Contemporary Poetry Review

As Reviewed By:
James Rother

Robert Creeley's For Love: Poems 1950-1960 (1962): A Retrospective Review

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Click here to recive news and leave comments for CPR.     Question: What is as compact as a die, as self-enveloping as a tongue, and as transparently mysterious as a rune? Answer One: A stanza from a poem by Robert Creeley. Answer Two: Nothing known, the only near-contender being a quark.
     And, in a sense no less fidgety for this kind of analogical limbo, the Coleridge stanza, which the Creeley stanza may be said to resemble the way a certain Dodge truck resembles a male sheep or an instrument of war used for battering. In other words, a three-headed homonym guarding a hell of mismatched incarnations, in which identity is but an index to a silo of dissimilarities capable at any moment of going ballistic. What then does the tensegrity structure of the Creeley stanza, that mini-dome of many-colored words, portend for future American verse? Is it a high-tech minting device from which other poetic coinages can be struck, or is it a unique evolutionary detour destined to prove as traditional and nowhere-bound as the Dickinson stanza?
     Getting the goods on Robert Creeley, the least spiffy American poet since Edgar Guest, has proved as easy as putting socks on an octopus. (If T. S. Eliot and the international brigade of modernists were the most allusive poets, Creeley and the postmodernists straining to catch up with him are by far the most elusive). He has been gracing the scene as a word-sorcerer for close to half a century now, his first book of poems (significantly titled Le Fou) having been published by the Golden Goose Press of Columbus, Ohio in 1952. Since then, he has continued his world travels (begun with an American Field Service posting to Burma during World War II) spending at least twelve months in France, Spain, Guatemala and Canada—and that only takes us, and him, to 1964, the year of his Guggenheim Fellowship to New Mexico, an interlude which immediately preceded his appointment to the faculty of the State University of New York at Buffalo, where he taught on and off for an age that would do any coon proud. His peregrinations may have broadened his outlook, loosened his Harvard ties and usefully harrowed some of his private hells, but they did nothing to uncrimp his vise-lock on language, both private and conjugal, whose grip he has managed to maintain unstintingly through more than 15 volumes of verse. For Love: Poems 1950-1960 (1962) gathers between covers three groups of poems, two of which had appeared earlier under the titles The Whip and A Form of Women. They introduced poetry audiences to a style that was both original and engagingly astigmatic, and to a voice whose tones were as hard to keep in focus as its constantly eliding pretexts for speaking.
     That steadily maintained grip on language, whether adamantine, as some believe, or more subtly Eve-like, as others claim, has divided the critics into two distinct and even hostile camps: those that think Creeley the natural child of Emily Dickinson, and others that sneer, as John Simon did, that "There are two things to be said for Creeley's poems: they are short; they are not short enough." The second group, though surfing a wave of contempt for poetry that fails to match Auden's in facility and Frost's in glacial dispositiveness, are really blaming Creeley for the youthful, almost rock star-like following he acquired in the 1960's. Robert Hass made that point in an essay about him (later reprinted in his award-winning book Twentieth Century Pleasures [1984]), and wondered aloud in print how Creeley got so famous. Hass recalled a statement made by the SUNY Buffalo sociologist Edgar Z. Friedenburg during a "massive seminar on popular culture" held on that campus in 1969 that encapsulated for him just what it was that set Creeley apart from the garden variety Ivy Leaguers of that embattled time. Friedenburg had responded to a graduate student's long and boring paper on "the parallels between Bob Dylan's career and the growth of political theory on the New Left" with a remark that was cutting, witty, disparaging and demolishing all at once. "I have been reflecting this afternoon," he said, "that we are patient beings, and that, though popular culture deserves our most urgent attention, it requires from us a good deal less credence and more clearwater." This prompted another graduate student to stand up and poke Friedenburg in the eye, not in the urbane and elegantly assaulting style of the American academic elite, but in the blown-seam language of "everything the American middle class had repressed." "Friedenburg," he spat, "it took twenty fucking years of repressive fucking education for you to learn to talk like that." Out of this flashback from the salad days of grass Hass plucks the following pot-pourri:

No wonder Creeley packed the halls. His audiences were extraordinarily sensitive to language and they did not distrust it, but they distrusted deeply the assumption of it...In the assumption of language, people get on airplanes at Kennedy, have good or bad flights, are reminded of various things such a passage might symbolize, land at Heathrow, take a black cab into London, and arrive at a little hotel just off Somethingorother Square, the whole experience thick with names and an inherence of literary and historical associations, all welded together by the grammatical assurance of the experiencing subject. That is not what this poem renders; it is just not that comforted or comforting. It renders, below these twentieth century pleasures, what the mind must, slowly, in love and fear, perform to locate itself again, previous to any other discourse.

Hass is referring to a poem Creeley read on the same occasion, on flying and being flown on a wisp of pointlessness, only to resume resuming:

One more day gone,
done, found in
the form of days.

It began, it
ended—was
forward, backward,

slow, fast, a
sun shone, clouds,
high in the air I was

for awhile with others,
then came down
on the ground again.

No moon. A room in
a hotel—to begin
again.

     With "The erotics of language: the stunned, lovely, slow insistence on accuracy that the mind is, in language," Hass subtotals his rationale for the Creeley celebrity. The experience of language experiencing itself as it becomes structure for the experiencing self beyond all patterning of prior woe is what that bedevilled, bedazzled, beguiled and bedamned Sixties youth of SUNY Buffalo heard in that Creeley poem cited in Twentieth Century Pleasures. It's what now, much later, much further into temporizing and its inevitable redactions, they still hear in what in a lesser poet would seem mere hoary recountings of a hairier, best forgotten time.
     But to be immersed in undiluted Creeley for any time at all is to wonder whether the feats pulled off by the poet whose footprints in a poem are nowhere and his fingerprints everywhere suggest tightrope walking without a net or snake-charming without a snake. Certainly, poems like "For a Friend" are of the sort that can make enemies pretty quickly:

Who remembers him also, he thinks
(but to himself and as himself).

