from a perception that it's a mode of expression that is the least useful among several the lot of us might select on a given day. There are those of us who would argue that poetry's lack of identifiable utility is exactly what attracts us to the form--I happen to think that, like Wilde, that all art is quite useless in practical application (save for the fact that I believe humans crave beauty in form and in expression) and adhere to Harold Bloom's running definition of what literature, in general, avails the reader: to paraphrase, literature (poetry) helps us think about ourselves. Americans, I think it's safe to say in the broadest sense, have no real desire to reside individually and psychically work their way to an "aha" experience with poetry as a conduit.

Americans are not introspective people, a national habit that infects all of us; it seems, regardless of race, skin color, religious choice, cultural formation or any number of things. I might suggest prevailing conditions of isolation, anomie, alienation and a host of other diagnostic words that have lost their punch and are now mostly free of meaning, but what it comes down to, basically, is that it seems most of us in this stew, within these borders don't like to think any harder than it does to make a peanut butter sandwich; we want things given to us in images, sound bites, we want things "broken down" into simple parts and not actually explained. Our psychic well being depends on how the world affects our material status; that is the equation we prefer, with a massively huge collective case of denial that there is any need to plumb the depths of the soul, those elements of imagination, spiritual worth, of being willing to consider one's place in the universe and how they might better live in it. 

Poetry, when the desire for poetry arises, is not the "aha" experience, but for the blandishments of "there, there", the mother or the nurse stroking your hair, feeding you chocolate, assuring you things will balance out and that one's bad dream will soon be over. It's not surprising the poetry that is the most popular, while routinely competent as crafted compositions and generically clever with insights and surprises you sense coming as one does traffic lights are therapy rather than art. We like the illusion of being deep while continuing to view the universe we are in as no complex than a daily comic strip. This is a bad thing, absolutely horrible.We do think about ourselves, but more in terms of accumulation rather than an inner equilibrium. The measure of a man is his wallet, not the subtlety of his thoughts, and this a form of fearlessness that borders on insanity.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

NOW YOU SEE IT



"Odysseus Seeing Laertes"  , a poem by George Kalogeris,  has a burdensome title, if nothing else. We are made to think that a cataclysmic revelation is about to make us quake in our boots, that something had been written in a more formal age has resounded through the historical corridors and asserts its truism as prophecy. This isn't the case,  however, and the portentous title does a disservice to the  poem's real merit, which is more in line with sort of slight lyric that attempts to clarify a vague feeling but succeeds instead in producing another  kind of beauty.The thinking here appears to be that this poem would resonate louder, brighter, more deeply if there was a classical gloss laid upon it. 

As there is nothing within the poem that clicks with the oblique title --no reference, that is, that would trigger the reader's own associations independent of a didactic explanation--the reference is merely decoration. The weight it adds isn't inherent significance , but merely freight. It threatens to make the poem ungainly and unspeakably pretentious; the poem, though, survives the author's striving to insert irony where it does not exist.   All this is a pity , since this poem has the makings of being a nicely controlled bit of observational verse, an adult perspective of a distant childhood perception that has, by chance, influenced the narrator as he was growing up; through the fog of memory poet George Kalogeris could have situated the speaker's current state of mind and shown us what it was that made him grasp this faint memory with such a sudden vividness of recollection. I am thinking , of course, that this could have been an intriguing reconciliation between parts of himself that have never quite been at equipoise.  

The poem, though, does work effectively as a snapshot of a something pulled up from one's distant past--there is that sense of someone going through their family photographs, placing them in the best chronological order they can manage. A narrative forms from the sequence, and what emerges in the telling, wonderfully spare at its best , uncluttered (save for the title) with quaint literary props, is a young mind as a blank slate which the world is writing upon. he elements from modern Greek culture aren't in dispute and, in fact, make this an interesting contemporary poem. The weak corollaries with classical texts, though, serve the poem not a wit. Themes of absence/presence regarding parent-child dynamics have fairly much been absorbed by the larger culture have, in fact, become common stock for poets, novelists and playwrights to make use of; this poem, as is, is fine as an evocation of an adult attempt to bring focus to a diffuse memory and can stand on its own merits. 

