May 21st. 1926, Arlington, Massachusetts — March 30th. 2005, Odessa, Texas

"I was ready!" was the final sentence, apart from salutation, of the last message I had from Bob a few days ago. He sent photographs and postcards of his surroundings in Marfa, Texas – the landscape, the rooms, cars in a dusty black and white fifties' street, Pen at her desk – and wrote, almost light-heartedly, of oxygen in " portable wee tanks about the size of a champagne bottle". But I, as others, was not ready for the news two days ago. For forty-five years, since pale-blue airletters crossed between Central America and East London, he seemed a permanent presence, a touchstone of a continuous belief in the possibilities of poetry, a source of support and encouragment for several generations of writers. Now another colour has gone from the palette, another note from the music.

"The virtues of an amulet/ and quick surprise."


Bill Morris, North Carolina, March 30th 2005.


Andy Berlin, New York, March 30th. 2005.


What a shame.

Andrew Robinson, London, March 30th. 2005.

Sad news. I went outside to have a fag and to see if there was an extra star in the sky. It was wet and cloudy and I couldn't see any stars at all.

Massimo Bacigalupo, Liguria, March 30th. 2005.

A sad night for us as well.
The readiness, yes.
He also sent me such a nice message last week about enjoying a lot the book of posthumous cantos by Ezra Pound I had sent him.

Claude Royet-Journoud, Paris. March 30th. 2005.

Ai relu de nombreux poèmes de R.C. hier dans la nuit...
Profondément triste.

David Ball, Massachusetts, March 30th. 2005.

I didn't know him, but saw him a number of times and liked him. To say nothing of the poetry, which is rare. I mean "rare" in that it's poetry, not PC-emoting or superliterate academic inventions full of discriminating adjectives. ...Once when I was driving back late from Boston, alone (why? I don't remember), I picked up a long interview w/ him on the radio. And he read a little. It was an amazing unexpected pleasure.

David Southern, North Carolina, March 31st. 2005.

NPR ran a rather good piece yesterday, slightly misinformed about Black Mountain College and perhaps other details, but with a couple of vivid quotes from archival tape. My contact with RC was very minimal, and probably the first time I heard him read was when you (Stephen Emerson) brought him to Duke in 1971. Bill has shot pool with him (in a bar in Montana, I think). Paul Chase knew him in the '50s when Paul was a cultural something or other attached to some American embassy in Central America and RC and family were living on a finca. I was relayed some details not too long ago of Creeley recalling the Boston jazz scene of the late '40s and early '50s. Creeley distinctly remembered Dick Twardzik. Anyway, another sad event in a sad season. Carlyle's standard remark on death ran, "We shall go to them; they will not return to us." Strangely, I find it comforting.

Jim Nisbet, California, March 31st. 2005.

The scene up in the Novato cabinet shop where I'm working lately was utterly bucolic today. There's a 20x20 garage door we leave open while we're working. Cobalt blue sky above a band of stucco building ten yards across the drive. Fluffy bits of pollen drifting by from the cottonwoods in bloom along the creek. The shadow of a circling turkey vulture swept the entire face of the building across the way late this afternoon. And home not too long afterward, to a message from Richard Gates with news of Bob's death. "There goes a giant."

When I was on probation and working highway construction 7 ten-hour days a week near Wilson, N.C., in 1972, I came home one evening to find a book in my mailbox with a lovely note from the mysterious beauty who lived across the road in an old farmhouse. The book was For Love. I still have it, and that thoughtful woman remains a friend.

There are two "For Love"s in the book, and the second one is the last poem in it. It's dedicated to Bobbie, and here are its last three strophes.

Let me stumble into
not the confession but
the obsession I begin with
now. For you

also (also)
some time beyond place, or
place beyond time, no
mind left to

say anything at all,
that face gone, now.
Into the company of love
it all returns.

Richard Gates, California, March 31st. 2005.

I, too, sit at an upstairs window, but the taste in the mouth is Chablis, not orange. Earlier today, I read an introduction that Bob had written for Clark's bio on Olson, dated January 2000, and Bob is saying the breaking point isn't dying, as one thought it to be when young, but the watching of friends go before you. It was Ed Dorn, he said, that should have been writing this intro, for he had the focus and clarity, and, above all, as Charles had said, an "Elizabethan ear."

The world now feels wobbly.

Gunnar Harding, Stockholm, March 31st. 2005.

Not so many of our old heroes left now.

Herbie Butterfield, Colchester, March 31st.2005.

His writing – poetry and prose – has meant as much to me as anyone's of his time – that combo of wit, control of pace, economy, moral underpinning – the best of New England, surely? Fifteen? Twenty? years ago he gave a quite lovely reading/talking at Essex, a life's story, anecdotal, thoughtful, touching, very funny, interspersed with poems. Afterwards we came into Colch, inevitably to the Foresters', which he seemed to like a lot for its unpretentiousness. Apart from feeling wholly at ease in his company, as I seldom do on first meeting people, I remember him, a little to my surprise, expressing enthusiastic admiration for Jeffers, whom as you know I've always waved a banner for. Ah well, in that same Foresters' I shall raise a pint to him this evening.

John Muckle, London, March 31st. 2005.

Am sorry to hear. He was a giant.

ideas of it all like dropped change
trying to pick it up off the sidewalk at night

(or something like that)

Curtis Faville, California, March 31st. 2005.

Bob Grenier – with whom I'm editing the collected Eigner – was very close to Bob for 45 years, and he turned me on to him when I was his student at Berkeley in 1968.

"I can't go on. I'll go on." –Beckett

Devin Johnston, St.Louis, March 31st. 2005.

So sad today, hearing that Creeley is gone. I did not know him well, but I had such affection for the man and everything he did.

