This appeared, generously, in the amazing MALPAIS REVIEW [Vol. 5 No. 3 Winter 2014-15] edited by Gary Brower in Placitas, New Mexico. I thank Mr. Brower for permission to reprint this. LG
In the back of the house I shared with 3 other guys on Central Avenue was a little house apartment where Roz Stein lived. Short, ample, a New York Jewish woman with glasses, a smoker and as quick as a whip. She mentioned “that leaky-eyed poet.” Who’s that? “Robert Creeley.” Now that was in ’57 or 8 when I was living across the street from Okies’ Bar and in graduate school at the University of New Mexico. I’d discovered I was something of a poet when at USC it became apparent I wasn’t that good in music, certainly not at the piano and at composing. But I could write bad poems about music.
Later on I went to Mr. Creeley’s reading in Old Town at the Old Town Adobe Theater to see who he was. Of course I had no idea what to expect. Yes, he did occasionally take a red bandana out of his rear pocket and dab the eye socket. But more obvious was his reading straight on only to one person in the room, a woman with long dark hair, who looked steadfastly at him as he to her. No one else in the room seemed to matter. Even the drunk, obviously a friend of Creeley’s, who often would shout out “Yeah yeah yeah!” or laugh loudly, was ignored.
I was drafted into the Army, and they sent me to Camp Irwin in the Mojave Desert, outside of Barstow which is where I spent my Army years,’59 through ’61. Soon as I got out, I got back into trying to finish my master’s. I had been floundering around interested in Dylan Thomas and more academic types of poetry. I got a job teaching at what was then called the Academy for Boys, same place (as I found out later) Mr. Creeley had taught. Now it’s the Albuquerque Academy. Then I moved to Placitas in ’63. I think the Creeleys arrived here the same year I did.
So at age 27 I was in “English 121: Contemporary Idiom,” a small poetry class with Bill Dodd, Hank Chapin, an officer’s wife, and a few others listening to Robert Creeley and frequent recordings thanks to his Wollensak recorder, and looking at all kinds of dittoed samples of writing by, for example, Alexander Trocchi, William Eastlake, Jack Kerouac, John Hawkes, William Burroughs, William Blake, Alfred North Whitehead, Gertrude Stein, William Bartram, Wyndham Lewis, Herman Melville, John Rechy, and D.H. Lawrence. But the “text book” was Ezra Pound’s The ABC of Reading. And of course there was the newsworthy presence of the 1960 anthology, New American Poetry 1945-1960, edited by Donald Allen.
Bob’s interviews with poet friends were really the venue of our discussions and since he had a radio program, “The Single Voice,” on the Albuquerque classical station KUNM-FM, some of his interviews were aired. I remember (and often copied the tapes) Robert Duncan, Louis Zukofsky, Michael McClure, Allen Ginsberg, Edward Dorn, and of course Charles Olson, plus interviews of Ezra Pound he had. When Jonathan Williams of Jargon Press & Ronald Johnson came through Placitas on their way to Roswell to see one of the press benefactors, Donald Anderson, they carried with them and I copied, a wonderful Basel Bunting tape.
Bob introduced me to Ann Quin, the innovative British novelist, who was in New Mexico for her Harkness Grant at the D. H. Lawrence Ranch outside of Taos. “Isn’t she wonderful?” Creeley said to me. Ann and I grew to be great friends and we palled around since her frequent trips often brought her back to Placitas and I could find her a place to stay. We danced together wherever and whenever we could, often in the Thunderbird Bar in Placitas. It is one of the closest friendships I’ve ever had, thanks to Bob Creeley.
Denise Levertov was one of the visitors at the Creeley house, the house across from the Presbyterian Church, one of three they lived in at different times here. Bobbie’s home movies, available for viewing at Pennsound, show another house with an old-fashioned but concrete lined swimming pool, which is now demolished and forbidden in this longstanding drought. Movies show John Chamberlain and others swimming, this was about 1964. The final house, farther east in the village, was enjoyed the longest. There I saw Gary Snyder, Max Finstein, Chamberlain, and photographer Walter Chappell, Robert Duncan and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and I heard of visits by Lenore Kandel, and many more poets and artists. I remember sometimes looking out our window and seeing the Creeleys walking down the road with composers Morton Sobotnik and Joan La Barbara or . . . Stan Brakhage or . . . it seemed endless. I expressed my take on those years that we were neighbors (tho at first I was up at the General’s place just West of the old village) in this poem that was published in Here On Earth.
The House That Makes It So
for the Creeleys
I drove by the old Creeley house
. . because I wanted to write a poem.
There was the piano-shaped bedroom
. . Bobbie had Von Shutze build.
The floors of adobe with sheep’s blood sealer
. . that kept crumbling in the old house,
The step-down new studio with that volcanic Jemez view
. . where we sat & picked the energy of language apart
and I could put my life in art back together
. . to go on in this isolated New Mexico way
where the others all seem taller, and I
. . sit & improvise only sometimes to connect.