It does not need the Classical allusion the title provides; it's window dressing, a redundant signifier, an advertisement that the poet is well read. The poem does not need it, the reader does not need it, George Kalogeris didn't need to provide it.  This is an alarm bell I've sounded before, tiresomely so; my dislike of poetry about poetry.One of the things that have been choking the life from much of the work of poets these days is the habit of many to clog the arteries of their stanzas with entirely self-conscious and self-admiring references to poetry and it's traditions. Indeed, too much of the the subject matter of poetry has been poetry itself; there are some with genius and talent enough to make the self-referential style swing and sing with real verve and brains, but genius is rare. Something less than that level of genius--of a Stevens, an Ashbery, a Silliman--is to not be a poet at all. It's a different kind of game, and it is fueled by its own waste products.


Wednesday, May 6, 2020

MICHAEL MCCLURE , RIP

Beat poet , playwright and essayist Michael McClure has passed away at the age of 87. I had the honor of getting to know him sometime back in the 90s when he read at D.G.Wills Books , when we had the great fortune of having a string of great Beat writers, at different times, grace us with a reading. Along with Michael, the bookstore also featured readings by Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Ted Joans and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Michael was an especially affable fellow in the days he spent with us; of calm demeanor but intense feeling, gracious, curious about those around him, willing to suffer what I thought in retrospect were naive questions. What he spoke of during our brief chats, and his remarks during his reading , was what I had always marveled at with respect to several writers and their ilk, a seamless integration of the moral,the political, the spiritual, and the artistic. He as a strong,restless poet who had a riveting, muscular lyricism that pierced untouchable mysteries and allowed light ,wisdom and humor to bear on the darker corners of the soul. He was interested in a myriad of things that have no reason to be connected other than the vivacity of McClure's interest and imagination. His body of work, his poems, had a broad range of subject matter, expression, musical and of the well phrase, and then it could be explosive, declarative, oracular, even anthropomorphic, the giving of human traits to animal figures. His interests were varied, and those varieties ran deep, and were deeply felt/ Again, a longer tribute to him is warrented because the wealth of his writing deserves better than a cramped and generalized description of what he did as a poet and spiritual seeker. But I will this to my musings: Michael McClure's life as a writer, revealed in his many books of verse, plays, novels, essays, memoirs and collaborations was an admixture of rigor and intuition. And McClure wore these elements like a loose fitting garment, a man completely at peace in his own skin. Here's a poem I rather like he wrote about trying to make note of the world as it speeds by .


THERE ARE HILLS LIKE SHARKFINS
                                  and clods of mud.
The mind drifts through
in the shape of a museum,
in the guise of a museum
dreaming dead friends:
Jim, Tom, Emmet, Bill.
—Like billboards their huge faces droop
and stretch on the walls,
on the walls of the cliffs out there,
where trees with white trunks
          makes plumes on rock ridges.

My mind is fingers holding a pen.

Trees with white trunks
             make plumes on rock ridges.
Rivers of sand are memories.
Memories make movies
             on the dust of the desert.
Hawks with pale bellies
             perch on the cactus,
their bodies are portholes
             to other dimensions.

This might go on forever.

I am a snake and a tiptoe feather
at opposite ends of the scales
as they balance themselves
against each other.
This might go on forever.
--  Michael McClure,
"Mexico Seen from the Moving Car"
from Of Indigo and Saffron: New and Selected Poems.
Copyright © 2011 by Michael McClure.  Reprinted by permission of University of California Press.
Copyright © 2011 by Michael McClure.  Reprinted by permission of University of California Press.

Of course I plan to write something longer and more concrete in a few days, but this note is say thank you to a great poet, a grand man, for a measure of fellowship and credible consul.

Monday, May 4, 2020

two poets, two poems

Called into Play
A.R. Ammons


Fall fell: so that's it for the leaf poetry:
some flurries have whitened the edges of roads

and lawns: time for that, the snow stuff: &
turkeys and old St. Nick: where am I going to

find something to write about I haven't already
written away: I will have to stop short, look

down, look up, look close, think, think, think:
but in what range should I think: should I

figure colors and outlines, given forms, say
mailboxes, or should I try to plumb what is

behind what and what behind that, deep down
where the surface has lost its semblance: or

should I think personally, such as, this week
seems to have been crafted in hell: what: is

something going on: something besides this
diddledeediddle everyday matter-of-fact: I

could draw up an ancient memory which would
wipe this whole presence away: or I could fill

out my dreams with high syntheses turned into
concrete visionary forms: Lucre could lust

for Luster: bad angels could roar out of perdition
and kill the AIDS vaccine not quite

perfected yet: the gods could get down on
each other; the big gods could fly in from

nebulae unknown: but I'm only me: I have 4
interests--money, poetry, sex, death: I guess

I can jostle those. . . .


