The Radical Poetics of Robert Creeley
By Marjorie Perloff
Published in Electronic Book Review, 10 (2007)
no less than water
no more than wet
–Robert Ã‡reeley, â€œFunnyâ€ 
The Creeley memorials of 2005-06â€”festivals, readings, conferences, and especially website testimonials– have been so overwhelming in their homage and veneration for the late great poet, that we tend to forget that it was not always thus, that Creeleyâ€™s distinctive poetics have been the object of curious misunderstandings. For all his bridge building, his geniality and the uncanny ability, in his later years, to persuade friends and colleagues from one camp to accept and work with those of another, Creeley was and remains curiously singularâ€”a poet who fits uneasily into the very schools with which he is regularly linked. A â€œBlack Mountainâ€ poet whose actual poems have very little in common with the work of his mentor Charles Olson or his close friends Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov, a younger friend and strong advocate of the Objectivists, who had little taste for the citational poetics of Zukofsky or the strenuous political/philosophical engagements of Oppen or Reznikoff, an affiliated member of the Beat community, whose spare writing could never be confused with the expansive-ecstatic mode of Allen Ginsberg or Gregory Corso, a composer of dense, abrupt first-person lyric in an age of loose, expansive and encyclopedic â€œlongpoemsâ€â€”Creeley is, in the end, sui generis.
How, then, to characterize a Creeley poem? We might begin by considering the arguments made early in the poetâ€™s career, and still in evidence, against Creeleyâ€™s lyric mode. Take, for starters, M. L. Rosenthalâ€™s now notorious commentary on Creeley in the well-known survey The New Poets, American and British Poetry Since World War II, published by Oxford in 1967. Rosenthal, himself a poet, was an early admirer of Pound and Williams (he attended many of the famed poetry conferences sponsored by the University of Maine at Orono), but although he found the occasional Creeley poem in For Love and Words â€œtouchingâ€ and â€œalive with wit,â€ he dismissed the bulk as â€œbrief mutterings . . . or the few shuffling steps of an actor pretending to dance.â€ Their humor, â€œespecially in his complaints about married life,â€ struck Rosenthal as â€œtoo often obvious and easy,â€ and he concluded that â€œthe work â€œdemand[s] too little from its author, though the author demands a good deal of attentive sympathy and faith from the reader.â€
It is a judgment echoed by the eminent Christopher Ricks, now the Oxford Professor of Poetry, who wrote in the New York Times Book Review in 1973 that â€œCreeley is at the mercy of his own notions. He would seem to be a professional quietist and libertarian, but these conventions (e.g. no regular verse, no standard linear development) turn out to be more cramping than those of a minuetâ€ (7 Jan. 1973, 5, 22) And in the Yale Review for Autumn 1977, Helen Vendler, comparing Creeley (the occasion was the publication by Scribners of the Selected Poems) to Olga Broumas, the Yale Younger Poet for that year, declared, â€œCreeley remains so much a follower of Williams, without Williamsâ€™s rebelliousness, verve, and social breadth, and his verse seems, though intermittently attractive, fatally pinched.â€ And further, â€œIn Creeley, there is a relentless process of abstraction, of â€œserial diminishment of progressionâ€; he purchases composition at the price of momentum and sweep.â€ Not surprisingly, in the light of these remarks, Creeley was omitted from Vendlerâ€™s 1985 Harvard Book of Contemporary Poetry, which did include such exact contemporaries of Creeleyâ€™s, as John Ashbery, Frank Oâ€™Hara, Allen Ginsberg, A. R. Ammons, James Merrill, W. S. Merwin, and James Wright.