Their talking out the window of VW rebuilt engines
. . or collaborations with Rauschenberg or Altoon,
The patio of corn & rhubarb & music to enchiladas
. . Almaden white wine as
Back to the kitchen, the slow night weaved on
. . and alternative worlds to where I was born
Played over the cassette player or hi-fi out to space
. . and Max, or John, I never saw, or
Stan & Jane & Ed & Tuli & Jonathan & Ronald & Ann & George
. . & on & on came through (I forgot Allen & Lawrence),
To meet like Gertrude Stein’s patio in their adobe hacienda
. . where children pulled apart & adults prospered
and friends analyzed until the dawn trailed off
. . the always fresh love of poetry that was life, life blood.
If apprenticeship is anything, or hand to hand, a better poem
. . commands itself to be written in the house that makes it so.
The “American Idiom” course I took with Bob turned my life around. I was mired in the Welsh overabundance of Dylan Thomas and the brilliant redactions of the great Irish playwright and poet W. B. Yeats. He placed intense attention on everyone he talked to, and certainly students, evident in his helpful comments here on one of my transitional poems. It is his comments, his “perhaps,” his question mark I’m interested in, very helpful as impetus to write new poems.
“It’s curious to see just where the ‘energy’ becomes most clear – and where it then tends to lapse a little,” he writes at the top of my dittoed poem. “Perhaps begin here?” he writes 5 lines down the poem, and pointing to an unnecessary adjective, “cut? It keeps it moving perhaps more flatly – and in fact picks up then an interesting rhythm.” 8 lines up from the end of the writing he puts a dash line, “perhaps end here.” What happened to me (and no doubt many others listening to Creeley) was a breakthrough his hand to hand help opened up, a useful direction by way of Williams-Olson-Creeley-now. Simply realizing, hearing and expressing my voice.
In the Creeley house there was a lot of white wine and marijuana around the kitchen table. I basically didn’t partake much in the conversation the times I was there. I think I’ve always been a kind of outsider. Besides, there was a hulluva lot that was flying over my head and my entrenched locality was no help. Of course I was wild at heart but primarily a poet listener to eventually become a poet performer. One night Ed Sanders, Tuli Kupferberg and the Fugs were wandering in and out of the house, and Bob was playing his tape of Frank Zappa’s “Suzy Creamcheese.”
Creeley and I had many conversations, a lot of which I don’t remember, because I was drunk. I remember so well him looking at me and me nodding my head as though I understood every word. What the hell is he saying? But the ground shifting had occurred in my late-blooming life. Bobbie [Creeley] and I got to be pretty close. At one point she told me she was writing poems but did not want to disclose that to Bob!
My worst experiences were in the years I was writing in a vacuum thinking Dylan Thomas was my teacher when in reality I had no teacher. Somehow all I knew of the Beats was the drivel in Life Magazine and the enthusiasm the librarian at New Mexico Military Institute had for them in my first year of teaching, 1958. But then later I met Robert Creeley who gave me a hand and pulled me out of the morass of closed poetry. Listening to his recordings of poets reading and meeting some of them and hearing them taught me to hear my own voice in the open forms William Carlos Williams presented us Americans. As I’ve said before (in the Holsapple/Tritica interview with me), many of us have benefitted, all over the world, “because of all the things he’s had to say about the poetry of others, his generosity in opening his home to people, to help other poets, suggesting things to do, places to publish; writing helpful notes for people’s books.” As he did for my book Firecracker Soup. Who else would say, “Put bluntly, Larry Goodell has been the only alternative to the Atomic Energy Commission for years and years now, and this book is a veritable blast.”
Right after that class came the 1963 Vancouver Poetry Conference. I drove up there in my ’47 green Chevy coupe mostly because Creeley wrote to me in February of 1963, “I really think it will be an exceptional group of people to have in one place at one time. Olson alone would be worth your coming, but Denise Levertov, Duncan, and Allen Ginsberg as well really make it something – and Margaret Avison, a Canadian, is also a shy intelligent woman. Anyhow I do hope it all works out so that you can come up.” So I went and Phil Whalen was there also and truly, and I met Drum and Diana Hadley and so many others. I was overwhelmed. It was good that I managed to become friends with Ron Bayes and Fred Franklyn and got to know Phil Whalen. When I came back home I was fired up, thinking of Robert Duncan’s talking about Garcia Lorca’s lecture on the duende, to start a little magazine, each issue of duende devoted to one person’s work, and I did and became part of the mimeo revolution of the 60’s.
More poets continued to be here to study with Creeley or just were here: David Franks for one, who lived in Placitas and whose book Touch I published. There were vicissitudes with the Creeleys and their house. William (Latif) Harris and Sandy Harris lived in it for a time. Others included Karla Tonella and the wonderful poet and friend Judy Grahn. In one case (residents unnamed) I became the mediator between the Creeleys in Buffalo and their tenants here. And the activities of the Thunderbird Bar took on great meaning for me not only for a watering place, meeting place, place of the best of local and well-known bands, but also as a place to do poetry with Kell Robertson, Holly Wilson, and others. Steve Rodefer was often around, Bill Pearlman, Charlie Vermont, Joe Bottone, Lora Linsley, with visitors like Fielding Dawson and Gary Snyder.
