Robert Creeley, who died
yesterday at 78, wrote poetry with a spare minimalism that clarified, condensed and dissolved the
distance between thought and feeling, between the real world and the imagined, between language
and meaning. He was often more explicit than Samuel Beckett and much more approachable, but
no less dense or elusive. Listen to him reading two poems: “Whatever” and
“Thinking.” They show both the difficult and
the easy Creeley. When he spoke of the human condition, he never offered false hope:
THE MIRRORSeeing is believing.
thought or said,
these persistent, inexorable deaths
make faith as such absent,
our humanness a question,
a disgust for what we are.
Whatever the hope,
here it is lost.
Because we coveted our difference,
here is the cost.
In a review of “Life & Death,” a
book of Creeley’s poems published in 1998, Tom Clark described his late poetry this way:
The poems have the sound of a mind with time on its hands and nowhere left
to go. A life passes unhurriedly before one’s eyes — melancholy, oblique, fading in and out like the
late rays of sun slanting through the condo’s slatted blinds, as the poet meditates upon “What one
supposes/ dead is . . . Will one fly away on angel wings,/ rise like a feather, lift/ in the thin
The sound of a mind with time on its hands and nowhere left to go. That’s as fine a
description as I’ve seen.
Postscript: A reader writes: “Robert Creeley was a gentle,
generous and wonderful person. I had the pleasure to hang out with him. He and Pen [Penelope
Highton] were lovely together. I will miss a dear friend. As Bob would say, ‘Onward!'” —
Another writes: “As a young student, some thirty years ago, I came to know Bob Creeley. I
took classes with him at Buffalo, and spent time hanging out at his place on Fargo Street, above a
small grocery store. Bob was a gentle and extremely
generous soul, with steel within. His
poems have literally walked me through life, and I’ll never forget him or stop reading his work. He
is an essential postmodern American.” — Jerry Kelly
Still another: “I was an undergraduate who wrote about Bob Creeley and had the honor of
meeting him subsequently in Buffalo. The thing that impresses me the most about him is the
generosity of the man in arranging my visit even though we only communicated via email prior to
the visit. For a foreigner from Singapore who has an interest in American Lit, this was a better
intro to Americans than any guide book. In these days of anti-Americanism, America can well do
with such ambassadors of goodwill and generosity. Onward (in peace).” — Gerard