Himself alone is dominant
in a world of no one else.

Like almost all of Creeley's immaturative musings, this one lacks anything identifiable as imagery and seems devoid of rhythmic patterning other than that sort which establishes itself as significative only in retrospect, like tea leaves. Not only that, but its vertebrate articulation of meaning is somehow broken-backed or spinally challenged: either what the poem is saying makes sense despite sounding "wrong," or makes the wrong kind of sense by being incapable of sounding "right."
     Now, wrongness can be felt when there is nothing missing and things can be missing with nothing appearing to be wrong, but here there is something very clearly wrong as well as something missing; and we are brought up short because the poet, whether through inadvertence or intentional default, seems unable, with his bobbled aperçu, to have gone either long or on long enough. A once-over of the poem's syntax turns up a relative clause flaunting an unearned independence (and a dangling parenthesis), followed by an aphoristic shell similarly foreshortened by an absent but implied nominal phrase, such as "He who thinks" or "he who thinks himself into thinking to himself or as himself," the exclusion of which forces the reader's eye back to the preceding doublet whose parsing of reflexive pronomials strews incertitudes inside what had earlier seemed a safe haven for equivocalities. Who does the relative pronoun given in the first line refer to? And further, who else is contained in that "also," whose supererogatory otherness confers an adverbial half-life on the doublet's assertiveness, already destabilized by semantic and grammatical relativity? The "friend" alluded to in the title (and no doubt the poem's ideal reader) could probably cut through the informalities of its four lines to the heart of what seems so mindbendingly opaque to its actual reader left to dangle beyond its hermeneutical circle's outer rim. But that may be just the point Creeley is at pains to convey; and perhaps indirection and obliquity are his only viable options, given that "For a Friend" is a structure of words which, because it is overheard, must be "overread" and not a configural pronouncement designed to be read (or heard) in the conventional way.
     Overreading is a process that can only be taught at the expense of having to unlearn much that has been second nature since elementary school. It allows us to hear language as an unmediated vocalics rather than a channeling device by means of which ego scriptor is automatically converted into a scripturally dominating—and domineering—ego never not instructing, adverting, animadverting in every line of text. The way a good deal of so-called postmodern poetry is written causes much of what was in earlier verse totted up to lyricism, the grain of the impassioned voice, to pass over into a somewhat disembodied awareness on the part of the poem's reader how it is configured as an organ of sound and sense. As Creeley himself put it in a 1965 interview,

The organization of poetry has moved to a further articulation in which the rhythmic and sound structure now become not only evident but a primary coherence in the total organization of what's being experienced. . . . [Words] are returned to an almost primal circumstance, by a technique that makes use of feedback, that is, a repetitive relocation of phrasing where words are returned to an almost objective state of presence so that they speak rather than someone speaking through them.

In effect, overreading permits us to infer a voicescape redolent of flesh and blood from an X-ray that renders the poem's core of integrals and intermodulants as a map or projection of pure speech. A Creeley poem doesn't speak its content out to us; it is itself speech reaching out to us as a content in its own right. Overread in this way, "For a Friend" emerges as an observation confided to someone who is more than an acquaintance—a friend—but less than an intimate, not quite a lover, and the poem is in a root sense about the difference in sinuosities appropriate to the language that would distinguish fruitfully between the two. The italicization of Himself speaks eloquently of those lonely discernments entombed within emotive emphases that point like an extended index finger at effigies of absence such as that pronoun metonymizes. Similarly, the "world of no one else" can boast of singularity only because it contains no alternative presence capable of intruding upon its nugatory plenitude. It states with an exactitude somewhat encumbered by paradox the fullness of not within a vacuum where dominance is maintained solely as a function of self uncontested by other selves.
     Even the gratuitous gifts of orthography and usage can prove circumstantial in a poem by altering cases unavailable to meaning without them. The italicizing of Himself is of the poet's own determination but its capitalizing is not. Coming as it does at the beginning of an utterance (if not strictly speaking a sentence), it is preceded by a silent period whose invisibility is underwritten by convention guaranteeing every initiating written statement the enlivening endowment of in medias res. The poet cannot control such devices (unless he substitutes others of his own making, like e. e. cummings), but with perseverance he can learn to maximize opportunities that "lucking into" them opens up. Who is up to imagining even a fraction of the uses to which parenthesis can be put? Or spacing? The Black Mountain College environment of the mid-'50s, presided over by Creeley's friend and mentor Charles Olson (with significant input by Robert Duncan and others), pioneered experiments in what might well be called archetypography, a stylistics combining "open field" composition with overreading grounded in (Duncanesque) mythopoetic overwriting. For the untrammeled author of Bending the Bow the poetic act was synonymous with reading "the universe as a palimpsest, 'from which one writing has been erased to make room for another,' and yet to find the one writing in the other" (italics his). To read / write the universe this way, he continues,

Is to see history anew as a drama in which the One is in many acts enacting Himself, in which there is an Isis in history, history itself being her robe of many colors and changes, working to restore in many parts the wholeness of What Is as Osiris. This is a form that exists only in the totality of being, a form in our art that exists only in the totality of that art's life; so that in any particular work this form appears as faith or on faith. . .

     If, as Jack London once banalized, "the very essence of life is movement," then it is no less true (if a good deal less banal) to insist that it is also the very essence of form. Creeley certainly thought so, and whether he was propelled along these lines of by his acquaintance with Duncan or not, his For Love brought front and center the notion of poetry as much concerned with how poetry is made as with what willy-nilly ends up in it. Wallace Stevens wove an entire poetic career out of spun sugar wonderings about what poetry was and how it coexisted with reality. Creeley reveals no interest in the poem as either a said thing or a thing said. A said thing is a dead thing, the flat-out rhyme itself being characteristically Creeleyan. The interest, the aliveness of the poem lies in its saying, in getting said that evanescent res whose transcendental mediation the poem by virtue of its saying is. All of Creeley's poetic utterances converge on precisely those qualities that make an act of saying sayable, on those vectors of incidence forcing into the arena of speech the live impulsions that can turn a mess of verbal pottage into a passional catscan of domestic wonderment, like the following:

A lady asks me
and I would tell

what is it
she has found the burden of.