The Creeley’s visits to Albuquerque later become somewhat more formal, having to do with new books (bookstore readings, gallery readings, University of New Mexico lectures). And at a certain point it was Bob and Penelope Creeley and after their wonderful stay, perhaps the last one, the house was sold.
Charles Bernstein calls Creeley a “Hero of the Local.” Here are some pieces by local friends to Bob Creeley to round out my narrative here. I drove Ann Quin, the British novelist, Bill Dodd and Neil Nelson, students of Creeley’s, out to the Berkeley Poetry Conference in 1965. Neil Nelson, originally from Massachusetts, had met and studied with Creeley and wrote this poem about meeting him.
IN AN INSTANT
What The Poet Sd
so without shame,
belly up to the bar
when we met &
I sd “Give me a
He sd, “Boston?”
sd. “No shit”, he
sd, “sit down”, &
like they say,
“in an instant”
could have been
what The Poet sd.
Neil Nelson (in Neil’s words)
How could I, age twenty-three, ever hope of going back to school, to a University? And Creeley replied, “You’re better read than most,” meaning the students in the English department at UNM. “You’re more mature, and New Mexico will recognize your GED (Massachusetts hadn’t), and you’re eligible for the GI Bill, it will take care of tuition.” So, he answered my objection. But, of more importance to me, much more, was his, “If they give you any trouble have them call me.” They didn’t. I applied, was accepted, and enrolled (on the GI), met my wife (of 35 years), graduated, and like our 24 year old daughter today says, ‘get a life,’ I did.
Latif Harris, San Francisco
When I went to New Mexico to study with Bob in 1965 after meeting him at the iconic Berkeley Poetry Conference, it was the beginning of a wonderful experience for me. I remember many nights sitting in the Creeley’s kitchen with other poets, painters and musicians who were part of a endless line of visitors from 1965-68. One night when Robert Duncan was visiting, I mentioned remembering him saying that “the genius is in the language not the poet” which he did not remember saying or writing. But it sparked off a wheel of conversation that worked in and around the idea mentioning many other poets. So many visitors came including Ed Sanders, Lenore Kandell, RJ Kitaj, Ed Dorn to mention a few I remember.
When the Creeley’s went off to Buffalo they rented their wonderful adobe home to me for a year and that same kitchen table was briefly left to me and my wife Sandra and that tradition continued with visitors like Gary Snyder, Robert Bly, Robert Sward, Larry Goodell, Ann Quin and many others during our brief caretaking year. Bob did so many kind things for me over the years, including obtaining a Fellowship for me at the University of Essex in England.
I was drawn to his work when his book For Love was published. In 1964, I reviewed it and his novel Island for the underground paper Open City edited by John Bryan in Los Angeles while I was attending City College of Los Angeles.
I returned to Placitas briefly in the summer of 1968 with my second wife Camille and spent time with the Creeley’s before leaving for London. Larry Goodell is the singularity of the Placitas poetry scene and his kindness to innumerable artists and writers for more than a half-century makes him a National Treasure in my mind. His personal ethic and dedication to the arts is unmatched. He was close to the Creeley’s in the years they lived in Placitas, and after they moved on to other places.
(Larry this is just a brief and partial memory of those wonderful years when the world was in an upheaval and cultural revolutions were following on the heels of the Beat Generation.)
. . .
I still have my original edition of Olson’s Maximus Poems by Jargon/Corinth, 1st edition, filled with notes and a drawing I did of Creeley during the time he taught the course on Olson . . . kind of fascinating — I did my paper on Olson’s use of vowels in the Maximus poem with the line “I found myself eating what they handed me.”
Namaste, Latif Harris, San Francisco
Margaret Randall, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Robert Creeley was a mentor and friend. I’ll never forget his inviting me to read in Placitas sometime around 1964. I was living in Mexico at the time and going through a bit of a hard emotional time. I can’t even remember why. All I know is I mentioned this to Bob in a letter (yes, we wrote letters back then!) and he immediately invited me up. It was just the break I needed. Much later, during the years of my immigration case in the 1980s, were in again in touch. Bob was teaching in Buffalo then, and invited me to one of his classes to talk about poetry and politics. Politics? Most poets didn’t care much about politics back then. Creeley did. He cared about life and poets and social issues and how they all came together. He is missed.
Bobby Byrd, El Paso
“In the sixties, I was a young man at the University of Arizona BCW (Before ‘Creative Writing’), experimenting with the making of poems. Creeley and a host of his peers came through to read, thanks to the largesse of the Ruth Stephan Poetry Center and its board of teachers and writers who were plugged into the Allen anthology. We heard folks like Creeley, Robert Duncan, and Gary Snyder, among others. And Creeley became my hero. His poems were intense personal revelations that seemed so accessible at first reading, but the closer I got to them, the more mysterious and deep they became.
