Creeley, Robert

Creeley, Robert
   Called “a Beat before the Beats” by biographer Ekbert Faas, Robert Creeley’s poetry mirrored, even suggested that of his Beat contemporaries, though he did not officially intersect with the group until his career was well underway. An eccentric man with one glass eye, Creeley lacked the Zen mindset that characterized many of the Beats and was known for his surly demeanor, ever-readiness for a fight, and overbearing personality. Even jack kerouac admonished him to stay out of fights and “Be a happy drunk like me!”
   An academically gifted student, Creeley earned a scholarship to the prestigious Holderness School in New Hampshire. Though he was expected to work toward a career in veterinary medicine, it was at Holderness, where he edited and wrote for the school papers, that his talent in letters became clear. Deciding to pursue a writerly life, he applied and was eventually accepted to Harvard where he quickly became an “unkempt, chainsmoking freshman” dissatisfied with his poetic education. Eventually suspended from Harvard for misconduct and poor grades, he set off for a year as an ambulance driver in the American Field Service in India. It was on the return from this trip in 1945 that Creeley finally composed his first poem, aptly named “Return”:
   Quiet as is proper for such places; The street, subdued, half-snow, half-rain, Endless, but ending in the darkened doors. Inside, they who will be there always, Quiet as is proper for such people— Enough for now to be here, and To know my door is one of these.
   Soon after, Creeley began to share poetry and literally thousands of letters with poet Charles Olson, who brought Creeley on as faculty at the experimental Black Mountain School of North Carolina. There he became contributing editor of Black Mountain’s Origin and then Black Mountain Review, which published the likes of William S. Burroughs, allen ginsberg, and kenneth rexroth. By 1956, Creeley would visit San Francisco during the height of its poetry renaissance, befriending many Beat writers, including Kerouac.
   Through his closeness with poets like Olson and Kerouac, Creeley’s own theory and practice of poetry solidified, as reflected in his vast catalogue of critical writings. Through Olson’s poetry and their many correspondences early in his career, Creeley began to develop the ideas he first gleaned from reading Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams, writing that “form is never more than an extension of content” and that the “things” of poetry “must be allowed to realize themselves in their fullest possible degree.” Kerouac’s writing then augmented these thoughts. As Faas writes, “Kerouac had the ability to translate present sensation into immediate, actual language,” a gift Creeley greatly admired. Creeley’s poetry, lectures, and criticism have since been definitive of modern American avant-garde writing.
   Creeley’s major works of poetry include: Just in Time: Poems 1984-1994. Life & Death, Echoes, Selected Poems 1945-1990, Memory Gardens, Mirrors, The Collected Poems of Robert Creeley, 1945-1975, Later, The Finger, for love: poems 1950-1960, as well as copious editions, works of prose, and critical essays.
   Robert Creeley died on March 30, 2005, from complications of respiratory disease.
■ Creeley, Robert. The Collected Essays of Robert Creeley. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989.
■ Edleberg, Cynthia. Robert Creeley’s Poetry: A Critical Introduction. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1978.
■ Faas, Ekbert, and Maria Trombacco. Robert Creeley: A Biography. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 2001.
   Jennifer Cooper

Encyclopedia of Beat Literature. . 2014.

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