To be happy
now she cries, and all things

turn backward
and impossible.

God knows that I love her,
and would comfort her—

but the invention is
a parallel sufferance.

Mine for hers,
hers for mine.

The "awkwardness" of Creeley's style is by now legendary to the point of almost being magical in its halting way of pulling out all the stops legerdemain routinely places in the path of saying something difficult to make saying it wrong look artful and easy. There was a time in English at least when such artfulness and ease were like matter and anti-matter—incapable of occupying the same preoccupational space on the page:

You reply with one eyebrow
hoisted to your forehead and the other
bent down to your chin

that you do not approve
of cruelty. Some think to bear
it by speaking a great word, and being

peremptory, and go
on and take by admittance that
which they cannot make good. . . .

This, too, is "Creeley," though of a different century. If as indifferent to the tropes of parley and response as the poet who composed the stanzas preceding the ones just cited, the author of these lines is also no slouch when it comes to baring the ligaments of his speech to show how curiously he has masked the muscles they support. Nor is its "poetry" of the canned sort that can be readily poured into diminutive containers measured out into rhythmic spoonfuls. Any sensitive ear can discern that the second poet, like the first, knows that when English verse isn't blank it's almost always disposed in lines of four stresses each, regardless of stanza form. Even much free verse (under, of course, minimal control) marches naturally to the beat of that indifferent drummer, despite quixotic attempts on the part of some poets to break the pattern.
     But there is something else going on, something else being knitted, or knotted out of language here that seems refractory to all such nudgings into reticular space. "Some think to bear / it by speaking a great word, and being / peremptory and go / on and take by admittance . . .": the syllabic gait of this discourse, this "musing without walls," rubs self-consciously against the grain of getting on with it, of arriving at a place where one will have to begin again just to keep things moving in a direction that, one can only hope, will be to some parsable extent, forward. The first poem (by the way, titled "Lady Bird") does that too—"A lady asks me / and I would tell / what is it / she has found the burden of"—but somewhat more pointedly, speaking out of an askesis, or withdrawal of sentiment, that perhaps comes of having written in the wake of this:

A lady asks me
             I speak in season
She seeks reason for an affect, wild often
That is so proud he hath Love for a name
Who denys it can hear the truth now
Wherefore I speak to the present knowers
Having no hope that low-hearted
             Can bring sight to such reason . . . .

This also, in a manner of speaking, is "Creeley," though here the scare quotes around the name visibly reinforce an obligatory weight of irony, not to mention archaic ornament, that confines the occasion of this poem's speech to artificial quarters.
     It's advisable to get down to cases. Some readers of this commentary may be surprised to learn that the "poem" following Creeley's "Lady Bird" is actually a sentence culled from "On Seeming Wise," from Sir Francis Bacon's Essays or Counsels Civil and Moral (1612), and divided up into tercets made up of four-stress lines. The third poem on the other hand should prove more recognizable: it's a translation from the Dantescan Italian of a Guido Cavalcanti canzon by Ezra Pound, and appears whole and entire in his long epic poem the Cantos as "Canto XXXVI." There is no suggestion either offered or intended here that Creeley's poetic style is that of the Baconian essay, with appropriate adjustments being made for change of venue and conduct of idiom. Rather the three "slides" of language (subspecies: poetic) have been juxtaposed so as to bring into less disjunctive focus some of the forms self-mapping discourse can take both in and outside of verse. Creeley shares with Bacon a taste for the savorful knottiness to be sensed in teasing shards of language into mosaical representations foreign to their regular coigns of use. (Oddly enough, Robert Hass made the association of Creeley and Francis Bacon in Twentieth Century Pleasures: ". . . The worst reproach that can be made against his work is that some of it seems begun by Francis Bacon and finished by David Hockney." The Bacon here referred to, however, is the 20th Century English painter, not the 17th Century essayist.)
     But Creeley as well shares with Pound a Borgesian regard for dimensionality layered into poetic creations of the sort that renders them meaningful beyond the simple saturability of their speech. Thus, it's not that Creeley is specifically calling attention to Cavalcanti's canzon in the Pound translation when he begins his poem with "A lady asks me . . .," it's that he is willing to accept, as an unearned gratuity, the resonant bi-contextuality of having his poem overlaid with "Canto XXXVI"'s medieval patina.
     But it's not only the implied congruency of the two amatory situations—no, nor their protestations relating to the aloofness of the feminine soul, or any moon-skewed incalibrations of that soul with vague longings for "happiness"—that Creeley's speaker is at pains to reveal. Sufficient to say that his ladylove has matter enough she has "[found] the burden of" to warrant it being told, and even on pains of everything "turn[ing] backward / and impossible," cement the sacred bond at the heart of their love's rhetoric, the inventio of which includes a pledge of "parallel sufferance. . ." / Mine for hers, / hers for mine."
     Virtually all of Creeley's poems are rooted in this sort of performative equivalence of saying and deed, diction and soul's epiphany. They are first and foremost perlocutionary statements since they are what they entail and enact what they would comprehend through speech. Creeley often spoke to these requirements laid upon the poetic by modern times in his criticism, but he was never inclined to keep the sense of them out of his poetry or to avoid broaching their obtrusions there. A 1953 note on Charles Olson's The Maximus Poems, 1-10 perhaps puts best Creeley's long held notion of what binds poet to poem:

In poetry the attention can come to govern, as a man might be governed by what he loves or despises, or what number of things his hands can hold. Seeing the thing, even so it remains outside him until he can give it substance in the multiple involvement—which means only that he and the thing and the possibility which has no limit, can coexist in a form which is its own responsibility to effect. "The thing" is an ugly word for it. But it is ugly only because we have so degraded what confronts us, that we ride in on our own isolation thinking not to see anything, and hating that which we have to.

