Robert Creeley

"Robert Creeley: A Symposium on his Poetry
& his Place in American Letters"

Eavan Boland, Michael Davidson, John Felstiner,
Kenneth Fields, Albert Gelpi, Robert Grenier,
Joanne Kyger, Michael McClure, William McPheron,
Michael Palmer, and Marjorie Perloff

The Bender Room in the Green Library, Stanford University

Saturday, November 5, 2005, 1:00 pm-5:00 pm

Edited by Peter Y. Chou

Preface: When I saw flyers at the Green Library on "Robert Creeley: A Symposium on his Poetry & his Place in American Letters" on Saturday, November 5, 2005, 1-5 pm at the Bender Room in the Green Library, I was eager to attend. I recall my poetry mentor Dick Maxwell would always read a Creeley poem to his Foothill College poetry workshop class, admiring his language syntax, how he played with words and rhythm to make a poem alive. His Holiness the Dalai Lama was also speaking on campus at Stanford's Memorial Auditorium— "Dalai Lama and Neuroscientists: Building Bridge Between Buddhism & Western Medicine" (10 am-5 pm). I took notes of the morning session on radio KZSU 90.1 FM, and when they had a lunch break, I got the Stanford Shopping Express Bus at noon to the campus. I arrived at Green Library at 12:55 pm just in time for the Creeley Symposium. Knowing my interest in Buddhism & neurology research, my friends advised me to listen to the entire Dalai Lama session instead of attending the Creeley Symposium. But my respect for Creeley's poetry is just as high as the insights of Zen Masters and sages, so I choose Creeley instead. I got a seat in the third row behind the first two rows of reserved seats. I took 26 pages of notes and typed them up to share with all those who appreciate Robert Creeley's work and those who love poetry.

Albert Gelpi: It's a pleasure to have Penelope Creeley and Sarah Creeley with us today.
Bill McPheron has put together some of Robert Creeley's books in the Bender Room for us to view
during the intermission and afterwards. We'll also be hearing a CD recording of Creeley's
poetry reading— his poems #1 through #0 at the end of this symposium.

Eavan Boland: Thanks to Al. I'm delighted to be a part of this conference to honor
Robert Creeley in this beautiful room of the Green Library. Al Gelpi has been a champion
of the arts. I was lucky enough to know Creeley just a little when we were together for
three days judging the Rebecca Johnson Prize. I 1960, I cared only for the poem itself,
not for sign boards. In the creative writing program, there is plenty of disagreement on
the direct historical language of the poem. There is a second point of disagreement—
even if we can't be part of the poem, we can be part of the conversation. For Robert Creeley,
nothing was ever finished or bland. He took in all of poetry with all that grace. It is
the conversation of poetry he honored. So today, we honor the poet Robert Creeley.
In our first panel, we have three old friends of Creeley: Joanne Kyger, Michael McClure,
and Robert Grenier. They'll tell us about their experience with Robert Creeley.

Robert Grenier: We're not old, middle-aged (laughter).

Eavan Boland: Bob Grenier got me to read Creeley's poems. He is now doing
drawing poems. His Sentences has poems of one word lines. Other works include
Oakland, A Day at the Beach, and What I Believe. He is the editor of Larry Eigner.
Joanne Kyger is a poet in residence in Bolinas. Her works include Poems: 1958-1980,
Just Space, Again: 1980-2000, and Collection As Ever.
Michael McClure is a playwright and poet in the Bay Area.
His works include Jaguar Skies, Josephine the Mouse Singer, Ghost Tantras,
Rain Mirror, Plum Stones, and I Like Your Eyes, Liberty (with Terry Riley)