His poems—and this is still what I find so extraordinary about Creeley and his generation—reflected exactly the poet who was writing them. Form was the constant subtext, his poems seemed to say, the place where a true revolution was being waged. The ‘new American poem’ was an organic mechanism, a reflection of the poet in constant flux, but more like staring into a creek or a lake than staring into a static mirror. The ‘New American Poets’ gave my generation this gift, and they had received it likewise from Williams and Pound, who had received it from Whitman. Etcetera.
Creeley was a handsome and charismatic guy in a disheveled and very personal sort of way. At an early age, he had been blinded in one eye; he wore a patch over the bad eye, which made him even more attractive. He loved fervent conversation—especially about poetry—took young poets seriously, and easily invited us into his circle. He would sit down, elbows on the arms of the chair, hands clasped. Then he would lean forward and peer at us with that one eye as he answered our questions about how a poem is made. He would talk about content becoming form and form becoming content, about using a typewriter or a pencil, about legal-sized pads of yellow paper as opposed to notebooks, about all these many things. And he would tell us stories about Kerouac, Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Charles Olson, and William Carlos Williams. Not gossiping stories, but stories with an intent to reveal something about poetry and living life like a poet with eyes and ears wide open. His stories became parables in our hearts. It was a paradise. I wanted so much to be a poet.
Creeley and his poems were addictive. If you read too much Creeley, which I of course did, then you started writing like him with short perfect lines, simple nouns and verbs, short little ditties that were oblique and tantalizing with innuendo. Opening up any poetry magazine of the time you could find young poets scattered across the United States who had been snorting and smoking too much Creeley. But if you were serious about your craft, and you understood his ideas about form, then you would go find other poets and sources that led you back home to yourself. It was exhilarating. As the years passed I’d bump into him in various places. We’d talk like old friends and compare notes, we’d drink wine and laugh, and he’d tell me stories about poets and poems, peering at me through that one mysterious eye. The cadences of his conversation were the same cadences of his poetry. I was always scuttling back to his poems, more sure of myself, reading them, and being amazed. And I would always be reminded of the sense of a community of poets that Creeley had passed along to us. I still feel that way when I hear and read poems I like, and when I write poems, or an essay like this one. It’s a sense of participating in community—that together we are feeding the luminous beast which is poetry. Ezra Pound said poets and artists are the antennae of their race, and Creeley loved to remind his listeners of that statement, wondering aloud what it meant.
(This is from Bobby Byrd’s piece on Creeley on the Texas Observer’s Obit Page http://www.texasobserver.org/1944-the-obit-page/.)
Charlie Vermont, New York poet who lived in Placitas and is now an M.D. in Arkansas, in an email sent to me.
Larry, Here’s how it happened. Vietnam War, impending draft. Senior thesis with Alfred Dupont Chandler on Labor Unions during WW II. Despair at what was happening in the country and personally. Had no plans. While working on a paper on Lolita where the multiple layers of irony and entendre never end . . . coupled with a magic carpet ride substance . . . found quite by accident Elie Wiesel’s concentration camp memoir “Night” and also quite by accident within a short period of time For Love by Robert Creeley . . . which spoke to me. Then also by accident looking for an escape . . . graduate school I picked up the catalogue for the U. of New Mexico . . . which was modest and slim in those days and the physical description of the Sandias rising to 10,000 feet just to east . . . grabbed my attention . . . then I saw Creeley was on the faculty . . . The rest of course you were there for, but when I rented the house in Placitas I didn’t know that Creeley lived across the street. At the time, the place was rented by Judy Grahn and her lover Carla Tonella. Also at the time I had no idea what homosexuality was either . . . see, an innocent time . . . new . . . Then there was Anne (Vermont) and I never had a real poetic or creative thought without her . . . but it took a life to know that for sure . . .
When I met Bob and Bobbie Creeley as well as yourself . . . .Wilson, Blaisdell, Robertson, Rodefer, Katona, Pearlman . . . it was a whole world that offered solution as Joyce posed the problem “history is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” We see now that history is still a nightmare for many and America, parts of it, still remains as Lincoln said “mankind’s last best hope.” Creeley and Dorn had vision that man could love and live ontologically free and we were able to for awhile in Placitas. Certainly there were excesses . . . remember Ulysses S. Grant . . . Don Wasky . . . riding around on a white horse giving out Peyote buttons and then later killing people . . . probably Shorty (Gibbs) . . . Or the man, who I hope had a reasonable life who after taking acid put a hunting knife into the frontal lobe of his brain . . . Then there were all the creative moments. The Thunderbird Bar really was where the cowboys and hippies met and that turned ultimately into the Austin music scene . . . by some route . . . Creeley and Dorn were formed in part in Placitas . . . as the rest of us. I will always think of it as a place of vision. The subdivisions now wouldn’t get in my way . . . and in the back of my brain . . . I think someone introduced me to Bill Gates and Paul Allen (the Microsoft people) but it’s a dim memory. There’s an Eric Clapton song . . . . great guitar riffs . . . Steve Winwood also . . . the phrase was at the time “I have finally found a way to live in the presence of the Lord” If you had the recording you would know in what sense I mean it as the coming together we were part of in Placitas . . . and the spiritual (non-specific) knowledge we took with us.