Since I've raged and ranted more than once around here about how there should be no more poems about poetry, I thought why I liked "Called into Play" and not the work of other writers. Attitude is the difference, I guess. My basic gripe is against who regard poetry as a vehicle of relentless self-revelation, the sub-Nerudians and faux Rilkeans who seemed to have skipped the other qualities their inspiring source's poetry had and instead are determined to make a cult from the practice; the poet as priest is not an image that appeals to me and even the most supreme of egoist geniuses, Walt Whitman, would likely find the conceit a bit vain. I don't include the Language Poets, as someone had asked me, even though poetic language is at the forefront of their work; the effort there, I think, is an honest and exciting investigation into new ways of thinking about how language can be written to more creatively engage the complexity of experience. Ammons, of course, is much less formal, and has an the appeal of some who'd just gotten out of bed and is trying to get the sleep from his eyes. What he sees is the same old things, only completely different, to paraphrase comedian Steve Wright.

I like the way Ammons demystifies the subject by simply talking about search for something to write about. What he mentions here, things like lawns, mail, current events, are brought up as things he might impress into being the details and subject of a poem he wants to write. He might have been talking about a mad search for missing car keys; there's humanity in this momentary frustration.There's the suggestion that Ammons is tired of his old turns of phrase and wants to forge new ones:
...should I try to plumb what is

behind what and what behind that, deep down
where the surface has lost its semblance: or

should I think personally, such as, this week
seems to have been crafted in hell: what: is

something going on: something besides this
diddledeediddle everyday matter-of-fact: I

could draw up an ancient memory which would
wipe this whole presence away...

Ammons admits his limits as a seer or oracle and speaks of language as something he works with through the craft of poetry, a practice he works at diligently in an effort to find an expression that transcends mere competence and achieves an artfulness. The poem is funny and moving in it's way, as Ammons' work is constantly aware of death, which makes philosophical certainty a cluster of moot points. This all puts A.R.Ammons' musings on poetry in sharp contrast to a host of others who'll essay forth in verse about poets being the intermediaries of Truths and Principles only a select few are able to deign and decipher for the less gifted. Without repeating my previous misgivings, I'll say that this his Hogwash and Elitism, and these are the sorts of people I imagine Ammons himself asking to go away.

DOO-WOP
Marvin Bell
He believes the tar pits hold bones but preserve
no emotions, and he believes space is matter.
He still thinks a kiss with full lips transformative,
the hope of a country boy with an uncultivated
heart, from the era of doo-wop and secret sex,
when the music was corny, cliched and desperate
like teenage love. Who now will admit that poetry
got its start there, in the loneliness that made love
from a song on red wax, from falsetto nonsense.
Who does not know that time passing passes on
sadness? A splinter of a song lyric triggers shards
of memory and knots in his gut. He regrets he was
lashed to the mast when the sirens called. He
believes the sea is not what sank or what washes
up. There are nights the moon scares him.


Marvin Bell is one of those poets who can offer a string of non sequiturs and still having you following the heart under the odd contrasts in his lines. Associative leaps are not the easiest thing to do when so much of what your attempting to get across has more to do with a transitional state of mind than it does an position that can be easily parsed and contained.
Unlike Tony Hoagland's poem, "The Story of the Father" (featured at Slate last week) , where what should have been scene from a longer prose narrative got compressed beyond human caring with mannered, showy language, Bell has the ease of line transition, the ability to jump from one nervy island of reference to another and provide a sense of something gathering speed, assuming nuance. The young man going forth into the world of the senses, sparked by music, sirens, scents and touch; there is a skillfully maintained idea, implied and not editorialized as an intruding and infeffective aside, of music as that thing that bypasses the mind's censors and entrenched protections against foolishness and lands and seeds the desire to experience more with the senses, to test one's expectations against experienced fact.

He believes the tar pits hold bones but preserve
no emotions, and he believes space is matter.
He still thinks a kiss with full lips transformative,
the hope of a country boy with an uncultivated
heart, from the era of doo-wop and secret sex,
when the music was corny, cliched and desperate
like teenage love.

This is a a fast run of language, streaming , quite literally, with all the elements that compose it melded together in a fluidity that rushes towards a crashing and overwhelming satisfaction. Tempo, rhythm , what the hip hoppers refer to as “flow”, this poem is simply perfect, simply lovely.