Mairéad Byrne, Providence, March 31st. 2005.

I found myself very sad today thinking that I would not see Robert again. I was shocked, because he was so "here." And I thought I would have lots of time to sidle up to him in my slightly shy way, and to get to know him better. He was very easy to approach, and engage with. I am so happy to have known him.

Robert really rose to the occasion and from the time he came here was at just about every poetry event. I read here on March 8th and mistakenly thinking I was reading on February 8th, I emailed them in late January with an invitation, to be told they were off to "fabled Texas." It was a privilege and pleasure to have Robert here, he was open to all, Brown and RISD students, and poets as they came, though I know it wasn't easy; his classes at Brown had many auditors in addition to enrolled students. Still, he also engaged in mentorship at RISD.

Ben Raworth, London, April 1st. 2005.

Sorry to hear about Bob. I remember when he visited Norwich as my American uncle who was only in the country for one day, so had to have special allowance to come in. We had a great, unscheduled two-hour mid-week visit. Even the screws were relaxed. It was like being at a Parisian café for a while. He was funny and made me realise a few months was diddly fuck really.

Alastair Johnston, California, April 1st. 2005

Alastair has kindly put a copy of his fascinating conversation with Bob about Divers Press online on the Poltroon Press site, linked from the sidebar.

Dave Cook, Meschede, April 2nd. 2005.

....another very sad loss. It was Herbie who first introduced me to Creeley's work and my first impulse last night was to read from Life and Death and I opened the book on 'Mitch' which ends with the stanzas:–

Is it my turn now,
who's to say or wants to?
You're not sick, there are
certainly those older.
Your time will come.

In God's hands it's cold.
In the universe it's an empty, echoing silence.
Only us to make sounds,
but I made none.
I sat there like a stone.

After walking the dog by the Ruhr this morning, thinking of Herbie and others, at Essex, pulled POEMS 1950-1965 ROBERT CREELEY off the shelf and opened it to find it's Kim's book with her annotations written alongside many of the poems. Then reading the poems, memories and feelings drifting to and fro, echoes from that time and space with so much energy and hope and belief in making it happen.

Ah well...

On Benjamin Fischer's interesting Wordnews site, a search for "Creeley" throws up ten links to obituaries this morning. Clicking on "show analysed version" produces a breakdown of the headlines by word-frequency, indicated by typesize, creating a sort of concrete poem I think Bob, with his delight in the computer's use, might have liked. I've taken the liberty of archiving the present version here.

Anselm Hollo, Boulder, April 3rd. 2005.


Marilyn Perry, California, April 4th. 2005.

I'd been going over memories of Bob in my head, not that there are many, but the few are choice. When I met him I felt that I had always known him. Found the two postcards he sent during the work on "Collected Poems" and then a journal entry from the publication party at UC Press (March 26 1983). The party was in the foyer at UC Press, with the overflow looking down from the balcony of the 2nd floor. Before reading, Bob removed the book jacket and mumbled (to much laughter) "paranoid defenses." After he finished reading, he looked straight up at me where I was standing with others on the balcony and said "and I absolutely want to thank Marilyn Perry, the designer, for....." I don't remember the details of the praise, but this moment remains the pinnacle of "professional recognition" for me. That design is weak, a passing thing, it almost seems wrong now, but the process of working with him on it was as dignified an endeavor as my profession will ever see. I don't expect to have that again.

I had the weird experience today, after listening to some audio of Bob reading, that his voice, even though I actually only heard it a couple of times, is just stunningly familiar. I wonder why that would be......

Tom Raworth, Cambridge, April 4th. 2005

I was thinking just now again of the deaths of old friends as evaporating the pool of shared memories, one of which nagged me to look back until I revived it with this, in a letter from Bob dated January 4th. 2005:–

I have to realize I don't want to share "memories" anymore at all. I just want them period — and will otherwise know who likewise knows.

I take his point, and its inherent sadness: but I feel these immediate responses to his death are preserving individual memories rather than reminiscing about shared ones.

Peter Inman, Washington D.C., April 4th. 2005.

Creeley was a real loss. Only met him once (at Joan R's) & he was — especially considering the awkwardness that such meetings usually entail, as well as the demands he must have been facing — very gracious & un-full of himself, but also w. an undertone of dead seriousness about him. (Perhaps he was merely frightened by my emphatic pronouncements re: the new sentence & how to make it end.) He was one of the first "New Americans" (as opposed to the current New World Order Americans) that I connected with. He & Kerouac; now that's a pairing. I remember Gold Diggers & The Island really knocking my late teen socks off: or at least I think I remember it, those days are cloudy & generally not for the squeamish. & speaking of sentences, his long ones, with all of their clauses: sometimes qualifying, sometimes tangential: not at all full-speed ahead like Kerouac's… it was: yeah, this is what it's like inside my 19 year-old head… Anyway, my own self-scrutinizing ramblings aside, both T. & I are really saddened. There was an obit about him in the Post. It was pretty pro forma, but nonetheless an acknowledgment of his work from a corner that doesn't acknowledge much of anything but the latest connect-the-dots fad… so that, at least was heartening…

Ivana Folle, Bogliasco, April 4th. 2005.

ecco una foto dei bei momenti passati a Bogliasco con Robert e sua moglie...

o ricordiamo con affetto.

Robert Greenwood, London, April 5th. 2005.

I met Creeley once in about 1982 at The Riverside Studios in Hammersmith. He and I chatted about the pianist Al Haig, who had played with, among many others, Charlie Parker, Stan Getz, and Wardell Gray, and whom I had heard that afternoon. The tenor saxophonist Allen Eager was also touring the UK at that time and Creeley told me about how one day in New York in the 1950s he had tagged along with a crowd of people he saw piling into a car and headed out of town. Creeley realised that one of them was Allen Eager and started enthusiastically talking to him. One of Eager's so-called friends was mystified at Creeley's reaction and, when told that Eager had worked with Fats Navarro and was a leading bop/cool tenor player, said: "Oh? We just thought he was a junky."