Hugh Kenner in A Homemade World (1975) sees this "irrationale"—in conjunction with the Objectivist lessons taught by Williams and Zukofsky and the Projectivist program launched by Olson and his Black Mountaineers—to have established by the 1970's the first literary vehicle to have originated in a milieu external to European superintendence:

. . .By the 1970's, thanks to a process that can be traced step by step for two generations from Pound and Williams, the American Poem is a new species of composition: the first new literary genre to have matured in the New World. (The Symbolist Poem, whatever Poe had to do with it, matured in France.) The poem is the Gestalt of what it can assimilate: so a new manifesto might run if there was need of manifestos; the Gestalt of what it can assimilate, like New York City; and a visitor to New York City at any time is apt to feel that the place is in process of being improvised.

     As a Creeley poem conveys the feeling as it is read that it is being improvised on the spot, like designer bricolage. It strikes us first as debris in embryo, then as smashed stick sculpture, reassembled from a manual with pages missing.

For love—I would
split open your head and put
a candle in
behind the eyes.

Love is dead in us
if we forget
the virtues of an amulet
and quick surprise.

Few Creeley poems over the years have matched the anthologizable mystique of this, "The Warning." Or managed to pack so much compactness and tensile strength into two mirror-image stanzas with interlocking rhymes and complementary incitements to extremity. Its polarities seem organized around a desire to distinguish once and for all between seriousness and dead seriousness, as if everything hinged upon getting it straight which is which and the conditions determining just when each comes into play. It is also important to the kind of structure a poem assumes that its organization reflect the forces responsible for bringing it into being. "The issue is the poem, a single event," he writes. "A poem is some thing, a structure possessed of its own organization in turn derived from the circumstances of its making." Though the need to keep the channels of originating energy open is paramount in Creeley's work, his explanations of how this need is spelled out in his poems are at times too razor-thin to be perfectly clear: "[The] poems come from a context that was difficult to live in, and so I wanted the line to register that kind of problem . . . now the truncated line, or the short, seemingly broken line . . . comes from the somewhat broken emotions involved."
     A context . . difficult to live in: allusions to interiorities that are problematic or stipulations that the poem-as-environment should somehow mirror the confinement it grew out of are usually not far from the surface in Creeley's discussions of what most preoccupies him as a poet. Jack Donne, optimizing from a twilight zone that would soon see Elizabethan glitter swamped by Jacobean glitz, had sweet-talked his lover in "The Canonization" with the promise (one unlikely to be kept) that "We'll build in sonets prettie roomes." That was 250 years before the time when For Love would be in process of finding a pied à terre; yet the notion of the poem as something that could be lived in was one which hardly needed the cover of a metaphor to maintain its credibility. If to Donne it was a dream eventually to be made good on, to poets of the Back Mountain Novus Ordo such as Creeley, it was a fait accompli to be adjusted to and made good of. But there it was, in the very same conceptual back yard as Shakespeare was puttering about in, redesigning rooms out of which lesser poets had jerrybuilt sonnets to Italian specifications or those more foreign to the well tuned ear, if closer to home. And Ben Jonson, who would spawn a tribe after his own name (if not entirely after his own heart, which was too large and many-chambered to follow his friend Donne through the deplorably numerous derelictions of sound and tomcatting abdications of sense his verse let fall upon the reader), would also seek to celebrate the spatial "architexture" of a patron's manor house, as in "To Penshurst," and by doing so consecrate his poem's shape to its enabling form.
     Creeley has had some revealing things to say about this relation between form and its enabling occasions in A Quick Graph, as well as in interviews such as the one which appeared in William Packard's The Craft of Poetry: Interviews from the 'New York Quarterly' (1974). When asked about the famous mantra from the essay "On Projective Verse" dating back to Black Mountain days, "Form is never more than an extension of content," Creeley responded,

I still feel that to be true. The thing to be said tends to dictate the mode in which it can be said. I really believe Charles's [Olson's] contention that there's an appropriate way of saying something inherent in the thing to be said. Which is really not formally more difficult to apprehend than, say, what's the case when you take a glass of water and spill it on the ground. It takes place on the ground in the nature of itself as water, being fluid, etc., and in the context of the ground, that nature and circumstance it's now met with. . . .

One problem with this analogy of water spilling on the ground is that it raises the issue of whether mud is even a recognizable variant of what was originally in the glass. No doubt it's moist, but for someone to consider it as just another form of water would indicate that it wasn't only the ground that was all wet. Creeley's point is well taken but not free of the "air of implication or ambiguity . . . [not] quite resolved" that he claims (in the same interview) Francis Bacon reportedly was attracted to in the paintings of his contemporaries. For him it is all part of getting the thing down as it happens: if the words are there to catch the thing caught in perception (but not free of its toils, which explains why the poem is necessary), then the poem will be justified to the extent that it is palpably there to the same degree that the originary stimulus once was. Though T. S. Eliot's was not a sensibility he often found himself in sympathy with, the following compositional rationale from On Poetry and Poets (1957) is not all that different from Creeley's own:

[The poet has] something germinating in him for which he must find words; [but] he cannot identify this embryo until it has been transformed into an arrangement of the right words in the right order. When you have the words for it, the "thing" for which the words had to be found has disappeared, replaced by a poem (97-8).

One key difference between Creeley and Eliot on matter of how poems germinate centers on the importance assigned to the impulse or perception triggering the poetic process. Like Olson, Creeley believed that poetry was inseparable from the activity of perception whose record poetry, if it was anything remotely useful to civilization, necessarily was. In his Introduction to Olson's Selected Writings (1965), he declares that what he finds most praiseworthy in that poet's keen and immersive transcript is his belief in and care for the human as an irreplaceable matrix of indispensables. "I am most impressed," he wrote,

that, in Olson's writing, these several measures of human term are adamant: 1) that the instant is human time and/or all that can be so felt must be so present, or else cannot exist; 2) that human content and possibility are the issue of acts, and are only absolute in that finiteness; and 3) that the geography, the complex of place—not at all the simplicity of a humanistic "nature"—is the complement of all human condition.

