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Robert Creeley Remembered

Robert Creeley  1926 - 2005


I Know a Man

As I sd to my
friend, because I am
always talking,--John, I

sd, which was not his
name, the darkness sur-
rounds us, what

can we do against
it, or else, shall we &
why not, buy a goddamn big car,

drive, he sd, for
christ's sake, look
out where yr going.

- Robert Creeley -

Robert Creeley, one of America's most celebrated poets and a leading figure in the literary avant-garde, passed away on Wednesday in Odessa, Texas. He was 78.

His works helped define an emerging counter-tradition to the literary establishment, a postwar poetry originating with Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, and Zukofsky and then expanding through the lifeworks of Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, Allen Ginsberg, Denise Levertov, Edward Dorn, along with other writers, musicians and visual artists.

Creeley worked as a teacher at the legendary Black Mountain College in North Carolina and was the editor of the Black Mountain Review for two years. Upon moving to San Francisco in 1957, he acted as a link between the Black Mountain poets and the Beats, many of whom he had published in the review.

To Learn More About Robert Creeley, Click Here .

Photographer and Poet, Jeremy Hogan, sends in a heartfelt "Thank You"

for Robert Creeley

Two years ago, I hadn’t heard of you, when some Irishman standing in a parking lot on a hot summer suburban mid western night mentioned your name. He spoke of your poetry with such reverence. Then I read that you loved the Irish way of story telling. But, as with so many of America’s best creative minds, you may have been appreciated even more by those looking at America as outsiders.

Yes, it was an Irishman who told me about you. I wish I could say it was my high school English teacher but it wasn’t. The emotions expressed in your poems about life or the struggles and the visions of the bard in all of us aren’t taught in classes at Harvard or easily expressed…can a privileged son or daughter or the American elite really speak from experience or what it is really like to live as a commoner in this land…this land where more and more of us working people live, often subsisting on Wal Mart or McDonald’s wages while their jobs are sent overseas…I am sure there are a few working class kids that do get into Harvard…and hopefully, they are men…the Crimson president still says women are not equal…so I am sure he does not realize the potential of the working class poet either. Fortunately, there are some Harvard professors that disagree with him so perhaps there is hope that once day we will live up to the founding documents of this nation…but don’t ask my family. None of them went to college – they were busy being sharecroppers and migrant farm workers during their youth. Wanting to be a photographer, I found my way through college - thankfully in my early youth I didn't have any common sense. And like in your writing, it is also my childhood I so often return to in my own writing.

So, this Irishman, being working class, a Union electrician actually, was telling me about his own old man in such a way that only poets tell. He described with such vigor and compassion that his working class old man was hard. Once some youth were disrespecting his old man, taunting him, they thought he wouldn’t kick their asses. And he did. He came our of his Irish flat and kicked their asses himself. They weren’t laughing then.

However, I generally don't agree with violence unless in self defense – and by this I mean someone doing something to me first in such a way my self defense is an act of self-preservation – and only then it should be a last resort and not taken lightly and then perhaps avoided altogether – however, were I to punch every perceived enemy preemptively I’d not only be extremely paranoid and dangerous, I’d be in jail…but there is certain poetry to respect and to dignity of the poor for this is usually all they own. Which certainly, is not something easily understood by many people fortunate enough to have a Harvard education – and even with my own state college education sometimes I have to remind myself where I came from so as not to forget. The muse gives her gifts freely without regard to money, or power or influence…just ask any son of the great who has tried to live up to the fruits of his creators only to find himself screaming, swallowed by the shadow.

If our kings, though most are not philosophers as Plato had wished, understood this, then when they became governors, CEOs and presidents they would seek to abolish inequity knowing that equality is really what the consumer wants and needs – otherwise why would they buy that big house when we really need so little to be happy. I think you understood that the notions of Plato needed to be destroyed since they no longer work – you helped to create a new form of expression and the beat poetry movement. I know your poems weren’t overtly political – but what is more political than the hearts and minds of America’s greatest poets. We know how language shifts and changes through time, so how do we really understand philosophy except through the expression of our own time and place in this space time continuum we call life.

With no disrespect intended for the rich, and yes some of them have earned it (just look how W has aged lately, and listen to Powell trying to protect his good name today in regards to the apparent non-existence of WMDs – as if we didn’t know all this time). I cannot wish bad on any one, because believing in equality and the interconnected nature of the universe it is to wish it upon myself. So, I’ll deny any notions of wanting class warfare, I prefer peace and dialog - which our own self-proclaimed kings don’t seem to understand very well (I say self-proclaimed - because far too many of the poorest among us do not see the point voting anymore when only the rich can afford such idealistic notions as Freedom and Democracy – which cannot exist when a multitude still are symbolically enslaved - what else can one call trying to live on minimum wage).

So, someone from Harvard, or Yale or perhaps University of Chicago where some neo-cons were educated - may have a fancy vocabulary, expensive clothes, a nice car…but they may never be the poet you were and still are because your words will live as long as humans remember them – and this is why books of poetry of old are usually filled with the poems of dead, rich, white men. Who owns the presses…surely not the poor, the forgotten or the oppressed? But, I read your poems are in a Norton Anthology – so as hopeless as things seem - there is hope.

Anyway, people forget the past so easily and I can’t imagine living through all of what you did, losing an eye, your father at 5, during the heart of the Great Depression (my grandfather when around 5 age lost his own father during the depression as well – and they lived on a farm – which I hear you did for awhile as well). And you lived though Hitler, WWII, the invention of the A Bomb, the 60s, civil rights, desegregation, assassinations and Nam and the 70s, the 80s and the 90s the worst attack on our nation and the new war on terror in this new millennium with its rollback of our constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties and now this war in Iraq that may go on until who knows when. Yet, in your poetry, it was your childhood you came back to so often…so I suppose you had your education long before you saw fit to drop out of Harvard.

So long Robert Creeley and I thank not some state school board approved anthology, not my high school teacher for helping me discover your poetry - I am sure she would have liked to have seen me off to Harvard as well: but I thank a working class Irishman for letting me know about you – you did love the Irish story tellers so well. You are one of our best voices of the American experience which is often an interior dialog when so much around us is unreal, manufactured and untrue in these current times. And lastly, I thank you, first of all for taking time to remember and share those things that make us who we are, the intellect and the breath or your muses and more for all your poems about the inner beauty of the emotional landscape conveyed with such economy of expression.

March 30, 2005

Jeremy Hogan

To learn more about Jeremy Hogan, Click Here.




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