Albert Gelpi: Since Bob's death, we've seen how his body of work is interrelated to
so many other poets such as the Black Mountain poets, the Beat poets, William Carlos Williams,
Ezra Pound, and Louis Zukovsky. Creeley says "I'm a New Englander from Massachusetts."
His mother came from Maine. He lived in Acton, Massachusetts, near Walden Pond. He identified
himself as a Puritan, who has a curious split between the personal life and that which they
called Mind as an expansion of consciousness. Ed Dorn would say "the loss of something—
integrity and the world". Creeley, Thoreau, and Dickinson were all New Englanders by writing
New Englandly. In his Autobiography, Creeley wrote about John Bunyan, that language
is a vehicle of self-consciousness. If we examine our thoughts, feelings, self-doubting,
and self-agonizing, then there is too much sentimentalism in our writings. Creeley's
first collection of poetry For Love was a need to break out of self-examination.
It was a spiritual communion (Creeley doesn't use this word)— keeping company.
It was Creeley's language for connection, reality of company, for love, regards for
circumstance. In his "Dream for a Common Language", he refers to Martin Luther King's
prophetic vision of the promised land, a wish for bonding for a common life—
"a common need, a common person, a common".

1:55 pm— Robert Grenier:
The Commons is the place to go, a flock of people.
I want to outline some Creeley stories. There was a Louis Zukofsky Conference
at Columbia University [Sept. 17-19, 2004]. When Creeley met Zukofsky, he gave Creeley soup to drink,
a coat to wear, and change for the New York subway. Don't forget about Zukofsky's poems.
Peter ? read "Vowel to Vowel". In celebrating Creeley today, let's not forget his poems.
Creeley's "Backward"
Hi Penn, glad to hear from you
Thanks or those two poems.
1973޵— Connecting to Backwards
becoming present
echoing remembered
time— what happened
to her.
Book page— Robert Creeley writing 4-page book.
Gertrude Stein's definition of genius—
talking & listening at the same time.

1:55 pm— Joanne Kyger:

2:05 pm— Michael McClure:

I have xeroxed some Creeley poems that are not widely known for the attendees here—
"Caves" by Robert Creeley: "Thanks to Clayton Eshleman and the Ringling School of Art,
Penelope and I had chance this past June to go along on the tour of the caves in Dordogne.
I spoke of the parallels of "knowing," of what the imagination has seemingly as function
and directive— and how that might be felt to correspond with what our predecessors left us
as presence. It was altogether a fascinating time— the "outside" so hauntingly lovely in the
freshness of early summer, and the "inside," with its womblike enclosures, so humanly familiar.
In any case, this sequence is fact of the experience, written then and there, a very personal testament.

Caves 1

So much of my childhood seems
to have been spent in rooms—
at least in memory, the shades

pulled down to make it darker, the
shaft of sunlight at the window's edge.
I could hear the bees then gathering

outside in the lilacs, the birds chirping
as the sun, still high, began to drop.
It was summer, in heaven of small town,

hayfields adjacent, creak and croak
of timbers, of house, of trees, dogs,
elders talking, the lone car turning some

distant corner on Elm Street
way off across the broad lawn.
We dug caves or else found them,

down the field in the woods. We had
shacks we built after battering
at trees, to get branches, made tepee-

like enclosures, leafy, dense and in-
substantial. Memory is the cave
one finally lives in, crawls on

hands and knees to get into.
If Mother says, don't draw
on the book pages, don't color

that small person in the picture, then
you don't unless compulsion, distraction
dictate and you're floating off

on wings of fancy, of persistent seeing
of what's been seen here too, right here,
on this abstracting page. Can I use the green,

when you're done? What's that supposed to be,
says someone. All the kids crowd closer
in what had been an empty room

where one was trying at least
to take a nap, stay quiet, to think
of nothing but oneself.

I sent this poem to Penelope when Creeley died:

Mariposa Tulip
    for Penelope Creeley

Touch my hand...
You're a daemonic
from you I learned
perfect energy
for you alas
none will ever heal.

2:20 pm— Q & A:

Symposium Break

2:55 pm— John Felstiner:

3:00 pm— Marjorie Perloff:

I'm the only non-poet here. I'm going to read Creeley's "The Rain"

The Rain

All night the sound had
come back again,
and again falls
this quite, persistent rain.

What am I to myself
that must be remembered,
insisted upon
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
final uneasiness.

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.
Be wet
with a decent happiness.