     Even more than Williams, it was Olson who first made a point of having to confront "the banshee of the moment" at the heart of the poetic act. While an aboriginal guarantor of that improvisational legitimacy able to assure poetry in touch with the nerve endings of the immediate that as well as being free it could be verse as well, it could also impose by its very presence the sovereignty of happenstance over the claims—seldom untrumpeted—of conventional speech. Contradicting the myth that free verse is akin to tennis played without a net, Creeley reverts to an earlier interpretation of the term in his New York Quarterly interview, where he is quoted as having said, "If one thinks of the literal root of the word verse, a line, furrow turning—Vertere—he will come to the sense of free verse." Following up on this, he writes:

What I was trying to emphasize was that verse is an activity that doesn't really require attention except as it is happening specifically. Then there are limits and responsibilities that can be recognized. . . . If you consider verse as the possibility of a farmer's plowing, then that locates what's happening in some specific sense. And the way it turns, as verse does, in contrast to, say, prose, would be an actual place, an actual circumstance, of that turning. If it becomes simply a farmer's meandering all over the field, a farmer who has not as yet mastered either the horses or the plow, it will look simply as such, a man wandering over a surface, whose activity is rather incoherent. Although there will be "lines." And if these do somehow gain a coherence in that wandering, then that will be interesting . . . The very term "free verse" to me indicates a reaction to a previous sense of order, a particular kind of order, that which we had called a poem.

The most exemplary model in this regard may be found not in poetry but in music, "so that free verse is really close to a situation . . . that is like the music of Stockhausen or Cage or so many younger composers. Senses of duration . . . senses of the modality being a diversity instead of one containment . . . "
     What does all this really boil down to in terms of how a Creeley poem is actually read? Well, let's see if returning to the mud and the glass of water as these pertain to a brief poem titled "A Wish" can cast some light on what this most gnomic of poets is really up to.

So much rain
to make the mud again,
trees green
and flowers also.

The water which
ran up the sun
and down again,
it is the same.

A man of supple
yielding manner
might, too, discover
ways of water.

A singular wish, two complementary illustrations, buoyed up by a cautious extrapolation ("might . . . discover") from the green world to the human. Water, by all evidence of the senses a yielding element, acts as supple partner in the propagation of life on this planet (the evaporation-and-condensation cycle being mated with that of chlorophyll and nitrogen). But to what end is the supposition tendered in the third stanza the optimal means? Come to that, what sort of means is it intended to employ—hortatory? didactic? homiletic? And further, why does the poet choose so coy a syntactic vehicle for his parabolic encomium on nature's resourcefulness? Finally, who or what else (as implicated by the "too") might share in this discovery of the ways of water?
     Rhetorically speaking, we are as far removed as possible from the vision of water conjured up at either of the extremities represented by Eliot and Williams on the vagaries of this particular element—the Mississippi as the "strong brown god" of Four Quartets's "The Dry Salvages," or as the thundering river of the Passaic Falls in the epic Paterson. The ways taught by water at each end of that continuum are mostly those of violence wrought by power and a kinetics suggestive not of suppleness exactly, but of cunning and even meanness—at least in the case of the Mississippi that Eliot came to know as a boy growing up in St. Louis, Missouri. Creeley's element is of course nothing like that. It is yielding, yes; and wise, too; but it is also one other thing: it is hidden in its flashings forth of potency and so has much to teach the ephebe (not disdainful, like Twain, the sentimentally educated rafter, of nurture red in tooth and claw) of the virtues of an order in which nature and nurture are always at each other's throat. Of course, a small child sees mud in one way; a soldier with a full field pack in another; a poet in still a third, as a medium for dissolving things earthen within an expansion of the liquidities of growth—as if to table once and for all the issue of how identity and its spoils should be split. Because water is an endlessly renewable resource indispensable to the endowing of all species—even cacti—with life, it permeates the natural world down to the least membrane of the physical organum. Lumen siccum's desert dryness may somewhat overprivilege the cacti in the above formulation, seizing exclusively upon the prickly noli me tangere's of the intellect whose heatless glare is capable of reducing everything from rhinoceros horns to poems like "A Wish" to taxonomies sans stamens playing eunuch to seraglios of supermodels sans pistils.
     The antidote—also, of course—is heat, warmth, the dispositional sunniness of the feeling open to the world, if, for Creeley, this never quite involves covering the distance entire from "I heard Thy voice walking in the garden and hid myself" all the way over to "unbuttoned." Poets are rarely if ever wholly unbuttoned in their verse, if only because parading themselves in a state of gross vulnerability narrows their options and compromises their power of attorney. While there may indeed be, as Yeats said, more enterprise in walking naked the enterprise in question, when fraught with brinkmanship and the full monty, will, for all the Irish hype and blarney, remain subject to the blank check's fiduciary irresolutions. Even so perfervid a hypester as lower case cummings, that oversprung paeanist of Spring, only played at seeming unbuttoned in those souped-up, hyperpunctuated and super-alphabetized feng shui approximations he tried to pass off as real poetry. Creeley disposes of the least of Cummings with what would have, under more honest circumstances, in its original space sufficed as the best of Cummings in a send-up titled "The Conspiracy":

You send me your poems,
I'll send you mine.

Things tend to awaken
even through random communication.

Let us suddenly
proclaim spring. And jeer

at the others,
all the others.

I will send you a picture too
if you will send me one of you.