Mike Kelleher, Buffalo, April 5th. 2005.

I was always struck by how shy Bob was despite his loquaciousness. I have a vivid memory of standing in the foyer of the firehouse in Black Rock talking with Bob, Penelope and Rosmarie Waldrop. Bob stood next to the staircase with his back to the wall while the three of us stood opposite, backs to the front door. Bob was talking up a storm, but I noticed that he also seemed to be inching slowly away, receding behind this brilliant cloud of words into the shadow of the staircase. Words were a means of connecting to the world and of protecting him from it, it seems.

Charles Bernstein has updated the Creeley pages on PennSound and the EPC.

Conjunctions has started a Creeley tribute page and welcomes submissions: send to

This page has no intentions other than noting the immediate reactions of regular correspondents to Bob's death and of listing links that might be of interest.

Fanny Howe, Kenyon, April 5th. 2005.

Words for Creeley:

"Do Thou {, my End,} care for my end."

—from the /Dies Irae

/with love from Fanny

British Newspaper Obituaries

As online obituaries tend to either vanish after a few days, or be walled behind registration, I've archived those from The Guardian, The Independent and The Times. I've listed them in (my) order of interest. A look at paragraphs 9 and 15 of The Times shows clearly how condescencion and stupidity find a comfortable home in Murdoch's empire.

Jonathan Skinner, Buffalo, April 6th. 2005

Difficult to believe. I keep hoping it's a bad dream I'll wake up from. Grief is a smoldering bunch of tears that flame out at the worst moments.

I was lucky to grow up in a house where Creeley was oft quoted — "She was the lovely stranger/ who married the forest ranger/ the duck and the dogs/ and never was seen again" — and first assimilated For Love, Words, Pieces as an adolescent, pulled from my parents' shelves.


It was too early for me to understand the emotion of these poems of loving and hating: "words full// of holes/ aching" though I think I could follow "Speech/ is a mouth." In any case, I was reciting Creeley's poems to girls pretty much from the getgo.

I met Bob in Paris in '93 or '94, reading at the Village Voice Bookstore (where I pressed him for details on publishing Blackburn's Proensa, as I was writing on it at the time, and went home with a girl I met in the audience), saw him again at Allen Ginsberg's funeral in '97 at the Shambhala Center in NYC (and now instead of loving and hating grief appeared the major theme: the pain-stricken look on his face moved me to write him a long letter), and came to study with him here in '98. (He's pretty much the reason we came to Buffalo — as he stuck his phone number in my pocket in Paris and suggested I come.) Bob took us right into that great family of his. He and Pen (one of the most brilliant people ever) took a shining to Isabelle, and her work, and bought several of her paintings. They were great supporters. We had our disagreements and moments of friction, but looking back, of course, Bob's tangible acts of friendship never flagged. His putting me in touch with great contemporaries like Ben Friedlander or Nick Lawrence, or introducing me to his own, were perhaps the most lasting of such acts.

I'd been out of touch in the past year (down in the job search tunnel) and was just about to reestablish contact. We were looking forward to being their neighbors again in Maine (where I've recently taken a job).

The word of Creeley's I keep coming back to is "use" — when Creeley indicated he'd found one's work "useful," it was high praise… Creeley insisted on the *use* of poetry, as poetry… that it have meaning in life. The amount of and the quality of tributes coming forward are testament to that use.

I don't feel very useful right now — as Bob always managed to be. I'll leave you with something written early last Sunday, listening to an April snow muffle the echoes.

While You Sleep

(for r.c.)

knows what
dreams are in-
side of

what de-
sire knows I
do not

the new press
of flesh

cloaks the world
in April's

sounds a soft

what dreams

the lady
knows, does not
sleep toward
the wall

the gist
is satis-
an angel's

the hurt is snow

what small birds
are heard
to say
when the wind

words move

the sun

the mind

as I write
all of this

a choked highway

drops peace
slow — the frozen
rain sighs cars
through it

ruffles sirens at
the world's edge

the one-eyed
cat stretches

a white paw
the door

breath catches
you back of

desire's whole
each time, wants
to shake you

no backing out
to grow young
stay old

no keeping
off this car

crashed into mountains

a walk out beneath
open skies

could not die
without you

in spite of what
the birds sing

snows inside
will keep
us warm

you will forget
I am here

words move

her back
to me she turns
to the wall

more from John Muckle, London, April 8th. 2005.

Who are these British critics of the future? Don't they know that Creeley influenced many poets here, that he read at the Albert Hall in the 1980s, was one of a few American poets to be consistently published in this country, by small presses such as Ric Caddel's Pig Press, and by slightly grander Marion Boyars, for whom I worked for a couple of years?

This was one of my first London jobs: sitting at a desk next to Janie, her one woman art department, and looking out over the roofs of Brewer Street, Soho. On my first day I met the dynamic Ken Hollings - just finishing a film to be released on video by Factory Records - and was immediately set to work proof-reading Creeley's Collected Prose. It was like stepping into a dream-world. Actually getting paid to do things you loved. Later in the 80s, when I was editing the Paladin poetry series, I met Creeley at one of Marion's parties. Like other correspondents I was struck by his unassuming manner. I remember him in the kitchen of her Chelsea home, sipping mineral water (possibly atypical); polite, then sparking into enthusiastic life when I told him which British poets - and an anthology too - I was publishing. He really loved it! The game was afoot in English poetry. John Ashbery was there - three sheets to the wind after a quite gruelling promotional tour - and the two great American poets greeted one another warmly. Ron Kitaj hugged everyone. I will always remember that night. The party ended late. I walked some of the way home to Acton, drunk, until picked up by the police, who cooperatively delivered me to my door. Unfortunately the Times's critic had mislaid his invitation.

more from Mike Kelleher, Buffalo, April 8th 2005.