No one could write that last line except Creeley.
We have pathethic fallacy in this poem.
It reminds us of William Carlos Williams' "life giving rain"

Williams invokes rain in two of his poems: "The Great Figure":

"Among the rain / and lights / I saw the figure 5 / in gold /
on a red / fire truck / moving / tense / unheeded / to gong clangs
siren howls / and wheels rumbling / through the dark city

and in "The Red Wheelbarrow":

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

But Creeley isn't like Williams.
Rain is not just bad weather, but life-giving.
All night long— quite persistent rain,
again and again. Rain is quiet and persistent (insistent)
There is a nagging feeling in the 1st stanza.
The 2nd stanza is abstract— Is it—
and the stanza breaks off.
The 3rd stanza— the hardness of rain falling
hardened (the poet's uneasiness).
In the 5th stanza, a woman's pleading—
he wants her to be the rain,
to get him out of the tiredness.
In the 6th stanza— she has to be decent.
We got a decent crowd here today (good enough)

3:08 pm— Kenneth Field:

3:20 pm— Michael Palmer:

3:40 pm— Michael Davidson:

The Pattern

As soon as
I speak, I
speaks. It

wants to
be free but
impassive lies

in the direction
of its
words. Let

x equals x, x
equals x. I

speak to
hear myself
speak? I

had not thought
that some-
thing had such

undone. It
was an idea
of mine.

Robert Creeley, 1967

3:45 pm— Q & A:

4:15 pm— Penelope Creeley:

4:30 pm— Albert Gelpi:
Adrienne Rich wanted to be here today,
    but couldn't. She sent this poem:

AS EVER    for R.C

As ever, death.   Whenever, where.   But it's
the drawn-together life we're finally
muted by.   Must stand, regard as whole
what was still partial   still
under revision.   So it felt, so we thought.
Then to hear sweep
the scythe on grass
still witherless and sweet

— Adrienne Rich

4:55 pm— CD Recording of Robert Creeley Reading:


Looking to the sea, it is a line
of unbroken mountains.

It is the sky.
It is the ground. There
we live it, on it.

It is a mist
now tangent to another
quiet. Here the leaves
come, there
is the rock in evidence

or evidence.
What I come to do
is partial, partially kept.


If you never do anything for anyone else
you are spared the tragedy of human relation-

ships. If quietly and like another time
there is the passage of an unexpected thing:

to look at it is more
than it was. God knows

nothing is competent nothing is
all there is. The unsure

egotist is not
good for himself.

I was briefly in Boston reading at MIT, talking about the movement of a poem.
One of the students wondered if he could read the poem "Words" himself.
He read it in a scientific manner. He took my lines as a system grid—
the effect was a lovely instance on what I was writing, a vindication
of my writing— rhythm, whistle a tune, tapping fingers.
Poetry permits it. No sense what's it going to be.
When I'm going to say it, what I can say as I'm writing it.


I have come far enough
from where I was not before
to have seen the things
looking in at me from through the open door

and have walked tonight
by myself
to see the moonlight
and see it as trees

and shapes more fearful
because I feared
what I did not know
but have wanted to know.

My face is my own, I thought.
But you have seen it
turn into a thousand years.
I watched you cry.

I could not touch you.
I wanted very much to
touch you
but could not.

If it is dark
when this is given to you,
have care for its content
when the moon shines.

My face is my own.
My hands are my own.
My mouth is my own
but I am not.

Moon, moon,
whn you leave me alone
all the darkness is
an utter blackness,

a pit of fear,
a stench,
hands unreasonable
never to touch.

But I love you.
Do you love me.
What to say
when you see me.


Yesterday I wanted to
speak of it, that sense above
the others to me
important because all

that I know derives
from what it teaches me.
Today, what is it that
is finally so helpless,

different, despairs of its own
statement, wants to
turn away, endlessly
to turn away.

If the moon did not...
no, if you did not
I wouldn't either, but
what would I not

do, what prevention, what
thing so quickly stopped.
That is love yesterday
or tomorrow, not

now. Can I eat
what you give me. I
have not earned it. Must
I think of everything

as earned. Now love also
becomes a reward so
remote from me I have
only made it with my mind.