The openness shown here is one which damns all coyness and cuteness to a deep bowge of the quid pro quotidian's cautionary hell. Anticipating Al Gore's invention of the internet by several decades, Creeley's feeler proposes an exchange of vulnerabilities over an expanse of uncolonized emotional space—of poems, of pictures, of moments unguarded by anything so crimping as an exclusionary rule. A Cummings poem (as R. P. Blackmur accurately noted in a critique of his language back in 1930) oozes faux-candor from every pore, each pre-programmed buzzword—mostly adjectives like sweet, sudden, delicious, perfect, crisp, but not always; nouns such as flowers, spring, blooms and stars also recur with numbing frequency—nails down an unfelt frisson, delimits a false shadow-front of emotion promiscuously indulged. It's like being addressed by a Potemkin village idiot. Not always, but often enough to make Blackmur risk the generalization that in Cummings's hands a word like flower (used 48 times in Tulips and Chimneys !) "has become an idea, and in the process has been deprived of its history, its qualities, and its meaning." A Creeley poem on the other hand predigests nothing, being food for its own thought, which it feels its way toward with a dignity and a decency that, for all the cottonmouthed asperity with which his stoicism struggles, remain unimpugnable. Its very simplicity provokes from the reader an empathetic response, the way a Forrest Gump might, were his character not chained to a movie so committed to falsity that it couldn't bring itself to do the honorable thing, which was to settle for a bad truth snatched from the jaws (ever-ravening but plunderable) of the truly bad.
     "Let us suddenly / proclaim spring . . ." has two Cummings trigger terms tucked into its unpretentious word-hoard, but the suddenly was adequately prepared for earlier in the lines "Things tend to awaken / even through random communication." Likewise the multiple repetition of "send" is deftly lifted above banality by being rhymed with "tend," which, via implicative association with "communication," initiates a daisy chain of possibilities attendant upon people opening to one another like flowers to the sun. Cummings made a career of being overmastered by love, by eternal spring, by balloonmen caught up in an eternal kermess with small children and the rest of God's plenty springing eternal in the human breast. Creeley could never, even in full career, master such a platitudinarium of love. For the sake of his poems he affects being too graciously clumsy ever to get away with that sort of dishonesty. And besides, what is there for him to be dishonest about? If, as he believes, measure cuts the poem to its occasion, how fake the cutting when measure prevents (in the archaic sense of "comes before") all possibility of feigning from ever entering the fabric of words as the poem's textum evolves?
     We're back to just what the poet has in mind or is referring to when he uses the pronoun "I." Is it simply a focussing light, a piece of spelunker's equipment useful merely in avoiding other pronouns in the dark? Or is it a feeler's tool, a Braille probe for those whom language, with its disabling common glare, would make blind? "I want to give witness not to the thought of myself—that specious concept of identity—" Creeley has said, "but, rather, to what I am as simple agency, a thing evidently alive by virtue of such activity." And measure is precisely a measure of that agency and that activity. Again, Creeley viva voce: "I want, as Charles Olson says, to come into the world. Measure, then, is my testament. What uses me is what I use and in that complex measure is the issue . . . in that way I feel that poetry, in the very subtlety of its relation to image and rhythm, offers an intensely various record of such facts. It is equally one of them." And finally, this from a talk, "I'm Given to Write Poems," a lecture given in 1967: ". . . [In] writing, at least as I have experienced it, one is in the activity, and that fact in itself is what I feel so deeply is the significance of anything that we call poetry."
     The Creeley poem (pace the poet's novel-writing aspirations) is in fact a species born of gold-digging, of panning for small, irregular, and probably unrushable nuggets, made all the more questionable by the assayist having to weigh each lump's value against the effort needfully expended to bring it to light in the first place. "The Song" associates certain follies of prospecting with what used to be synonymous (in days of the gold standard) with Tin Pan Alley:

It still makes sense
to know the song after all.

My wiseness I wear
in despair of something better.

I am all beggar,
I am all ears.

Soon everything will be sold
and I can go back home

by myself again
and try to be a man.

     Here, the song in question is more than melody, though perhaps less than achieved solo performance on life's instrument on which the blood of virtuosi gleams portentously. To know the song is to know how the game is played (the instrument is also a game), which in turn implies knowing how and when (though almost never where) to be led by its oracular hints and half-educated guesses. It requires that the beggar who is all ears travel light, be ready at any moment to slough off the skin of one snake-existence for another; to start out again from GO, in disregard of the despair that comes with endlessly avoiding JAIL and having to slog through the slums of Baltic Avenue and St. Charles Place yet another time, on the way, hopefully, to better things, but not before having to traverse the barely less disreputable arondissement depressingly spread-eagled in robin's-egg blue just up the board. Knowing the song has one glancing upside to it: it ensures the constant knowledge that starting again is built into the game if one knows the song, and who is better equipped to dance to its adamantine rhythms than the poet who has courted Kore in her element and lived to tell the tale?

As I was walking
      I came upon
chance walking
      the same road upon.

As I sat down
      by chance to move
later
      if and as I might,

light the wood was
      light and green,
and what I saw
      before I had not seen.

     Thus the first three stanzas of "Kore," a poem dedicated to the proposition that not all visions are created equal, even when preceded by a preamble folksy enough to conjure Robert Frost from the chthonic depths of his cracker barrel. Or Bob Dylan from his childhood in Hibbing, Minnesota, since within less than a decade he would be putting lyrics very like this one to a music in a way as strange as that suggested in the three stanzas that bring the poem to a close:

It was a lady
      accompanied
by goat men
      leading her.

Her hair held earth.
      Her eyes were dark.
A double flute
      made her move.

"O love,
      where are you
leading
      me now?"

A piece like this annihilates conventional prosody by literally forcing the reader to give equal assonantal weight to a larger than normal proportion of words in the poem. That nearly all its words are monosyllabic further intensifies that effect, which is particularly strong through the last two stanzas. The dominant motif of Creeley's retailing of the Persephone myth—affably downsized—is the action of leading: Kore is being led by "goat men" (presumably to her semi-annual relegation to the underworld), and in the final stanza (sectioned off by quotation marks) there is a request made to love that she reveal to either the poet (or to Kore herself, depending on how one chooses to read it) where she is leading whoever it is that is putting the question to her. The figure of Kore herself is a sensualist's triumph of detail over retail, but achieved with a minimalist's airbrushing of impertinences:

Her hair held earth.
      Her eyes were dark.
A double flute
      made her move.