The publication of the Collected Poems in 1982 didnâ€™t altogether change this negative mood. â€œCreeley is not [as claimed by the publisher] a major poet,â€ complained Richard Tillinghast in The Nation, for â€œIt has not been his ambition to address in a sustained manner the large human issues that are traditionally associated with major poetryâ€ (19 November 1983, 501). The title of Tillinghastâ€™s piece is â€œYesterdayâ€™s Avant-Gardeâ€â€”yesterday, presumably, because â€œexperimentalâ€ poetry in the Pound-Olson tradition was held suspect in the conservative 1980s. Indeed, the language poets had now appeared on the scene, and Tillinghast takes the opportunity to disparage the new movement:
Creeley has become a guru to â€œlanguage poetsâ€â€”a term whose equivalent in other arts would be â€œdancing choreographersâ€™ or â€œmusic composersâ€ or â€œfood chefs.â€ Literary self-consciousness is as old as poetry itself; every poet is a â€œlanguage poet.â€ In much of Creeleyâ€™s work, however, particularly after For Love, language itself is the exclusive focus, thereby positing an ideal reader who is a philosopher of language. Wittgenstein would have spent many happy hours with Creeleyâ€™s poems. My own reactions I can sum up variously, depending on my mood, as: (1) this poetry deliberately avoids communication, for reasons of its own; (2) it is so abstruse that I lose interest; (3) it is simply over my head. (Nation, 504)
The last disclaimer may be true, given that marvelously wrong-headed remark about Wittgenstein, who never spent a happy hour with anyoneâ€™s poems, much less those by one of his contemporaries, although, as I suggested in Wittgensteinâ€™s Ladder, the reverse was certainly the case: Creeley knew his Wittgenstein well. Other reviewers, in any case, agreed that Creeleyâ€™s poetry â€œdeliberately avoids communicationâ€; in The New York Times Book Review, Alan Williamson observed that for Creeley, â€œminimalism has become more and more an end in itself. . . . Tautology mingled with neutral observation in a John Cage-like faith in the inherent value of silencing the interpretive functionâ€ (March 9, 1980, 8-9).
Like M. L. Rosenthal, Williamson and Tillinghast are what we used to call academic poets, before the academy, thanks, in no small part, to Creeley himself, began to welcome poets of a very different stamp. A quiet revolution has certainly occurred. But what Charles Bernstein dubbed â€œofficial verse cultureâ€ â€“the culture of the leading commercial presses, journals, and prize-giving institutionsâ€”has not changed all that much: witness David Lehmanâ€™s recent Oxford Book of American Poetry, published in 2006. Lehman is a poet with New York school credentials and a PhD from Columbia who has held a variety of academic posts but is perhaps best known for his general editorship of the annual Best American Poetry volumes, one of which he invited Creeley to edit. In the new anthology, a 1000- page blockbuster, Lehman gives Creeley short shrift. Whereas James Merrill and A. R. Ammons (both born, like Creeley, in 1926) get twenty-three and fifteen pages respectively, Creeley gets a mere five. In his headnote, Lehman notes:
Even poets on the other end of the poetic spectrum admire Creeley, as in Donald Hallâ€™s phrase, â€œthe master of the strange, stuttering line-break.â€ Hall observes that if you took a sentence from a late Henry James novel like The Ambassadors and arranged it in two-word lines, you would have a Creeley poem worrying out its self-consciousness. Creeley seems often to substitute speech rhythms for imagery as the engine of the poem. (745)
What, one wonders, is Creeleyâ€™s â€œend of the poetic spectrum,â€ a spectrum Lehman alludes to as just faintly disreputable? One surmises that the term refers to Black Mountain or Beat or,more broadly, the â€œPound traditionâ€: Olson too only gets five pages, Duncan, five, Levertov, three, and Ed Dorn is not included at all. To be called â€œthe master of the strange, stuttering line-breakâ€ is, in any case, to be treated as eccentricâ€”a poet who has his limitations, of course, but at least has this one talent–a talent that allows the poet to produce line units that recall â€œcut upâ€ segments of Henry James. Moreover, Lehman implies, Creeleyâ€™s â€œsubstitutionâ€ of speech rhythms for imagery as theâ€ engine of the poemâ€ is somehow aberrant: imagery, after all, remains, in most accounts, the hallmark of poetry.