I'm home now a couple of hours after the memorial event here, which took place in the Poetry Rare Books Collection at SUNY Buffalo. It's been a long, hard week. Bob's death has been hitting me in waves. I find myself getting easily upset about something stupid or I just start crying when I think about him. Fortunately, there are hundreds of people in Buffalo and thousands around the world who knew him, so I am in good company.

The memorial at UB was planned spontaneously, a day or two after his death, to be a reading among members of the university community, nothing more. Somehow, word made it into a press release that this was "THE" memorial. As the date approached, tempers flared and confusion reigned, but Mike Basinski, curator of the collection and all around saintly soul that he is, played the role of bridge over troubled water. Fortunately for everyone, word got out that another, bigger event was being planned for the fall, so this one was able to remain comfortable and intimate for those 200 or so that attended.

To everyone's surprise and delight, Penelope and Hannah made a last-minute trip to Buffalo for the memorial, making the fact of Bob's death painfully real and concrete, but also somehow comforting in that we could share it with those who were closest to him.

Mike B. put up a nice display of many of Bob's books, including two of his earliest: Le Fou (Golden Goose, 1952) and The Immoral Proposition (Jonathan Williams, 1953) with their exquisite covers. Also on display were Issue No. 1 of the Black Mountain Review and several gorgeous artist's books and collaborative works made with artists like Jim Dine, Robert Indiana, Alex Katz and others.

Next to the podium, Bruce Jackson exhibited several large photos of Bob. Behind the podium were the usual paintings on the wall, including portraits of Robert Duncan, John Logan, Wyndham Lewis, and Dylan Thomas, even an impressionistic landscape painted by e.e. cummings.

Mike introduced the event, telling a moving story about a young factory worker (himself) attending a night school course taught by Jack Clarke, where he first read Creeley and of how he has been a poet working at the University (earning a PhD along the way) ever since. Steve McCaffrey followed with some anecdotes about Bob's visits to Toronto and with a reading of several poems. After that, anyone who wanted to read a poem or tell a story or just say thank you was then encouraged to take the microphone.

Before this part began, a very emotional Penelope took the stage and thanked everyone and talked about how much Bob loved Buffalo, and teaching, and all of his friends and students, and how happy they had been to raise their children here. Talking to her afterward, you could see how distraught she was — stoic and laughing one second, stunned and in tears the next. I think she was really happy to be here, though.

She was followed by twenty or so brief readings and stories. As far as I can tell from my notes those that read included myself, Jim Maynard, Arthur Efron, Max Wickert, Jonathan Skinner, Jim Swan, Bob Daly, Jimmie Gilliam, Ted Pelton, Barbara Cole (reading for Susan Howe, who chose several poems for Barbara to read in her stead), Bill Sylvester, Morgan Claxton, Robert Berthoff, Eun-gwi Chung, Karen MacCormack, Laurie Dean Torrell, and Bob Suwicky (I am pretty sure I completely flubbed this name).

The general tenor of the event was lighthearted, though a few people, myself included, had difficulty getting through their readings without breaking up some. I tried to read the section from Numbers called "The Fool." I had intended to read a poem I wrote for Bob, but by the time I got to the last few words I could barely talk from all the tears I was choking on. I basically ran from the stage. Creeley poems read included a selection from A Day Book, Echo, Edges, America, Oh No and many others. I donŐt think anyone read any of the greatest hits, which was something of a relief.

Mostly, we all just wanted to say how privileged we felt to have read or heard or seen or known a man and poet like Robert Creeley. And that's what we did say.

Anselm Hollo, Boulder, April 9th. 2005.

...the memorial "went well" — great footage from Bobbie's archives, plus more of the same from Naropa's (readings going back thirty years or so), plus the bit from Dr Sax, and brief statements by those present (Reed Bye, Anne Waldman, Joe Richey, Peter Michelson, yrs truly, students). Oh yes, oh gosh yes.

And yes, the Times and Independent RC obits — some persistent neurotic confusion there, or superstition, that it is somehow impossible to love Campion and Wyatt and Carlos Williams "at the same time"! Esp. considering that Bob's work retains far more of that melodiousness than let's say Andrew Motion's ...

more from Tom Raworth, Cambridge, April 10th. 2005.

Simply to keep a sense of proportion I'd like to intrude our Poet Laureate's latest work: read it and creep.

Spring Wedding

I took your news outdoors, and strolled a while
In silence on my square of garden-ground
Where I could dim the roar of arguments,
Ignore the scandal-flywheel whirring round,

And hear instead the green fuse in the flower
Ignite, the breeze stretch out a shadow-hand
To ruffle blossom on its sticking points,
The blackbirds sing, and singing take their stand.

I took your news outdoors, and found the Spring
Had honoured all its promises to start
Disclosing how the principles of earth
Can make a common purpose with the heart.

The heart which slips and sidles like a stream
Weighed down by winter-wreckage near its source -
But given time, and come the clearing rain,
Breaks loose to revel in its proper course.

This is truly the tradition of Campion, Coleridge and Burns.

To read this unctuous smug doggerel, as contemptuous of, and condescending to, its readers as the Tony Blair's Campaign Diary, while the death of a real poet is fresh in the air, drives me to search for its missing stanza:

If I could take my tongue out of your arse
(Though drag me as a train down aisles you tread)
The tiny Royal turd upon my tongue
Would quiver as my heart that you are wed.