Such writing recalls Dionysus of Helicarnassus's encomium on the smoothness of the Sapphic composition, by which he meant the "polished and exuberant style": "Word follows word inwoven according to certain natural affinities and groupings of the letters." Though, according to David A. Campbell in his discussion of the poets of the Greek anthology in Early Greek Poetry (1989), only one complete poem of hers survives in the Dionysian archive, her prayer to Aphrodite, the virtues the great rhetorician was alluding to are everywhere discernible in the Greek. Though Campbell doesn't say as much, it is not beyond reasonable surmise to suppose that he did not only mean the aural syncretisms of such things as labials, nasals and glottals, but the actual play of letters on the papyrus or page. This kind of thing—

Her hair held earth.

      Her eyes were dark.

A double flute

      made her move.

Which kind of thing extends well beyond mere alliteration and assonance, though these are plainly being drawn upon. It is a technique that a number of the Objectivist poets, from the early W. C. Williams all the way up to Robert Duncan and some of the more recent postmodernists, have availed themselves of and its aim is to cause the reader's gaze to become transfixed, sometimes for whole poems at a stretch, on patterns formed by letters found in certain words, quite apart from considerations of grammar or meaning. Cummings, perhaps more than any other modernist poet, appreciated the potential lurking in such visual games, but his chosen method for exploiting them blows their cover, as it were, which results in a radical diminution of their effect whenever he reverts to his obsessive habit of concocting a poem as though it were a dotty relative, once removed, of alphabet soup.
     The poem's last stanza, including its magic casement of quotation marks, manages to encapsulate Creeley's whole career as a poet in the way that lines like "Because I do not hope to turn again," "This is the way the world ends, / Not with a bang but a whimper," or "We shall not cease from exploration / And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time" encapsulate the career of a T. S. Eliot: they collapse chronology into a faceless and phaseless plenum of characteristic pronouncements, all of them memorable, none of them hamstrung by ties to a single enabling context. All of Creeley's keywords occur in this mantra-like stanza—love, where, you, leading and now. These lead-terms would arrange and rearrange themselves like yarrow stalks cast unpredictably and improvisationally in poem after poem, right up through the '70's and '80s. But never together in a single poem—that is the key to Creeley's cumulative poetic radiology. Reading him over the years and coming repeatedly upon these and other words similarly irradiated with "deep structure," we feel their presence even in poems where they do not appear.
     It is a presence-in-absence that could instruct such grand Rotarians of the tautological as Jacques Derrida how to deconstruct the rain and come up with presence-in-absence of cloud. Or vice versa. These words turn up (with no sense of spontaneous providentiality clinging to them), for example, in one of Creeley's best poems beyond the Zen archery triumphs of For Love, "The Act of Love (for Bobbie)," from A Day Book (1972), which begins spontaneously (and providentially) in this way:

Whatever constitutes
the act of love,
save physical

encounter, you are
dear to me,
not value as

with banks —
but a meaning self-
sufficient, dry

at times as sand,
or else the trees,
dripping with

rain. . . .

Italics drench the archaic Anglo-Saxon qualifier dear with a fertilizing forza del destino as thick on the ground sensuously as the else exacting droit de Seigneur over the above-mentioned "trees, / dripping with / rain," but do not scant insistence on getting the other things right as to what constitutes the act of love "save physical / encounter." Missing from the complement of terms laced into the final stanza of "Kore" are leading and where, both of which are as strongly referenced in "The Act of Love" as any of the words actually making up the poem. Though the poet claims to have bracketed the physical immediacy of love ("save physical / encounter"), the palpable undeniability of his lover's body is everywhere something earning the wonder it inspires through the work—albeit sweatless—of beauty:

                   . . .
How dear
you are

to me, how love-
ly all your
body is, how

all these
senses do
commingle, so

that in your very
arms I still
can think of you.

How close this is—its matchless artfulness excepted—to the sweaty and quite unbeautiful tossings—touching all but commingle—of unrequited love in adolescence's inarticulate bed. Close, but the palm of true authenticity goes to Creeley's poem as it marvellously stands, erect in its utter candor and post-Laurentian amazement at the possibility of a man and woman coming together without fear of bruises from obtruding sex's carvèd cupidons or of having to negotiate unchaperoned the darker tropes of love.
     Perhaps the most famous of Creeley's I Ching-tosses of the "For Love" potentiatum is the one that concludes the collection and shares its title. Its perfectly intermodulated stanzas—16 in all—"revolve in crystal" (to borrow a phrase from Wallace Stevens) around the psychotropic impasse conjured by the admission, "Love, what do I think / to say. I cannot say it." For all the times the coins, hopefully thrown, merely confirm the poet's inability to make heads or tails of either love or its persistence in dominating poem after poem, once in a great while the yarrow stalks will not only fall conjointly into place but come up trumps in the quite separate game mind plays with poetic matter. "For Love" is clearly a poem of that exceptional kind, a sublime product of the great while poets spend in attendance upon the spirit that moves on the waters so as to effect the transfer of ownership of some rare treasure from the deep. It begins hesitantly, as if tenuousness were the skin honesty must wear in order to be proof against the flayings wrought by "walking naked":

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.

Yesterday, today: an axis upon which revolve the eclipsable bodies of achieved desire and the uneclipsable desire for what one particular body houses that would be only too glad to speak its name, but can't. Bodies rule, and love is the divine right they jealously guard to rain perdition down on all who cannot speak their love in the darkness eclipses of self call forth. The lover's hell—unknowable but for poets' avowals of its icy-hot diffidence—is the unshakeable certainty that what causes erectile tissue to sizzle and nerve endings to be brought to the point of frenzy is not quite shared by the object of his enchantment. Or worse, there's an Eliotic imp in the bottle who keeps muttering that a splendid misery isn't only what Thomas Jefferson dubbed the American presidency, it is, when all the festive wrapping is removed, the very absence of love, a state of soul that the author of Burnt Norton hypertrophized as "distracted from distraction by distraction."