Friday, April 24, 2020

ANTHONY HECHT


www.loc.gov/static/managed-content/uploads/site...
confess I was in love with my adjectives, metaphors and unhinged diction when I was a younger man attempt to write in the shadow of the Eliots, the Ashberys, the Stevens of the poetry world. Needless to say (but to be said anyway) I wrote a great deal of poems that could be blue penciled into submission, as many, many of the things I composed were done on the fly, in full improvisational rant. Most of us are lucky enough to survive and learn from their youthful indulgence, and my preference in tone , for my work, is to more concise, terser , more direct in my treatment of the world. It's an ongoing experiment in phenomenological terrorism, but we can conclude that my later offerings seeks to get back to the data, the situation under a poem's consideration. One longs for something to come from their keyboard that's less abstract and more at one with the material realm, a project destined to fail--one cannot step outside their own skin to observe oneself in their habitual habitat--but it is the attempts that are worth considering, pondering, it is the art that adds to our knowledge of the things we don't know. For others, of course, poetry is a means to classify and categorize and index people, places and things; it is a means to conquer the world and reduce to quantifiable data. Poetry here is means of missing the point entirely.
Sadness. The moist gray shawls of drifting sea-fog,
Salting scrub pine, drenching the cranberry bogs,
Erasing all but foreground, making a ghost
Of anyone who walks softly away;
And the faint, penitent psalmody of the ocean.
One needs to admit to Anthony Hecht's mastery of the carefully articulated tone of his work , and appreciate as well the limits he observes when constructing correlatives between interior states with the material world. Not pompous, not grandiloquent, not bombastic, Hecht's poem "Despair" finds a way to make the sluggishness of the human spirit resemble the turns of the day--

Gloom. It appears among the winter mountains
On rainy days. Or the tiled walls of the subway
In caged and aging light, in the steel scream
And echoing vault of the departing train,
The vacant platform, the yellow destitute silence.
The adjectives are perfectly selected and fitted like the smaller, finer diamonds in a larger arrangement of vaguely tarnished gems, with the intent being to remind you, I suspect, that more often than not one has found themselves caught unaware that the warm afternoon has taken on a sudden chill in just the minutes it took for the sun to take a late afternoon shift of position. It does just that, but it seems a bit false; the perception seems padded by the slightest degree.

But despair is another matter. Midafternoon
Washes the worn bank of a dry arroyo,
Its ocher crevices, unrelieved rusts,
Where a startled lizard pauses, nervous, exposed
To the full glare of relentless marigold sunshine.
What I recognize over anything else is a world that seems to exist only for it's elements--an Edward Hopper universe of subdued tones, melancholic hues and diffuse light-- to illustrate a mood that itself seems more imagined, fanciful. The language eschews the chance to be vivid and naked with the sadness it attempts to corral and instead decorates the psychology. Phrases like "Washes the bank of a dry arroyo" or

"To the full glare of relentless marigold sunshine" , for me, hang there like waiting room art that is nebulous and comforting; the real experience is abstracted, obscured, defused of potential. This makes me think less of an accounting of what one has felt and found suitable expression for than it is a rumor of something having happened . This is the kind of language one comes upon with someone who has something on their mind they aren't comfortable exposing to an honest art. Measured, well crafted, balanced, similes and metaphors synchronized , but without a single provocative notion. You're left to admire the structure of the thing, the finesse of the inner mechanisms, and leave the poem without a hint of real feeling.
____________________________________________________________________________

A little guilt mongering is just what you need to deliver several stanzas of applause ready morality. Anthony Hecht loves to bask in the glow of Points Already Made.The idea seems to be that even with the advance of decades since a horrific event, later generations still bear a moral responsibility for atrocities committed in their country's name; one cannot consider themselves excluded from the fatal commotion that had come before--there is no statute of limitations as to when no longer carries the blood stains and the culturally inscribed rationalizations that made the murder of millions a massive event performed both for the greater good and a fulfillment of an historical inevitability. There is no generational privilege; whatever one tries to do in occupation, hobbies, lifestyle, the routines of contemporary life, on grand and smaller scales, echo the terror, whisper of one's connection to the evil that was perpetuated, implies without subtlety one's responsibility to change the culture to the true nature of a collective personality that made the unthinkable an historical fact we must confront.



Prepare to receive him in your home some day:
Though they killed him in the camp they sent him to,
He will walk in as you’re sitting down to a meal.