Gloria Graham, New Mexico, April 11th. 2005

To return to something real, here is a photograph from Gloria Graham. Click on it for a larger image.

John Yau, New York City, April 14th. 2005

.... for my Senior Seminar (on contemporary art), I have read some of Bob's work at the beginning of each class ever since I learned that he had died.

Debora Ott, Atlanta, April 14th. 2005

Artvoice, Buffalo's local, weekly arts newspaper, is collecting short 350-word remembrances and anecdote about Bob Creeley as part of their memorial to him. They will print as many of them as space allows in upcoming issues.

Deadline is april 18:

send to:

Creeley Memorial
810 Main street
Buffalo, NY 14202

or email to:

Robert Adamson, Sydney, April 15th. 2005.

I've been out of touch with everyone. Thanks for your email with the sad news. I thought you might want to read my obit for Creeley published in the Sydney Morning Herald today. I hope you don't mind me quoting the line from your site.

Love, Bob

The secret magician of American letters

Robert Creeley, Poet, 1926-2005

Robert Creeley, who has died at 78 from pneumonia and complications from lung disease in Odessa, Texas, was one of the major American poets of the 20th century. He was a teacher, a scholar, and a fierce presence: "I look to words, and nothing else, for my own redemption either as a man or poet."

Just days before he died, he gave his final reading - in Charlottesville, Virginia - breathing from what he called "portable wee canisters of oxygen about the size of champagne bottles". In between the poems Creeley said very simple things that rang true: "There has been so much war and pain during the last century. We need to learn how to be kind; kindness is what makes us human."

Creeley lived in Providence, Rhode Island, and was a distinguished professor of English at Brown University. The director of Brown's arts program, Peter Gale Nelson, said of him: "Rare enough to be a great poet, even rarer to be a great person, as Robert was. He was a vibrant presence."

Previously, Creeley had been a professor at Buffalo University, New York State, for more than 20 years. Charles Bernstein, a poet and former Buffalo colleague, commented that "Creeley's place in American poetry is enormous."

"You can't help but love a world in which a Robert Creeley happens," wrote the poet Tom Pickard, a friend of his in Britain.

Creeley had a strong influence on Australian poetry. He visited Sydney in 1976 and many remember his readings and lectures, along with his passionate and articulate performance. He wrote 60 books, of which The Collected Poems of Robert Creeley 1945-1975 (University of California Press) and his last book, Life & Death (New Directions, 1998), are widely available here.

Creeley turned around many students heading for self-destruction in one form or another. He changed my life when he came to Sydney by pointing out that my Australian accent was infinitely more right than the language of my poetry at the time - heavily influenced by another American poet, Robert Duncan. After he left Sydney I wrote one of my most popular books, Where I Come From. It was as easy as speaking because Creeley had given me permission to be myself in my writing.

Robert White Creeley was born in Arlington, Massachusetts. He lost the sight in one eye in a car accident when he was two years old. His father, a prominent local doctor, died of pneumonia a couple of years later. After this setback his mother had to go back to full-time work as a nurse. They moved to a farm outside town and times were hard.

The loss of his eye and his father affected Creeley profoundly. For the first half of his life he travelled as an outsider, his heavy drinking often leading to brawls with friends and strangers. Creeley was sometimes an angry young man who wanted "the world to narrow to a match flare".

He was accepted into Harvard University in 1943 but when his lecturers made it impossible for him to study Hart Crane and Walt Whitman he began attending jazz clubs where he listened to Charlie Parker and Thelonius Monk. He read Ezra Pound and Coleridge, along with the English Jacobean lyricists who were to influence his poetry. The poet Delmore Schwartz, one of his teachers, introduced him to the 17th-century poet Henry Vaughan, who became an abiding influence.

The young Creeley found university uninspiring, and as his love of jazz grew his grades fell, until he finally decided to leave altogether. Unable to sign up for World War II because of his sight problem, he joined the American Field Service and drove ambulances in India and Burma.

He returned home with two medals, and although he was accepted back into Harvard he dropped out before graduation in 1947. He married his first wife, Ann McKinnon, and moved to a farm in New Hampshire where he bred Birmingham Roller pigeons and attempted to establish a poetry magazine. He wrote to the poets Pound, Charles Olson, William Carlos Williams and Louis Zukofsky and asked them to contribute work. They all sent contributions but the magazine didn't get off the ground.

However, the poets he wrote to became friends and life-long influences, especially Olson, with whom Creeley conducted one of the great correspondences in modern poetry. Olson introduced him to fellow poets Duncan and Denise Levertov, who became lifelong friends. Creeley lived in France, Spain, Finland and Guatemala for periods, then settled for several years in New Mexico.

He enrolled at Black Mountain College in North Carolina at the invitation of Olson, the school's rector, and while earning his bachelor of arts he edited Black Mountain Review, the college's literary magazine which published not only the Black Mountain poets but Beat writers such as Allen Ginsberg.

Black Mountain, established in 1933 as an independent, co-educational, four-year college, was America's first experimental college. Featuring democratic self-rule, extensive work in the creative arts and interdisciplinary academic study, its staff and students included the painter Josef Albers, composer John Cage - who staged the first multimedia "happening" there in 1952 - and the architect Buckminster Fuller who built his first geodesic dome there in 1948. Its board of directors included Albert Einstein and Carlos Williams.

The first person to coin the term postmodern, Olson was formulating his famous theory of projectivist verse during this time. Its tenets spread around the world and by the 1960s had reached Australia. Many of the poets in Sydney's Generation of '68, including myself, were influenced by the Olson-Creeley essays on poetics.