From Rosenthal to Lehman, Creeleyâ€™s detractors have voiced the same reservation: Creeleyâ€™s lyric is too â€œminimalistâ€ (â€œcrampedâ€ (Ricks) and â€œpinchedâ€™ (Vendler), its language too abstract and conceptual, its communicative channel too often blocked, its subject-matter too far removed from the â€œgreat human issues.â€ True, Creeley has invented a new verse formâ€”â€œthe strange, stuttering line-breakâ€â€”but, we are told, such prosodic invention, employing those speech rhythms that substitute for the resource of imagery, is not enough.
Rosenthal, however, concludes his chapter on Creeley with a remark that points unwittingly in another direction:
Perhaps Creeleyâ€™s restraint and cool control is the last stand of genuine sensibility, against the violence and ruthlessness of twentieth-century civilization. But genuine sensibility cannot give up its passion quite so tamely: it all seems a little to confined to settle for just yet.â€”Perhaps after World War III? If so, Creeley is indeed ahead of his time.
However we want to take this melodramatic commentâ€”and, sadly, the reference to World War III no longer seems so far-fetched– Rosenthal does seem to sense that Creeleyâ€™s â€œcool controlâ€ provides a special measure for the violence and ruthlessness of our own moment. Keeping this notion in mind, I want to turn now to a characteristic poem from For Love. Here is â€œThe Rainâ€:
All night the sound had
come back again,
and again falls
this quiet, persistent rain.
What am I to myself
that must be remembered,
so often? Is it
that never the ease,
even the hardness,
of rain falling
will have for me
something other than this,
something not so insistentâ€”
am I to be locked in this
Love, if you love me,
lie next to me.
Be for me, like rain,
the getting out
of the tiredness, the fatuousness, the semi-
lust of intentional indifference.
with a decent happiness. (CP 207)
Rain is, of course, one of the most prominent symbols in poetry, whether as a portent of storm, flood and human destruction, or, converselyâ€”and more commonlyâ€”as the source of life, fertility, and renewal, as in English poetry from Chaucer to Eliot, or for that matter in East Asian poetry as well, As a Basho haiku has it:
Spring rain leaking through the roof dripping from the waspsâ€™ nest
In Romantic and Modernist poetry, the association of rain with the longing for sexual fulfillment occurs again and again, from Verlaineâ€™s â€œIl pleure sur mon coeurâ€ to Thomas Hardyâ€™s â€œWe Sat at the Window,â€ to Apollinaireâ€™s calligramme â€œIl Pleut,â€  with its visual representation of womenâ€™s voices raining down the page, as if in the poetâ€™s memory [figure 1].
[INSERT IL PLEUT]
Closer to home, Creeley surely knew William Carlos Williamsâ€™s 1930 poem â€œRain,â€ which begins:
As the rain falls so does your love bathe every open object of the worldâ€” In houses the priceless dry rooms of illicit love where we live hear the wash of the rain-â€”
Here, in what Williams himself once referred to as â€œthe best poem I have ever doneâ€ (see CP, 527), rain is associated with the poetâ€™s desire for an unattainable love and is contrasted to the indoor world of â€œdry / rooms / of illicit loveâ€â€”a â€˜loveâ€ associated with the â€œwhorishnessâ€ of â€œmetalwareâ€ and â€œwoven stuffs.â€ The poemâ€™s lineation follows the movement of the rain â€œfalling endlessly / from / her thoughtsâ€; the poet longs to be â€œbathedâ€ by the â€œspring wash / of your love / the falling rain.â€ But something fearful or perverse in his nature prevents it from happening: â€œmy life is spent / to keep out love / with which / she rains upon / the world.â€
Creeleyâ€™s poem is at once more intimate than Williamsâ€™s and yet also much more opaque. Written in six quatrains rather than in Williamsâ€™s spatially organized free verse lines, it begins literally enough with the sleepless poetâ€™s awareness of the â€œquiet, persistent rainâ€ that has been falling â€œall night â€œ The eye rhyme â€œrainâ€ (in the title), â€œagain,â€ â€œagain,â€ â€œrain,â€ would seem at first to function mimetically, sound repetition conveying the gentle rainfall itself. But syntax undercuts sound, for the second â€œagainâ€ introduces a new clause with a tense shift and inversion of word order. Creeleyâ€™s is not, in fact, â€œspeech rhythmâ€: to whom and in what context would anyone say, â€œand again falls this quiet, persistent rainâ€? The fourth elongated line, moreover, with its alliteration of tâ€™s, emphasizes, not regularity of rhythm, but an irritating persistence. Indeed, the first stanza swiftly establishes the poemâ€™s tone of malaise, dislocation, restlessness.