There’s a nice poem in my Selected Poems (United Artists, 1980) about Bob and Bobbie, their living in Placitas (little places) or Bolinas (whales). It was in Big Sky and the book tucked away deep my closet . . . so my other identity remains in the closet . . . however with internet . . . San Francisco poem . . . Graffitti Poem . . . “All is known, Flee.”
Larry Goodell, A Memento Concerning Kell Robertson
At General Hertford’s place where I caretook just outside Placitas up against the mountain, Kell was singing, talking, talking about singing and Bobbie Creeley, a singer herself, a Texan by birth, was really taken by it out on that rock promontory overlooking the Jemez, the Nacimiento, the River Grande, while inside, Bob Creeley looked at me with steely eye, assessing the entire party scene meticulously, as his dislike for Kell filled the room.
A Personal Memento, the Big Room, Creeley House
In the big flagstone living room with the magnificent view out to the volcanic mesas and the Jemez Mountains there was so much talk, John Altoon collaborations, Rauschenberg collaborations with Creeley, James Laughlin, Jonathan Williams, John Calder, publisher stories including Scribners, as well as local issues – rebuilding the VW engine, dislike of Ralph Roller (local realtor selling land to hippies), the Thunderbird Bar – there came a lull in the conversation, a dangerous lull and Bobbie said after a long pause, “Say something, Larry!” Who knows what I spat out. But that was a danger in all the constant talking, analyzing, observing, one-upmanship (mostly friendly), references to poets & publishers, that there might come an embarrassing stop, a silence. Neither Mel Buffington nor I could help much with that.
Mildred Tolbert, Judson Crews’ Former Wife, on Robert Creeley and Judson Crews. Crews (1917-2010) was a well known Taos poet of his day, a bookseller and a small press publisher. He was a friend of Henry Miller and published prolifically in small press publications.
As I understand it from my Ranchos neighbors, Flossie and Manuel Ocanas, the latter a jazz saxophonist originally from Chihuahua, Creeley came up here with Buddy Berlin, an Albuquerque friend, before we knew him. They spent a winter in a little adobe house, lived on pinto beans and smoked marihuana. They have fond memories of Creeley.
Later he came to see Judson, whose work he had seen in little magazines. He came to New Mexico from Majorca after leaving his first wife and two sons. Apparently his wife had wanted him to be more of a conventional husband and expressed this by throwing his typewriter out a 3rd story window. Ha had married her in his last year at Harvard, and dropped out. When we first knew him he seemed adrift . . . (Looking back on his life it seems that a close relationship with a woman was very important to him and a source of many poems.) At that period in Taos he drank and when he did he often got belligerent with authority figures such as cops and bouncers.
It is hard to recall the exact periods he spent in Taos. He stayed with us a number of different times, as we had a big house and he was an easy guest. He and Judson discussed poetry and publishing. Creeley published Judson’s poems in Black Mountain Review, the last issue of which was edited here with a cover by the artist Edward Corbett who lived in the apartment attached to our house.
After Bob left, he brought and sent poets to visit us. Max Finstein, an old friend from Boston, stayed on, eventually becoming a leader of the hippie commune, New Buffalo. Before Max’s hippie days he brought and married Rena Oppenheimer, former wife of the poet Joel Oppenheimer and their two sons. One evening he brought Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky, whom we found delightful. Denise Levertov’s husband, Mitchell Goodman came. Jonathan Williams, a publisher from Chapel Hill, visited a number of times. In the period following WWII, artists and writers were moving about a lot and many stopped at our old adobe house on Valerio Road where there was always a welcome.
Understandably, Creeley, with his sweet ways, had no trouble attracting women. He went off to San Francisco for a while and returned with Martha Rexroth and her two daughters. They stayed at our place. But the relationship was short-lived as Kenneth Rexroth gave her an ultimatum: Bob or the children. Judson published Creeley’s group of poems to Martha in The Naked Ear, one of his little magazines. Creeley returned to San Francisco and came back with a beautiful statuesque woman with a black baby. Sometime later on he married Bobbie Louise Hawkins in Albuquerque and brought her and her two daughters, Leslie and Kirsten, to Taos for a summer, where they stayed in our apartment. When they visited us later I photographed the family with their by then four daughters.
I have never known anyone with a greater capacity for friendship than Bob Creeley. He had a very wide circle of friends all over the country—jazz musicians, painters, writers, and spoke lovingly of each of them.
In 1968 when we were living in Wharton, Texas where Judson was teaching in the junior college, we drove to Austin to attend a poetry reading by Creeley, Borges and another poet whose name I can’t recall, at the University of Texas. There was a very large audience and before the reading he must have spotted us, for he came out and embraced each of us, and invited us to the party following the reading. I was very touched by this gesture. He rode with us to the party. I recall little about it, held at a professor’s house, except being introduced to Robert Duncan, who seemed quite aloof.
After Judson and I separated and he stayed in Albuquerque, he saw Creeley from time to time and housesat for him and his family in Placitas. He was very impressed with Penelope, Bob’s last wife.