In retrospect, the theory of projective verse is rather vague in parts. The main thrust was against the dominance of the Anglo-American tradition of poetic forms. For Creeley, the thing was to create a new aesthetic where poetry could operate in an open field; "form is never more than an expression of content and content never more than an expression of form," he said.

When Creeley spoke at Sydney University in 1976, he downplayed the role of projective verse in his work. He spoke of the importance of jazz and painting as inspirational fields.

Creeley spent several years at Black Mountain along with artists such as Franz Kline and Robert Rauschenberg, choreographer Merce Cunningham, and Duncan. There he learned to teach, and he honed his craft as a poet until it became swift, intricate and vigilant. His timing of each phrase, every line was exquisite.

By 1953 the experimental college was falling apart, its funds were cut and Olson was struggling against the tide. It closed in 1956 and the last issue of the Review was published in 1957.

Creeley made trips to New York City, where he frequented the Cedar Bar, the famous meeting place of the abstract expressionist painters. He often spoke with Willem de Kooning, who could demolish the whole Black Mountain mystique with a casual comment: "The only trouble with Black Mountain is that if you go there, they want to give it to you."

Creeley went to the West Coast, where the San Francisco poetry renaissance was in full swing. He met Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, who had their first books out. Creeley was still waiting for a reply from New Directions. Kerouac wrote that everyone had the highest regard for "Caro Roberto, the secret magician". However, he had no more tricks, and about this time his first marriage broke up. He moved to Taos, where he met his second wife, Bobbie Louise Hawkins, secured a position at the University of New Mexico and wrote a novel.

The tide turned again in 1958, when Scribner published Creeley's short stories The Gold Diggers and Other Stories and his novel The Island. After the success of these two books, Scribner went on to publish his collected poems, For Love: Poems 1950-1960. These books were also published in London.

Much later Creeley wrote: "D.H. Lawrence was the hero of these years, Hart Crane - they were the people who kept saying that something is possible ...Writing is the same as music. It's in how you phrase it, how you hold back the note, bend it, shape it, then release it. And what you don't play is as important as what you do say."

In that last sentence, Creeley is echoing the great French symbolist poet Mallarmé. I'd been studying Mallarme for a decade and had just published my book Swamp Riddles, which was influenced by him.

When I met Creeley in 1976, my first question was "What do you think of Mallarmé?" He quoted a line: "Is the abyss white on a slack tide." The next instant we hugged and began speaking, simultaneously, and continued without pause until he went on his way. He spoke like lightning, his words flashed and hit home, then resounded in our heads for days.

Creeley had come to Sydney from New Zealand to lecture and read his poetry in the Seymour Centre and at Sydney University's English department. Michael Wilding was able to raise his fare via the Literature Board because there was a conference, the American Bicentennial Seminar. It was a last-minute tour and, considering the publicity, a tiny advertisement in the paper, it's a wonder anyone came. But his reading and lecture were packed out.

He was staying at the Hilton and we took him back there after the reading. I drove my Mustang back to Lane Cove and as we walked through the door, the phone rang: "Come and get me, it's a bleak scene here at the Hilton." We were still singing and drinking Jim Beam at 3am when we dropped in to see a friend of mine, Gayle Austin, who had a midnight-to-dawn radio program on the ABC in the early days of Double J.

Creeley read poems and spoke about music. Phone calls came in from all over Sydney, the listeners loved him, his poems were breaking hearts on the air. We tried to get his session recorded, but there was no sound engineer and nothing happened. When dawn came I took him fishing. We went spinning for tailor under the Harbour Bridge. "Bob, there's our Opera House," I said, and he replied: "I didn't come half-way around the world to go sightseeing."

It was about the best time in my life. Over lunch I told Creeley I couldn't understand the fuss some of the poets in Australia made of the New York poet, Ted Berrigan. He sat me down and read Berrigan's long poem Tambourine Life. It washed over me in a great wave of music and weird images revealing a sharp satiric wit. I understood that the American spoken word was a different thing altogether from the way we spoke in Australia. I learned more about American poetry in the time Creeley was reading than I had in 15 years from books. Then he flirted outrageously with my first wife, Cheryl, and by the time he took off in a plane - heading for New Zealand and his wife-to-be Penelope - we were both in love with him. In the Mustang with the wind in our hair, we played Jimmy Buffet and Bob Dylan full blast. Sipping whiskey, tears streaking down our cheeks, we couldn't tell whether they were from laughing or from the sadness of departure.

In 1988 Creeley was admitted to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and went on to receive the Robert Frost Medal. In 1989-90 he was New York State poet laureate, under governor Mario Cuomo, then in 1999 he won the prestigious Bollingen Prize in American poetry, a Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and two Fulbright fellowships.

"Reading his poems, we experience the gnash of arriving through feeling at thought and word," the poet and translator Forrest Gander wrote in a review of Life & Death.

On the day Creeley died, Penelope and two of his eight children were at his side.

Robert Adamson

Robert Adamson had been a friend of Robert Creeley's since they met in Sydney in 1976. Creeley was associate editor for Boxkite, the literary magazine Adamson founded with James Taylor in 1997.

Peter Gizzi, Massachusetts, April 18th. 2005.

... just clicked on the photo of Bob by Gloria G on yr site and found myself tearful all over again. What a wonderful wonderful photo of him. I've been doing nothing but reading his work these past weeks, poems, prose, essays, and interviews. I can really hear him talk in the interviews. All of it staggeringly articulate and necessary. Now of course after all this intense reading I have about 50 questions I wish I could ask him and kind of never considered he wouldn't be around to answer. I miss his "I hear," "okidoke," and "that's useful." We watched the WNET film of him from the mid-sixties last week and were laughing and crying all at once. o well.