Hence the shift, in stanza 2, from the rain itself to the poetâ€™s intense self-questioning: â€œWhat am I to myself / that must be remembered, / insisted upon / so often?â€ As Creeleyâ€™s detractors note, the language is abstract and conceptual, the grammar ungainly: the question, â€œWhat am I to myselfâ€ is guardedly indirect. The key word here is â€œinsisted,â€ which is repeated in stanza 4, where the poet wishes for â€œsomething not so insistentâ€ as the falling rain. From â€œpersistentâ€ to â€œinsistentâ€: the two adjectives are close enough to be almost interchangeable, but â€œinsistentâ€ has a more negative connotation. A persistent caller, for example, is not as irritating as an insistent oneâ€”a person who demands your attention, who wants something. The poet knows this, knows that he can never respond to the external stimulusâ€”whether it be the â€œeaseâ€ of gentle rain or its opposite, the â€œhardness of rain fallingâ€– casually or instinctively. On the contrary, it is his condition â€œto be locked in this / final uneasiness.â€ Never, it seems, can the poet be easy.
Note that as readers, we have absolutely no idea why this should be the case. Unlike, say, the Robert Lowell of â€œEye and Tooth,â€ whose similar insomniaâ€”
Outside, the summer rain,
a simmer of rot and renewal,
fell in pinpricks.
Even new life is fuelâ€”
links the poetâ€™s present pain from a throbbing cut cornea to a terrifying childhood memory of something once seen (â€œNo ease for the boy at the keyholeâ€), Creeley does not concern himelf with cause and effect, past and present. The world merely is; it is everything that is the case, and one has to deal with it as best one can. At the core of â€œThe Rain,â€ as in most of Creeleyâ€™s poems, early and late, there is mysteryâ€”a mystery that no â€œconceptualâ€ statement can clear up.
And so the lover turns to his woman and pleads with her: â€œLove, if you love me, / lie next to me.â€ It couldnâ€™t be simpler, or could it? It is she who must now supply the â€œrainâ€ that can get him out â€œof the tiredness, the fatuousness, the semi-/lust of intentional indifference.â€ Here the clumsy catalogue of abstract nouns with the awkward line break after â€œsemi,â€ provides a terrifying sense of the paralysis and anxiety that haunts the man who speaks. Even his â€œintentional indifferenceâ€ (perhaps the lovers have had a quarrel earlier?) is haunted by â€œsemi-lust,â€ a feeling that canâ€™t be ignored but is not strong enough to act on either. As for the woman beside him, we have no idea what she is thinking or feeling, and neither does the poet. â€œIf you love meâ€ is a big â€œif.â€
After the near breakdown of these two linesâ€”line 21 has thirteen syllables carrying six stresses and two caesurae–, the abrupt conclusion is explosive: â€œBe wet/ with a decent happiness.â€ â€œBe wet for me,â€ is a common enough phrase used to arouse oneâ€™s partner, to strengthen her desire. Yet, if we come back to the rain symbolism of the first five stanzas: the curious thing is the breakdown of the metaphor: the belovedâ€™s â€œwetnessâ€ cannot be that of rain falling; the literal image is of a pool or well that receives the speakerâ€™s semen: the â€œhardness of rain,â€ should, in other words, be his. The unsuccessful nature of the union is thus implicit. And indeed, the lover doesnâ€™t ask for ecstasy or erotic transport–only for a â€œdecent happiness.â€ â€œDecentâ€™: the strangeness of the adjective is surely a Creeley hallmark: one canâ€™t imagine another poet who would use it in this context. â€œDecentâ€ means â€œadequateâ€ or â€œsufficientâ€ as in â€œwe had a decent crowd last night.â€ It also means â€œconforming to accepted standards of moral behavior,â€ as in â€œThat was the decent thing to do.â€ And, by a slight shading, it means â€œkind, considerate, or generous,â€ as in â€œHow decent of her to help him out.â€ As for â€œhappiness,â€ the choice of the abstract noun, echoing as it does the earlier â€œtirednessâ€ and â€œfatuousness,â€ is almost as puzzling as that of â€œdecent.â€ Women arenâ€™t wet with â€œhappinessâ€ but with desire; happiness comes after fulfillment and even then it is an odd word choice in the context, suggesting that the poet is restrained by rules of conduct and speaks indirectly. He is, in other words, a courtly lover.