Here is tedium,
despair, a painful
sense of isolation and
whimsical if pompous

self-regard. But that image
is only of the mind's
vague structure, vague to me
because it is my own.

Love, what do I think
to say. I cannot say it.
What have you become to ask,
what have I made you into,

companion, good company,
crossed legs with skirt, or
soft body under
the bones of the bed.

Nothing says anything
but that which it wishes
would come true, fears
what else might happen in

some other place, some
other time not this one.
A voice in my place, an
echo of that only in yours.

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
mint left to

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


Obituaries & Memorials on Robert Creeley:
Louisa Solano to be Honored at the Somerville News Writers Festival
[She continued, mentioning Robert Creeley, a long-time friend of the store,
"When Robert Creeley died, I felt that my relationship to poetry had died as well."
She folded her arms and paused. "I still canąt believe it."]
(By Amy E. Brais, The Somerville News, October 14, 2005)
Poet's legacy lives on in West Acton Award continues as memorial to Robert Creeley:
(By Donna Novak, Boston Globe, May 1, 2005)
In Appreciation: Poet's lyric brilliance, generosity of spirit touched friends, fans
[Though he would have been 79 in May, Bob was never an "old man."
He had more energy than 10 young people combined.]
(By Michael Gizzi, The Providence Journal, R.I., April 7, 2005)
Obituary: Poet Creeley Dies at 78
[Grolier Book Shop's Bookmark has a Creeley quote:
"Poetry is our final human language and resource."]
(By Andrew R. Moore, Harvard Crimson, April 5, 2005)
Obituary: Robert Creeley: Black Mountain poet fired by an elemental energy
[From Jackson Pollock, he learned that "one is in the activity"; the work
of art a "manifest directly of the energy inherent in the materials".]
(By Michael Hrebeniak, The Guardian, UK, April 5, 2005)
Obituary: Robert Creeley
[Black Mountain poet whose voice addressed the reader
in the uncompromising accents of felt experience]
(Times Online, UK, April 1, 2005)
Obituary: Poet Robert Creeley, 78, dies
["His method is more like a jazz improvisation than a classical music
composition. He invents as he goes along," said Charles Bernstein.]
(By Elaine Woo, Los Angeles Times, April 1, 2005)
Obituary: Robert Creeley, 78; Postmodern Poet, Professor
["I believe in a poetry determined by the language of which it is made,"
Mr. Creeley wrote in 1960. "I look to words, and nothing else,
for my own redemption... I mean the words as opposed to content."]
(By Joe Holley, Washington Post, April 1, 2005)
New York Times Obituaries (March 31, 2005)
Obituary: Robert White Creeley, a Prominent Poet, Is Dead at 78
[Robert White Creeley, a longtime university professor in Buffalo regarded
as one of the great American poets of the last half-century, died Wednesday.]
(ASSOCIATED PRESS, NY Times, March 31, 2005)
Obituary: Robert Creeley, 78, poet, leader of literary avant-garde
[Creeley cites the influence on his writing of Abstract Expressionist
painting and such jazz musicians as Charlie Parker and Miles Davis.
Jazz taught him that "you can write directly from that which you feel."]
(By Mark Feeney, Boston Globe, March 31, 2005)
Obituary: Robert White Creeley, Widely Regarded Poet; Died March 30, 2005
["The real sense of him is just incredibly human. He's my ideal of a poet,"
said Diane Christian, a longtime UB English professor and close friend.]
(By Stephen Watson, The Buffalo News, March 31, 2005)
Remembrances: Audio: Poet Robert Creeley Dies
[Massachusetts-born poet Robert Creeley died Wednesday in Odessa, Texas.]
(By Michele Norris, NPR, March 30, 2005)
In Memoriam: Robert Creeley (May 21, 1926 ‹ March 30, 2005)
[John Ashbery, Adrienne Rich, C.D. Wright, Marjorie Perloff, Anne Waldman, et. al.]
(Conjunctions: The Web Forum of Innovative Writing)
About Robert Creeley (1926-2005)
[Massachusetts-born poet Robert Creeley died Wednesday in Odessa, Texas.]
(By Stan Persky, Berlin, Dooney's Cafe, April 5, 2005)