Penelope Creeley, Providence, April 20th. 2005.

... spring's coming on, the maples all a haze of lime green and maroon. Saturday is the day. I hope Mt. Auburn is beautiful.

William Corbett, Boston, April 22nd. 2005.

... just getting around to sending you this that I wrote for Boston Phoenix. Tomorrow we bury Bob and afterwards we'll give lunch to all Creeleys and guests. Memorial Reading here at MIT May 7th. Sad days...

Robert Creeley 1926-2005

Poet Robert Creeley died of pneumonia early on the morning of March 30th in Odessa, Texas. Few poets anytime, anywhere meant so much to so many. To me Bob was a poetry-father and dear friend for nearly forty years. A host of poets, artists and readers here in America, in England and elsewhere had a similar relationship with this remarkable artist and man. They mourn his death as I do, but they too will be inspired by his example as I am.

From 1947 when he left Harvard short of graduation until the end of his life, even when he resided in the relative isolation of a New Hampshire farm, Guatemalan coffee finca and the village of Placitas, New Mexico, Creeley lived a crowded life. Crowded with friends (in his early years as a writer the poet Charles Olson first among these), crowded with family – he married three times and leaves eight children – and increasingly crowded with a daunting schedule of readings and other public appearances. In mid-January he gave one of the best readings I ever heard him give, and I must have heard him read thirty times, at the Cue Arts Foundation in New York City. The following night he emceed a memorial evening for the soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy with whom he had collaborated. Bob was in fine form as he introduced the poets, musicians, dancers and artists, the sort of company he loved being part of.

Bob's poetry – he wrote one novel, one book of short stories and numerous reviews and essays but poetry is the soul of his work – descended from Pound and Williams, a lineage he celebrated. Unlike so many poets Bob embraced his teachers and mentors. He did not claim originality for himself, which was in itself original. When For Love appeared in 1960, the same year as Donald Allen's earthquake anthology The New American Poetry, his peers and my generation recognized Creeley as a major force. His stature grew in part because he was endlessly inventive in his collaborations with artists (the list from John Chamberlain to Susan Rothenberg is long and distinguished), read in all sorts of venues, attended the readings of other poets, wrote letters of recommendation, blurbed new books and prefaced reprints of neglected work, directed for twenty-five years the University of Buffalo poetics program but mostly because, whenever you encountered him, by word and deed he made poetry matter.

The same can be said of few American poets. Though not so well known to the greater public as his friend Allen Ginsberg, Bob stood with him and John Ashbery, for all the differences in their poetry, as the best and most generous poets of their generation. Of course, there is no rule that poets have to make company with other poets or nurture the work and careers of the young. It is hard enough to have an art and practice it. Hard too to rise above rivalry. But when a poet does so conduct himself the art gains and those of us who benefit from his attitude, if only to the extent of seeing it in action, are given a practical course in how to go about our business as people and poets. In BobŐs case he leaves not only his work, but also a legacy of care for others and right action.

This makes Bob sound like a paragon. Far from it. He had no airs or pretense about him, no need to have others stroke his ego, which meant that you could know him in all his human lacks. In my experience he never hid behind his celebrity but set it aside to talk with the rawest college student as easily as the most famous artist in the room. When we first met my eighty-year-old grandmother lived with us. Bob talked with her about subjects of her interest that could hardly have mattered to him except that he had an appetite for human experience in the many forms in which it presents itself, a near insatiable appetite that expressed itself in his epical talking. He talked the way John Coltrane soloed, but for all his talking he was a good listener with a great memory.

His poetry deserves much more than The Boston Globe's Mark Feeney gave it in his obituary. Bob may have begun as what is called a "minimalist" but his dry, spare, beautifully paced – he is the diamond cutter of line breaks – early poems evolved into the more full-voiced lyricism of his later work with its unlikely, but characteristic, emphasis on rhyme.

Bob's wife Penelope and their children Will and Hannah were with him at the end for what she has described as his "peaceful" death. Odessa, Texas? When his fatal illness struck he was writer in residence at nearby Marfa, Texas, the home of sculptor Donald Judd's museum complex now administered by the Lannan Foundation. He would have laughed at dying in George W. Bush country. There is a family plot – Bob was born in Arlington, reared in West Acton and Boston was his first city – in Cambridge's Mount Auburn cemetery. If he is buried there I expect his grave to become, like that of his friend Jack Kerouac's in Lowell, and Frank O'Hara's in The Springs, Long Island, a place of pilgrimage.

William Corbett

John Wilkinson, Cambridge, April 23rd. 2005

it occurred to me you might like to see this little piece on Robert Creeley by Steve Fredman, attached -

The Measure of the Man (written April 2nd.)

I don't know how one takes the measure of a man like Robert Creeley. The vividness apparent in his moment-to-moment living, in his emphatic connection to the people and places in whose company he found himself, the delight and astonishment in noticing again and again merely that he was aware: these were all facets of an awe-inspiring capacity for living of which his poetry is the partial but substantial record.

The characteristic pose one found him in was CONVERSATION: the paradox that a person of such exquisite self-consciousness and insistent self-effacement was always out there in dialogue with others. I can't think of another person I've known who so consistently lived his life as a conversation with other people. That's one reason why the genre of the interview seemed as if it were created particularly for Robert Creeley, whose ability to be present during an interview and to use it as an occasion for thinking – rather than for rehearsing stories or ideas that were patŃmade him the consummate interviewee.

He seemed like a man who packed several lives into the space of seventy-nine years. One measure of this would be a mating record of biblical proportions: three wives and three families. Another measure would be the astonishing multitude of his friendships with artists, writers, and former students. An index for gauging the numbers in that multitude would be to line up all of the blurbs, forewords, and testimonials he wrote, of which there must be hundreds.