What kind of poem, then, is â€œThe Rainâ€? To note, as is customary in Creeley criticism, that his is a poetry of process rather than product, that it only discovers what it wants to say in the act of saying it, does not get us very far, and neither does the application of Creeleyâ€™s own famed Olsonian precept that â€œForm is never more than the extension of content.â€ The choice of stanza form, after all, clearly preceded the individual locutions. Moreoverâ€”and here Creeley parts company with the â€œopen fieldâ€ poetics of Black Mountainâ€”â€œThe Rainâ€ is certainly a closural poem: the ending, with its period, is presented as conclusive: this, the reader feels, is how it is, at least for now. Indeed, â€œThe Rainâ€ is a highly formalized poem, even as it defies the dominant conventions of lyric poetryâ€”raw or cookedâ€”at Creeleyâ€™s moment.
â€œThe Rainâ€ is not, for starters, an autobiographical poem that moves from present to past and back to the present with newly earned insight or epiphany, like Lowellâ€™s â€œEye and Tooth,â€ or, say, Sylvia Plathâ€™s â€œCut Thumb.â€ Memory plays little role for Creeley; it is the immediate present that counts. Self-awareness is difficult to sustain: it is of the moment. Hence the choice of the shortâ€”or serialâ€”poem, for the mood cannot sustain itself. Again, the poemâ€™s aesthetic is by no means that of â€œNo ideas but in thingsâ€ (Williams); indeed, things donâ€™t much interest Creeley except as the occasion to brood on a particular mental condition or emotion. No red wheelbarrows here and further, despite its title, no rainwater either and certainly no chickens. No sharp, imagistic phrases as in Roethke, no nouns charged with rich symbolic reference as in Eliot, no proper names as in Pound and Olson, no occult references as in Duncan. But no ordinary language as in Frank Oâ€™Hara either. On the contrary, Creeleyâ€™s vocabulary includes precisely those words and locutions others would avoid as â€œunpoeticâ€: in this case, â€œinsisted upon,â€ â€œsomething,â€ â€œgetting out,â€ â€œtirednessâ€ â€œwet.â€
These wordsâ€”and this is Creeleyâ€™s signatureâ€”are used with a Flaubertian intensity that evidently escaped readers like Tillinghast and Williamson. The â€œhardnessâ€ of rain is desirable because the poet is trying to have a hardon. â€œSomething not so insistentâ€ is longed for as a form of â€œpersistenceâ€ that might be more appropriate. â€œDecentâ€ goes with â€œwetâ€ in what is a near rhyme; â€œuneasinessâ€ might give way to â€œhappiness.â€ The imperatives of stanza 5 counter the stagnation of passive and intransitive constructions that have preceded it. The rain, for that matter, is never seen, only heard; its â€œsoundâ€ must be countered by the sound of the poetâ€™s own voice, â€œLove, if you love meâ€¦.â€
A maker of words, thenâ€”of le mot justeâ€”and also of the syntax that relates the words in question. The poet as grammarian: a poet whose inverted sentences, peculiar word order, and odd use of â€œliteraryâ€ constructions, even in his critical prose and in his many interviews, is notable. I have always been struck by the idiosyncratic inflections that characterize what purports to be â€œordinaryâ€ prose. Here are some examples, culled at random from interviews and essays between 1964 and 1998:
I think this is very much the way Americans are given to speakâ€”not in some dismay that they havenâ€™t another way to speak, but, rather, that they feel that they, perhaps more than any other group of people upon the earth at this moment, have had both to imagine and thereby to make that reality which they are then given to live in.