Carole’s clearest recollection of Bob was when he told her about losing his eye when he was a small child sitting on his mother’s lap in the car and a lump of coal flew in through the window. Others now say this isn’t quite the way it happened, but such is memory. She also remembers a long conversation they had during a gathering when she was perhaps 4 or 5 and feeling he was her favorite grown up person besides her parents and Wendell Anderson. He never patronized or talked down to children, but gave them his full attention.
Bob Creeley enriched our lives and we miss him, even though many years have passed since we’ve seen him. Judson’s letters from Bob are at the Humanities Research Center at Austin.
Mildred Tolbert (sent to me by Carole Crews).
Dale Harris, Albuquerque
Years ago in Portland, Oregon, I made a little chapbook of some poems. I worked at Powell’s Books where I had begun reading Ezra Pound and Charles Olson in the large poetry section there, and I began too to read widely in the great small press section that store had gathered over the years. It was there I started reading Creeley’s Collected Poems, and so, with no community of poets, or one that then was growing slowly, I sent my chapbook with an admiring letter to Creeley’s address at the University of Buffalo. I passed out a few other copies to the handful of people with whom I had conversation in those days. Later that year I would move to San Francisco, attending the New College of California, and a new life awaited me there. But in Portland, trying to piece together a future life of poetry was complex and murky, to say the least. It was based on instinct and hope, not certainties nor expectations. And it was with some surprise I received weeks later an oversized post card from Robert Creeley, typed in full with encouragement and insights to my work. It was enough to see me through 10 years of hard work, an encouraging sympathy I’ll never forget. In other ways since then, he has remained a figure of absolute power to my growing imagination of the craft and life of poetry. And so to hear of his passing in Odessa, Texas, this morning stops me cold. What’s left but the work now, and to honor it. Our own and his. “Onward,” as he would say.
Gus Blaisdell (1935-2003), long standing friend and owner of the Living Batch Bookstore, Albuquerque
I am so glad he is talking all the time, talking back the surrounding darkness, putting in the candles where they need to be, forgiving and lightening my own once cyclopean dark with his friendship and his poetry.
This is from “For Robert Creeley on his 70th Birthday,” in the Gus Blaisdell Collected, UNM Press, 2012.
Bill Pearlman and Bill Dodd (a dialogue right after Creeley’s death)
Bill Pearlman (1943-2016) lived in San Miguel, Mexico and edited the “Rough Road Review” from which came these excerpts. Bill Dodd (born in 1941) died in 2009.
Bill Dodd Pearl(man), before I talk about my first meeting with Bob (Creeley), which was in Albuquerque, around 1961 . . . I was an émigré from the Texas Panhandle . . . where, left to our own devices, by 15 I could distinguish between good and bad whiskey, but certainly not between good and bad poetry . . . . At any rate, I left there for Albuquerque, 1959, knowing nothing else, running purely on the energies of youth, and by the fall of 1961, registered blind for a course in creative writing; and entered to find a tall, thin man in a worn corduroy suit, handsome, fine featured, and sporting a van dyke—with a curiously missing eye. There were no formal introductions. He just began talking about contemporary poetry—his poetry and that of his friends—as if we were all familiar with it. Of course, none of us had the idiom; but I think almost everyone there thought, as well, we soon would. It was his enormous energy and presence that dominated—but not self-consciously. We were perhaps naifs, at best, and Bob Creeley was already comfortable in his own skin and apparently conversant with the universe; meanwhile, I was a refugee from Badwater, clueless except I sensed he had some information I badly wanted.
There was also Bob’s unspoken conviction that not only we students but anyone of mental competence would be interested in the writing exploits of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, and also those of Jack Spicer and Joel Oppenheimer, to name a few. He noted that (Charles) Olson was a master. This was the first man I had ever met, or, at least, the first to whom I ever paid any attention who wasn’t possessed by either God or money. Or both. He was the man as artist.
Here, truly, was something other than the rather despicable life I’d accustomed myself to, surviving in West Texas. Today, such events are called “viable alternatives.” Then, we had no such name for the phenomenon; I called it a godsend. Soon, for me, he connected as well with the “moderns.” And there were the facts surrounding his life to that point.
During WWII, he had driven an ambulance in Burma; there was his Harvard beginnings; the sojourns in Majorca and Central America. He brought his friends in to read and lecture…Robert Duncan, Denise Levertov (?)…it was pretty heady stuff, for me. He was definitely another kind of cat, and one I respected.
I’d like to ask you, Pearl, you come to this encounter with Bob from an altogether different environ: L.A. What turned you on to what he was doing? And what, to your mind, was he doing?