This ending is straight from the Twilight Zone, which would have been fine if this were an early sixties television show emphasizing a then-controversial Humanist perspective. Controversial ideas, though, are mainstreamed over time, and this poem seems to occupy a space on the shelve of Subjects No Sane Person Would Argue With.
Hecht, though, is heavy handed in this delivery of what is history lesson and moral that would make for an easy round of applause; one can't argue with his politics or his sense of morality, but the parallelism he uses goes quickly from being an effective device to a trick used a few times too many. As with some other poems of his I've poured over, there is a smugness in his work I find grating, even on points I would otherwise agree without pause or reservation. Hand wringing is what occurs to me, a routinely glum observation that humans are fully capable of being evil , despicable bastards, and that the people who make such monstrosities possible are likewise horrible. This would make a fine speech,but it makes for a poem that wears it's morality like a loud suit of clothes , clashing and garish colors that obscure substance.



There's a clue in the Martin Luther quote Hecht uses as an epigraph, ,Martin Luther’s translation of John 19:7 (“We have a law, and by that law he ought to die.”)An ironic counter point, I think, given the discussion that's already go on ; Luther believed in a higher order and a Higher Law , and was inspired to disregard Papal rule in pursuit of what he considered God's true nature and calling. Laws are written for the convenience of man's convenience, greed and fouler purpose, and the laws the ancient Jews obeyed to justify Christ's crucifixion, as well as the legal and moral right Nazi's claimed for their genocide were cruel, thin fictions that collapsed under historical weight. Hecht seems to want to set us for how consistently small minded we are in our variety of evasions and excuses for the horror we've done; the poem, obviously, reminds the reader that we cannot escape what we've done to one another; my problem with the poem isn't the moral, but the delivery in general--hammering, heavy, lecturing. It's a message without grace .



A large part of his problem may have been his choice of writing this as a sestina, which limits variety.He's obliged by requirement to repeat phrase and idea in conspicuous variations that extinguish the possibility of surprise. Good poets work through their metaphors and themes so that a premise they begin evolves into something larger later in the work--a reader, when the poems are successful, gets an idea of how ideas are not fixed things, unchanging, but rather change when made to interact with a crucial "otherness" that coincides a verse's codified vernacular. There can be, I think, some playfulness in the language that can make even the most baleful subject stick with you without cramming your face deep into the moralizing. Hecht's choice of sestina, though, coincides with intent. He obviously didn't want his audience to miss his intended ironies an

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

The Collected Poems of Robert Creeley, 1945-1975 by Robert Creeley
There's a collection of verse by a great American Poet, Selected Poems 1945-2005 by the late Robert Creeley, and I'm obliged to go out and buy it. My paperback editions of his books are, sad to say, falling apart with that rare affliction for poetry volumes, poetry books with a cracked spine.It's a fine time to remember Creeley's mastery of the terse lyric poem, a major characteristic in a time when "lyric"for most writers mean lazy associations, odd line breaks and a verbosity that is more about extended a line than treating a subject.

Myself

What, younger, felt
was possible, now knows
is not - but still
not chanted enough -

Walked by the sea,
unchanged in memory -
evening, as clouds
on the far-off rim

of water float,
pictures of time,
smoke, faintness -
still the dream.

I want, if older,
still to know
why, human, men
and women are

so torn, so lost,
why hopes cannot
find better world
than this.

Shelley is dead and gone,
who said,
"Taught them not this -
to know themselves;

their might could not repress
the mutiny within,
And for the morn
of truth they feigned,

deep night
Caught them ere evening . . ." 



Robert Creeley's poetry was the terse vocabulary of a man who feels deeply and yet has hardly a voice to equal the sensations that warm or chill his soul. It is the poetry that exists at the margins of and in the spaces between the huge language blocks of what is commonly deferred to as eloquence: they are thoughts, full formed and fleeting in their unmediated honesty of a first response to a new things or upsets, a poetry where heart and mind have no natural boundaries.



America

America, you ode for reality!
Give back the people you took.

Let the sun shine again
on the four corners of the world

you thought of first but do not
own, or keep like a convenience.

People are your own word, you
invented that locus and term.

Here, you said and say, is
where we are. Give back

what we are, these people you made,
us, and nowhere but you to be.





I sometimes consider the poet to be a film editor of perception, isolating key images and spoken lines in their spaces and arranging them in sweet and near silent succession where mood and sentiment are restrained but clearly present, nakedly expressed, without embarrassment.The surprise of his poems is that he seems to bring you to the "thing itself", without the contextualizing and taming rhetorics that buffer our responses; this is his ability to move you in ways that never feel like coarse manipulation. Creeley's was a vision with sharp-stick wit, the straightest line to a truth no one will admit seeing.

Thomas Gunn called it a "eloquent stammering." I can't think of a better superlative.