Iâ€™ve always been embarrassed for a so-called larger view. Iâ€™ve been given to write about that which has the most intimate presence for me. . . . And I am given as a man to work with what is most intimate to me. 
I had headed west, for the first time, thinking to be rid of all the â€œeasternismsâ€ of my New England upbringing and habit. 
There in Florida I thought a lot about the social facts of age, seeing us milling confusedly in supermarkets, else risking life and limb trying to negotiate parking lots in our oversized cars. 
Reading these comments, one can hear Creeley speaking (and, thanks to Penn Sound, we can literally do this), not because his phrasing is characteristic of what is called â€œspeech rhythmâ€â€”the natural words in the natural orderâ€”but because such expressions as â€œI am given to,â€ â€œIâ€™ve been embarrassed for,â€ â€œseeing us milling confusedly,â€ â€œelse risking life and limbâ€ as well as the repeated use, in his critical prose and interviews, of the adjectives â€œlovelyâ€ â€œbeautiful,â€ â€œintimate,â€ and the parenthetical adverbs –â€œunhappily,â€ â€œsweetly,â€ â€œforgetfullyâ€–create an equivocal aura that is uniquely Creeleyan. â€œThere are lovely moments in the worldâ€ begins Creeleyâ€™s 1974 essay â€œLast Night: Random Thoughts on San Francisco,â€ and the same essay recalls that â€œThe city was humanly so beautifulâ€ (Real Poem 86). Most poets of Creeleyâ€™s generation would regard such value judgments as too soft, too feminine, too gentleâ€”arenâ€™t these the adjectives a Girly Man would use? Interestingly, Creeleyâ€™s female contemporariesâ€”say, Adrienne Richâ€”werenâ€™t given to using the adjectives in question either.
â€œLovely,â€ â€œsadly,â€ â€œconfusedly,â€ â€œelse risking life and limbâ€: it is the decorum and politesse of these old-fashioned locutions that makes the horror and emptiness of everyday life as depicted in Creeleyâ€™s poems so chilling. In the 1998 collection Life & Death, there is a poem called â€œEdges,â€ in which the poet recalls â€œwant[ing] somethingâ€:
Beyond the easy, commodious adjustment
to determining thought, the loss of reasons
to ever do otherwise than complyâ€”
tedious, destructive ineriors of mind
As whatever came to be seen,
representative, inexorably chosen,
then left as some judgment. 
Here it is the quasi-Victorian inflection of formal and abstract dictionâ€”â€œcommodious,â€ â€œotherwise than comply,â€ â€œinexorablyâ€â€”that makes the poetâ€™s fear of old age and death, the â€œflotsam [another archaicizing word] of recollectionâ€ so painful.
â€œAs whatever came in to be seenâ€: Creeleyâ€™s genius is to take that â€œwhateverâ€ â€“note that it is no image, no thing, no allusion, no citationall referenceâ€”and to relate it to all the other words in a given poem, according to the norms of what Aristotle called to prepon, fitness or proportionalityâ€”the necessary relatedness of item to item and each to the whole . Whether the words in question do or do not relate in the world outside the poem is irrelevant; they relate within it. In â€œThe Rain,â€ for example, the second syllable of â€œdecentâ€ matches, not only the final syllable of â€œpersistentâ€ and â€œinsistentâ€ but also the middle syllable of â€œintentionalâ€ and with, a slight variant, the last syllable of â€œindifference.â€ Ent/ence: it is the Latin suffix denoting actual existence, the state of being. The poemâ€™s repeated â€œinsistenceâ€/â€persistenceâ€ defines the â€œIâ€, â€œmyselfâ€ and â€œmeâ€ that appear in the poem, first-person pronouns that fail to cohere into what might be a stable identity. â€œQuiet,â€ furthermore, almost has the necessary ent in it, and so does â€œwet.â€ But not quite, and therein, to use another Creeley word, lies the problem. The poem gives us a personal world in fragments or, more accurately, layers, and these layers remain separate.