Bill Pearlman Well, my first contact with Creeley came when Peter Marin, who was introduced to me by Jack Hirschman, suggested I take a look at For Love, which Peter thought representative of the best poetry after WC Williams, and in WCW’s tradition. So I got a look at that book and liked it. So from the early 60s, there was Hirschman, Williams, Creeley as strong influences. And then when I moved to Placitas, NM in 1967, Bob and Bobbie were there and we got acquainted some, and then I took two classes with Bob in 68-69 at University of New Mexico . . . Yes, Bob’s seriousness about poetry was real, and conversations with him and others from his generation (including Dorn and Ginsberg) opened up something powerful for me. We read through Olson in the first class I took, and I remember doing a paper on Philip Whalen. What Bob seemed to be up to as a poet was refining the short lyric, in a tradition that took in for me Emily Dickinson, Williams, Zukofsky. And Creeley was hip, to boot, and liked his wine, and spoke in that sometimes amazing style all his own, with weird recurring phrases, ‘like they say,’ ‘not heavily,’ and exact and heartfelt, and though dominating conversation, he still listened to the other. There was a different kind of intensity in Bob than I encountered in Hirschman, who was also a great force in those years. Jack had finished his Ph.D. at Indiana and was on a tenure track at UCLA before Vietnam overwhelmed his ability to hang in. Bob was less credentialed than Jack, (M.A. from UNM which is what I in fact ended doing), but Bob got on a tenure track at SUNY Buffalo and later got a Chair in Poetry, and stayed the course. But Creeley manifested, as you Bill have pointed out, some kind of devoted sense that poetry mattered and was worth doing and hearing. And I think he brought home perhaps from Williams, the idea of improvisation on themes that appeared readily in his world.
I’d like us to look at particular poems as this dialogue advances . . . Which poems, in that light, first struck you as breaking ground that you found valuable, Bill (Dodd)? Because you encountered him about 1960, when For Love I think first appeared; what did those curious love poems do for your own quest and sensibility?
Bill Dodd Well, the most famous short poem of his, “I Know A Man,” comes immediately to mind . . . but I read that book, For Love, really as if it was one long poem. The voice there is so harmonic and attuned, and it is seeking to accurately reflect the mind of the man writing . . . so even the irrational, or perhaps, the irrational particularly intervenes in the music, like, very modern music, and he was, you know, a friend of Cage, who was, I believe, at Black Mountain when Creeley was there, so there is necessarily [that] stoney (Northeasterly, the Cape, the rock beaches) isolate sound that occurs and is arrhythmical by nature—against the measured beat of poetry up until then that often practically drowns one in its omniscient repetitions and beat. Unfortunately, like much of the Rap and Hip-Hop of today, so governed, as it is, by the Beat, insistence cadences (meter), and hard end-rhyme stops. I think Creeley really wanted to stay away from that beat. But wanted, also, something honest, as a guide to phrasing, or phrase, in its place. “Breath” was his answer. As the best measure of a man might be his physiology, my words, so perhaps Bob, although I never heard him say this exactly, took the best measure for a line as a single breath. No one who every heard Creeley didn’t hear this. . .
He was meticulous. Anyone who ever talked to him at length could see that clearly. A lot of thought went into those little short poems, but, of course, by the same token, was never allowed to touch them. The quandary—although I’m fairly convinced he never lost sleep over the issue—was that “popular” poets, of his, or anyone’s day, always got a great deal of mileage out of those old poetic devices. The public, as it were, loved it. Bob could never have brought himself to write a “poetic” line. John Cage couldn’t compose a “Rhapsody In Blue,” for many of the same reasons. That was not what they heard.
I went, at some point, away from Bob Creeley. And am now, probably, even more so. Mine is a social concern. Maybe like one physicist concentrating on quarks and other subatomical particles and one concerned with the biomechanics of global warming, I don’t know. I doubt one could get much leaner than what is in much of Creeley’s work (though some have tried).
Bill Pearlman You know, Bob wrote a blurb for my last book, so we had a communication over some years, and he thought I was concerned with possibilities, as least as far as that was his reading of what I do. I like what you say about breath, and the meticulous element . . . Sending you a last note from Creeley. Thought also Id take a poem and see what it says at this removed . . .
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 insistent—
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.
Something strange but true in it. Something his own, his own associations, his own trip, as we used to say . . . Surprising too, his mind at work, on the rain, the poem, the love . . . uneasiness he’s locked in, the self-consciousness explored; and then the release, the statement, directly to her (Bobbie?), as source of release from those elementals so vague in some ways—semi-lust of intentional indifference? As if chastising himself for a depersonalized realm, that is such a part of fucking? But there, somehow, lying next to him, and wet /with a decent happiness. So weirdly New England, somehow, but hip as well, placed in time, good timing, perhaps of use to them as a couple? One hopes that the case, otherwise an exercise in very intense self scrutiny, but it’s that as well. An improvisation on a natural event paralleling another course of nature, that redeeming wetness of the lover . . . It somehow talks to me in a strong way, and I have pieces similar, I think. . . .
Email Letter from Robert Creeley to Bill Pearlman
March, 2005, shortly before his death March 30th
Reading your generous note, for a moment seeing “Semana Santa,” I thought is it Xmas already? Ah, well . . . . Years ago in Barcelona, we thought the Familia Sagrada was some local folks named Sagrada, and likewise getting a tape of Pablo Casals playing at the “Casa Blanca,” we thought that was the same place as the Bogart movie, etc etc. Anyhow where there’s la vida, there’s la esperanza—and so far, so good. With luck we are now in Marfa till May 1st, then back to Providence—if health gets worse, we’ll go back early but fingers are crossed. That space and that bowl of mountains is terrific. Onward!