Interviews with Robert Creeley:
A Talk With Robert Creeley
[For me personally, the tonal and rhythmic elements of poetry are crucial.]
(Poets Q & A,, circa 2004)
A Talk With Robert Creeley
[I think poetry like music is probably its own reward— like dancing, like life itself.]
(By Jenni Russell, MiPoesias Magazine, Vol. 18, Sept. 2004)
Interviews with Robert Creeley
[Williams puts it best in Paterson: "Because it's there to be written..."]
(By J. M. Spalding, The The Cortland Review, April 1998)
An Interview with Robert Creeley: In Conversation
[I like Wittgenstein, "the I is what is deeply mysterious"]
(By Bruce Comens, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. 15.3, Fall 1995)
Robert Creeley in Conversation with Alan Riach
[I loved Coleridge. I really thought he was glorious.
And Hart Crane I love. I also love Hardy. I love Lawrence.]
(By Alan Riach, University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand, July 26, 1995)

Poems by Robert Creeley:
For Kenneth
(Tribute to Koch issue: Jacket 15, December 2001)
When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer...
(In Memory of Allen Ginsberg, Nov. 24, 2003)
(For Love: Poems 1950-1960, Scribner, 1962)
Water Music
(Words, Scribner, 1967)
(Windows, New Directions, 1990)
The Mirror
(Life & Death, New Directions, 1998)
The Way
(If I Were Writing This, New Directions, 2003)
(for Mark Peters, DRC, March 2000)
(Date ?)

Web Sites on Robert Creeley:
Robert Creeley Author Home Page
(Obituaries & Memorials, Poems, Collaborations, Writings, Interviews,
Video & Sound, About the Author, Bio/List of Publications & Papers, Linebreak)
Academy of American Poets: Robert Creeley
(Biography, Selected Bibliography, Related Prose, Black Mountain Poets, External Links)
Modern American Poetry: Robert Creeley
(Creeley's Life & Career, On Charles Olson, Online Poems, External Links)
Keele University: Robert Creeley
("Old Story", Selected Poems, Robert Creeley on the Sentence, Bibliography)
The Beat Generation: Robert Creeley
(Creeley at the Electronic Poetry Center, Creeley Elsewhere, Everything After)
Robert Creeley Sound Recordings
(PENNsound: SFSU 1956, NY Poetry Center 1966, Goddard College 1973, Waldoboro Maine 2000)
American Dream
(By Robert Creeley & Robert Indiana, The 2River View, Summer 1998)
Beat Museum: Robert Creeley
(Writings, Interviews, Sound Files, Books, About the Author)
Poetry Previews: The Poetry of Robert Creeley
(By Mickie Kennedy— Genres: Experimental, Period: 1950s to the present, Lines, Quote)
Readings in Contemporary Poetry: Robert Creeley
(Dia Art Foundation— Three Poems: Still Life Or, I Know a Man, The Language)

Robert Creeley
(Classroom Issues & Strategies By Thomas R. Whitaker)
Robert White Creeley: State Poet, 1989-1991
(New York State Writers Institute: Biography, Short Bibliography, Poems)
Robert Creeley Papers at Stanford University
(William McPheron, Curator)
Collected Poems of Robert Creeley: 1945-1975
(Paperback at
"Caves" by Robert Creeley
(The 2005 Phi Beta Kappa Poem at Harvard University)
Creeley's Eye and the Fiction of Self
(By Charles Bernstein, Review of Contemporary Fiction XV:3 (1995). Reprinted Bridge Magazine)
Caves by Robert Creeley (Michael McClure site)
(Francesco Clemente's Painting of Robert Creeley, "Caves 1"-"Caves 6")

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© Peter Y. Chou,
P.O. Box 390707, Mountain View, CA 94039
email: peter(at) (11-5-2005)