The verbal and morphemic play in which a poem like â€œThe Rainâ€ engages has a curious relationship to the poetry of the early sixties, when Creeley came of age. On the one hand, as I noted above, it deviates sharply from the Robert Lowell model. On the other, it is hardly a minimalist â€œconcrete poem,â€ even though Mary Ellen Solt, in her ground-breaking survey, recruits Creeley for the Concrete camp, citing â€œLe Fouâ€ as an example of the poetic ideogram.  But Creeley was no Concretist, as a comparison to Augusto de Camposâ€™s own rain poem, the 1959 â€œfluvial / pluvialâ€ [figure 2] makes clear.   For de Campos, the typographic constellationâ€”in this case the morphing of the letters that compose pluvial into its cognate fluvialâ€”has eliminated all traces of the poetâ€™s ego so as to make a linguistic-visual construct. For Creeley, on the other hand, the lettristic breakdown of a given word itselfâ€”in this case rainâ€”is hardly enough to satisfy the poet.
[INSERT PLUVIAL IMAGE]
But Creeleyâ€™s own particular blend of linguistic density, elliptical grammar, and semantic charge was to come into its own in the mid-eighties, with the coming of a new generation of experimental poets. Creeley seems to have known this:: in 1986, in a review for the San Francisco Chronicle of Ron Sillimanâ€™s controversial anthology In the American Tree, Creeley declared, â€œWhatever poetry may prove to be at last, the very word (from the Greek poiein , “to make”) determines a made thing, a construct, a literal system of words.â€ â€œA great deal of the writing,â€ he adds, â€œhas active rapport with the resources that the system of language itself provides and plays upon patterns of syntax and reference with remarkable effect.â€ Not everyone, Creeley is quick to insist, will find such â€œstructuralistâ€ poetics attractive: â€œWe are, of course, far more likely to think of a poem as a pleasing sentiment, a lyric impulse, an expression of feeling that can engage the reader or listener in some intensive manner.â€ But, having paid â€œpleasing sentimentâ€ its due, Creeley concludes:
Certainly one will have favorites and I have a lot of them here, as it happens: Robert Grenier and Charles Bernstein, and also Barrett Watten, David Bromige, Fanny Howe, Susan Howe, Stephen Rodefer, Bernadette Mayer, Bob Perelman, and others. Michael Palmer’s “Echo” must be, surely, one of the great poems of the period, just as Clark Coolidge’s work is now a contemporary classic. . . . . The brilliance of the writers collected here is not simply literary. Their response to the world, however demanding, is intently communal. They are asking – often with great wit and heart – that we recognize that language itself is real and we must learn to live in its complex places.
I cite this review at some length because it shows Creeleyâ€™s clear-eyed understanding that here was a new movement with such affinities to his own poetry. Later, as that movement became more vocal and more doctrinaire, Creeley took a more circumspect position toward it. He himself, after all, belonged, or so the common wisdom would have it, to the school of Olson: it was Olson who was his mentor and the New American Poetry, as defined by Donald Allen in his watershed anthology, that was his poetic and spiritual home.