Best as ever,
Bill Dodd . . . Poetry, as I think Bob might agree, is first—and last—the arena of the felt and sensed . . . and only afterwards, anything else. Of course, much of that cannot help but infuse someone’s verse . . . “Form is the extension of content,” was his koan. And OPEN composition, or “composition by field,” was a familiar refrain from Bob. This went directly back to Pound’s CANTOS, and, more indirectly, to Walt Whitman. These, together with the breath measure, were the theoretical pillars of Robert Creeley’s poetry. And though his sensibilities may well have been as “neurasthenically” frayed by this century of war as any English poet dying in a WWI trench, he managed, one way and another, to put together a body of lean and wry work with more than its share of memorable moments and more than its share of permanent markings. His presence, for many of us, in the SW was a testament to the well-springs of democracy. He was a friend, mentor, teacher, and poet of repute; a singular man . . . and a very, very rare one.
Let’s let Bob have the last word.
Now I recognize
it was always me
like a camera
set to expose
itself to a picture
or a pipe
through which the water
or a chicken
dead for dinner
or a plan
inside the head
of a dead man.
Nothing so wrong
when one considered
how it all began.
It was Zukofsky’s
“Born very young into a world
already very old…”
The century was well along
when I came in
and now that it’s ending,
I realize it won’t
But couldn’t it all have been
a little nicer,
as my mother’d say. Did it
have to kill everything in sight,
did right always have to be so wrong?
I know this body is impatient.
I know I constitute only a meager voice and mind.
Yet I loved, I love.
I want no sentimentality.
I want no more than home.
The University reading performances such as Allen Ginsberg in the Anthropology Hall packed to the ceiling with people and Lenore Kandel with Gregory Corso at her side engaging the full audience at Popejoy Hall, these events and many others energized young poets and the public. Robert Creeley teaching at UNM was a magnet for poets as was his home in Placitas visited constantly by major poets crossing the country. Bookstores – the Yale Street Grasshopper run by Phil Mayne which turned into the Living Batch Bookstore, and John Randall’s Salt of the Earth & the women’s bookstore Full Circle – featured almost endless readings & gatherings. Presently in Albuquerque and other cities in New Mexico there are numerous readings – Slam and Post-Slam in every public place possible, open and featured poet readings and there is a burst of publication – poetry books, anthologies and magazines. Poetry in New Mexico is alive and well and the years the Robert Creeley and family and friends were here are a powerful part of the entire scene and always will be.
Four Poems for Robert Creeley
by Larry Goodell.
The first I wrote in 1964 when Bob rolled his bus.
the VW bus over the road into the arroyo you in it sitting on the divan a bandage around your head when I came by "I turned the bus over last night" I was shocked and meager with thumbs in standing she came in with the pants you wore torn all down the side asking about the size cuts on your left side a distant neighbor happened by took you in to the hospital "You should've left him there" that doctor said mundane books back and forth mss. and this — mother-in-law bending over a chair in the household wrecked fidgeting what only S A V E D
on your way in to town to get
where we can be together
get up and go
under my arm
had to go back in leave them with you
Larry Goodell / 29Dec64 / for Bob
Honest, Oh Boy
for Bob Creeley
Again it is hitting the words free
Out of the block of imploded misuse
Mr. Singer You, time to see you again
When there isn’t any time 2000 miles apart,
To hear, the architecture of your presence
Is an old friend and a glimpse of when
We were around the kitchen table far into the night.
When they were out to get some fresh air
And there was the moon out there and the light
Over the table stark high energy that in there
Was you, I was just a seed boy at heart
Unrealized I would devote my life to plants
And performance of the slings of words at
My heart, literally, through your guidelines honest.
Larry Goodell (1987-88) An Affection for Creeley
Jarring to the depths of domesticity
where the futile angst is free
as the voice goes upward
connecting the male universe
to the female
you wrenched the English free
by playing it out
American as a high
till the shout, muted
was hard to hear
I always sat close to you
heard you looking at me
nearer to me than to you,
now separated by
a large space
I come back in my mind now
my youth was saved
/for Bob Creeley 1926-2005
Between the heart & soul is the caring voice
that stumbles down the page, harkening.
Magnetizing spirit, no waste
The awk- in awkward
in beauty of vertical dance
extension in the form of
My heart, your hand
more than usual, eye
on me, on everything.
Everything is beauty in the arms of
count your name to
the holy dozen.
Who stole my
rabbit in a hat?
you gave it back.
Is that not love
Love for love?
Is that not you there
That insistent tone is
until you happen
to tell your story
of the particular.
Graces bend ears
Larry Goodell / 31Mar05
Credit due to Gary Brower for his MALPAIS REVIEW which originally published this commemoration for Bob Creeley. lg