A year ago I heard Bob give a reading at the University of Chicago. It took place in an old, wood-paneled lecture hall, which was so packed that people were standing in the doorways at the back and peering in through ivy-lined windows at the sides. I was struck by the haunted quality of the reading, by the way in which Bob invoked almost ritualistically the spirits of his poetic cohort in his remarks and even seemed to "channel" them in some of the recent poetry he read. Since he was the only one still alive, he took it as his duty to keep their poetry alive alongside (or even inside) his own. There was an air of desperation, as if he were the only tether holding poets such as Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, Allen Ginsberg, and Denise Levertov onto the earth. Again, what I found remarkable was his primary sense of existing within a conversation, even when all of the other speakers were dead.

His existence within a conversation can also be seen in his many statements on poetics. As soon as he began to speak about poetry, Bob would immediately invoke talismanic passages by other poets (and artists). A Robert Creeley essay tends to take the form of a collage rather than of a personal statement; he returns again and again to particular formulations by writers he loves and keeps them in dialogue with one another, making his own points by locating himself within a particular company. In fact, "company" was one of his favorite words, and its root meaning of sharing bread is appropriate to the sense of mutual nourishment he expected from an artistic cohort.

It will be difficult to measure the extent of his influence as a poet because it is so vast. When as a young poet in the late sixties under the influence of Creeley and his cohort I first read William Carlos Williams, I was initially surprised by how unremarkable the poetry seemed, as though I had already read many times before this kind of lower-cased, conversational poetry attentive to the ordinary and the everyday. Then it dawned on me that the reason I found this poetry unremarkable was that its influence had been so ubiquitous that all of the poets I was reading were materially in its debt. I suspect that a young poet in the present era who turns to the work of Robert Creeley might well have a similar experience – wondering what all of the fuss is about because so many of the innovations and stylistic discoveries he made have been incorporated by subsequent generations.

One thing is certain: Robert Creeley was the master of the line break. No poet has been able to achieve a greater tension through rhythmic, syntactic, and emotional uses of enjambment than he did. That in itself is a poetic legacy of vast proportions, re-energizing the poetic line by placing so much pressure on the breaks between lines.

As Creeley never tired of insisting, the measure within a poetic line is a way of measuring the world and one's participation in it. "Measure" is at the base of human awareness, in the struggle to create terms in which to fathom our experiences. Robert Creeley sought new measures that would accord with the generosity of spirit in which he endeavored to reside. I have been greatly nourished by that generosity and find that his loss makes that generous vision all the more precious.

Stephen Fredman

William Corbett, Boston, April 26th. 2005.

Finally a moment to write a note about Bob's funeral. An overcast Saturday the 23rd. Mount Auburn, America's first garden cemetery where Longfellow. Mary Baker Eddy, Robert Gould Shaw, Bernard Malamud, Nathaniel Bowditch and Oliver Wendell Holmes are buried, was in nearly full bloom, in the gray misty sprays of green, white and pink. The funeral was held in the gray chapel top of the hill just up from the main cemetery entrance. Perhaps 70 in attendance. Pen Creeley removed the cross from the chapel altar then spoke. She was followed by Bob's children Tom, David, Charlotte, Sarah, Hannah, a niece Carolyn, Ammiel Alcalay and, I think that's everyone, I read the poem "When I Think." Had not intended to but it was printed on a keepsake, and it was the poem Bob opened with at the Cue reading in New York City in mid-January. Then Will Creeley's tape of bird sounds interpersed with Bob reading, Coltrane/Monk, Bill Evans, The Grateful Dead and a Bob reading "So There" backed by son Will's dj-ing. About twenty minutes of, I'll bet, Bob thoughts for everyone. When service ended it had started to rain. Walked to Bob's grave, a mound of earth topped by purple flowers next to Creeley family pillar. Then back to 9 Columbus Square where 50 or so ate all the food Beverly had prepared and drank their fill. A few toasts broke the buzz of conversation and company.

All Love,


Nicole Blaisdell, April 30th. 2005.

Robert Creeley and Gus Blaisdell in Albuquerque

Charles Bernstein, New York City, May 29th. 2005

Hero of the Local: Robert Creeley and the Persistence of American Poetry

Pierre Joris, somewhere in Europe, June 4th. 2005

has put a copy of his sleevenotes for Steve Lacy's Futurities album (stemming from Creeley's poetry, and now unavailable) up on his Nomadics blog, dated June 4th. 2005

Thalia Cady, October 11th. 2005

I first saw/heard/experienced Creeley read at UMass in 1970 or 71. Flash forward to 1972. I rescued his book, Words, from my burning car. I had to push aside a fireman to get at it. It emerged all sooty, partially singed, water-damaged. Flash forward again to the U of Iowa Conference on Olson in the mid-late 70's. Creeley is there speaking. I am there listening to Creeley, Duncan, Dorn. I have Words with me. I find the courage to ask Creeley to lunch. I show him the book. He holds it, looking rather amazed and certainly bemused. He opens it, which I had not expected, and begins to read my scrawled personal notes and to ask me about them -- phrases like "Wonderful!" "ahhh!" -- he notes sections I have asterisked, pages I have folded back. He tells me he was angry when he wrote pieces in that book, and could never write what was in it again, but adds that he is glad that he wrote it when he could. Finally he closed the book and ran his hands slowly over the burned edges of the cover. As he handed it to me, he said quietly, "Such should be the happy fate of all books."

I do miss knowing that he is on this earth. The world is poorer now.

Tom Raworth, Cambridge, UK. November 11th.2005

Robert Creeley's grave at Mt.Auburn cemetery, Cambridge, MA.

back to home page