The issue is complicated. Certainly, Creeleyâ€™s poetics is not quite that of In the American Tree. What Bruce Andrews has called deprecatingly â€œthe arrow of referenceâ€ is still operative in Creeleyâ€™s lyric, his collocations of words and morphemes are never as non-semantic or disjunctive as those of later Language poets, his identity, however fractured, never less than central to his what is a very â€œpersonalâ€ poetry. The decorous, purposely Old World phrasing–â€œI am given to,â€ â€œI am embarrassed for,â€ I am â€œthinking to be rid ofâ€â€” is surely closer to Robert Duncan than to Ron Silliman. And as Theory, from Derrida and Deleuze to Adorno and Habermas came to dominate the discourse of the various Language Poetry journals, Creeley came to protest, less in print than in private conversation, that theoryâ€”dry, intellectual, impersonal– was the enemy of poetry, that he himself was just a â€œsimpleâ€ lyric poet who looked to experience and to tradition for inspiration. Thus, in his last decade or so, he made sure he allied himself, not just with experimental poets, but with the larger scene of postwar Americanâ€”and also Britishâ€”poetry, endorsing a wide variety of younger poets from Frank Bidart and Forrest Gander to Heather McHugh and Sharon Olds, as if he wanted to warn his more immediate coterie not to box him into a corner. John Ashbery, we might note, has followed a similar path vis-Ã -vis the New York school.
Poets cannot, of course, be expected to see themselves as later generations see them. It is too soon, in any case, to make authoritative statements about Creeleyâ€™s influence today. Still, it may now be useful to revise the earlier genealogy whereby we couple Creeley with Olson, Duncan, and Levertov, with Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti, or with Zukofsky and Reznikoff. Indeed, among the Objectivists, the one poet whose lyric very much resembles Creeleyâ€™s is the one whom the label least fitsâ€”Lorine Niedecker– just as the â€œBlack Mountainâ€ heir whose aesthetic really is Creeleyesque is that non-American, Tom Raworth. Both Niedecker and Raworth may be characterized as mavericks. Both have strong group affiliations but are loners, working in isolation. Both are obsessed, in their condensed, â€œminimalistâ€ lyric, with the grammaticity and paragrammaticity of language, both are intensely â€œpersonalâ€ and yet intensely oblique and constrained love poets. To read Creeley against Niedecker and Raworth suggests, in any case, that in making genealogies, it is high time to go beyond nation and gender boundaries, high time to cast a wider net so as to capture, in Creeleyâ€™s words, â€œwhatever is.â€
 Robert Creeley, â€œFunny,â€ Away (1976), in The Collected Poems of Robert Creeley 1945-1975 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982), 598.
 See Matsuo Basho, Haiku, http://thegreenleaf.co.uk/HP/basho/00Bashohaiku.htm/
 Guillaume Apollinaire, Calligrammes (1913-16), in Oeuvres poÃ©tiques, ed. Marcel AdÃ©ma and Michel DÃ©caudin (Paris: Editions Gallimard: BibliothÃ¨que
de la PlÃ©iade, 1965), p. 203.
The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams, Vol. 1, ed. Walton Litz and Christopher MacGowan (New York: New Directions, 1986), 343-47. According to the Notes 527-29), this poem went through seven printed versions with many changes in lineation and spacing: its first printing was in Hound & Horn, Oct.-Dec. 1929.
 Robert Lowell, â€œEye and Tooth,â€ Collected Poems (New York: Farrar Straus, 2003), 334-35.
 â€œIâ€™m given to write poems,â€ A Quick Graph: Collected Notes & Essays, ed. Donald Allen (Bolinas: Four Seasons Foundation, 1970), 65.
Robert Creeley, Contexts of Poetry: Interviews 1961-1971 (Bolinas: Four Seasons Foundation, 1971), 97.
 Robert Creeley, Was that a Real Poem & Other Essays, ed Donald Allen (Bolinas; Four Seasons,1979), 86.
 Robert Creeley in conversation with J. M. Spalding, Cortland Review, April 1998: http://www.cortlandreview.com/creeley.htm
Robert Creeley, Life & Death (New York: New Directions, 1998), 55.
 Mary Ellen Solt, Concrete Poety: A World View (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1968), pp. 49, 223.
Augusto de Campos, â€œpluvial / fluvial,â€ in Viva Vaia: Poesia (1949-1979) (Brazil: AteliÃª Editorial, 2001), p. 106; or see http://www.algumapoesia.com.br/poesia/poesianet066.htm.
Robert Creeley, â€œFrom the Language Poets,â€ review of Ron Silliman, In the American Tree, San Francisco Chronicle, 28 September 1986. This review was called to my attention by Charles Bernstein.