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.

It is here that the poem begins to bob and weave in the style for whose single-mindedness Creeley has been justly distinguished, if not altogether justly praised. All the "if only"'s in the world cannot turn a stammerer's chill into a charmer's rap. One problem with love—real love, not just the imagined kind that is the stuff of Morris chairs and the use of them (and shut-eye) to remedievalize troubadours and Amour courtois—is that it recedes the more assiduously analysis pursues it, tries to bring its leonine wiles under sway of an imposed Veldt-änschaüung. Among the big cats the female hunts; the male, dispenser of passion to the pride, protects the kill and takes the lion's share as due and reward. So runs the lore of lions in the wild. "Can I eat / what you give me. I / have not earned it," protests the Creeleyan lover, at sea in the savannah of volcanic dormancies that allow him no peace—his own Weltänschaüung hypostasized by piecemeal ensolacings and throat-gripping tremolos of impotence. The only proof against such impotence and the angst, blague, detritus it generates is to play rope-a-dope with one's self-regard and hope to tire the demons of narcissism with echoes of their own drowning:

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.

Here, in a bypassing of cantilena for the sake of cantilevering the beam of one kind of affection (make-over love) into a span of affectation (love made over into companionability), the poem raises the stakes in the game in which love must avoid being defined at any cost. Love satiated is a sociable horror, and love satisfied, a companionable one; but on top of a soft body or being into a good companion, there is still a betrayal of that precious singularity that make this one, the one, the onliest one, beyond anything one can become to ask or anything one can be made into. The body's defensive posture, its Reichian character armor, if you will (epitomized by the "chaste at least with you," crossed legs with skirt), finds its complement in the soul snagged on an image of the mind's "vague structure." It is vague to me, the distraught lover concludes, "because it is my own"—which is as much to say, "because it availeth not the knot that is not naught," the multifoliate we, thrust beyond all gravitational pull of us and them.
     But speech in and for itself (to evoke a now lost Sartrean avoidance of psychology) is no panacea, either. Its ensolacings are faux, often (to cite an originary Creeley term) fou, and almost always, though with dubious certitude, factitious.

Nothing says anything
but that 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
mind left to

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

As "For Love" draws to a close, the question that has been hiding out as excluded middle within Creeley's amatory syllogism, "What face gone, now?" reasserts itself, with terminal eloquence. Or rather "Which face gone, now?", since faces, while no doubt holograms evanescent of mood and health, are nonetheless things, countable, accountable, recountable things. And so must be identified, beyond all ambiguation of that sense that leaves things named but ultimately unplumbed: the face of something, of some thing once here, now gone, returned (reclaimed?) into "the company of love." But who now, which now, where now is that company in the face of which mere companionship, mere "good company," pales into that slurring of phenomenological zones by which "confession" and "obsession" seem meaningfully disjunct? Such zones are stumbled into, haphazardly, clumsily, distractedly—like the syntactical dissolution the lover's professio falls into, when for love it loses track of what distinguishes subject and object in the sentence obligatorily served in the prison yard of the Other. But that only happens when love is not the issue," when self-regard can exert just enough of a contrary pull to keep the will of things, of things, from returning to the company of love, where they belong.

                     . . . For you

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

say anything at all,
that face gone, now . . .

     That enigmatic face, with its Giaconda frown (not smile): perhaps we can move toward identifying it now. It is, we now see, the face of "no mind" (which should not be confused with that of "never mind"), the mind disposed to say (even if it is only "anything at all") what can only said by other means. So that: perhaps there is in the ulterior conducement of love a Clausewitzian underside, whereby the notion-cum-phenomenon stands or falls as a consequence of being egotism by other means, or is in fact the only end capable of metabolizing the means by which it would otherwise be consumed. And so the spiritual food chain leads directly back to Kore—half-worldly, half-underworldly—led blindly by the omnivores of Pan, goat men of the All that one must either embrace wholeheartedly or risk being immolated by. "O love, / where are you / leading / me now?" is not just a formulary for the Persephoniness of our "sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll" mass culture, though through no fault of Creeley's it could be taken for one. For him it was always a personal, even intimate, lead-string to the deeper repositories of desire and their artesian founts. Is love a destiny, or might destiny be a constabulary of love in which the exercise of Miranda rights keeps the lover bound over for arraignments that persist so long as the arrest remains in force.
     Another poem in a rather different vein (though from the same artery) is "My Love," whose flight is on borrowed pinions from a more metaphysical clime:

It falleth like a stick.
      It lieth like the air.
It is wonderment and bewilderment,
      to test true.

It is no thing, but of two,
      equal: as the mind turns to it,
it doubleth,
      as one alone.

Where it is, there is
      everywhere, separate,
yet few—as dew
      to night is.

How better to wrap one's sensibility around the conundrum of love than to attend either a visionary flea market all gussied up as John Donne or attend a fancy-dress ball attired as George Herbert? Either way the paradoxes and conceits fall thick and fast, with tenors high-fiving vehicles and verse's reiterees fancifully bespoke by its dandling reiterators. Or so it would appear such games are played by poets sufficiently adept to play pastiche for purposes of perfection—the perfection of finding the where of there in everywhere, and distributing the pressure points of "is" along an axis of monosyllables as luminescent as the copulative (alembicated to a dewy simile) glistens with incomplicate sheen. And could any disquisition dipping its wick in love gleam with greater lubricity than

It is no thing, but of two,
      equal: as the mind turns to it,
it doubleth,
      as one alone?

This distillate of Donne almost makes more of the géometrie lointain of the metaphysical stylebook than a trunkful of the most sophistic originals by either the most sex-driven of religious poets or the most devout among the nympholeptics, depending on one's point of view. Still, underneath the 17th Century macramé, brandishing a neat compaction of metaphysical wit's very dross into sidelong, even cubistic reticules of wit spun out of dross itself, is a poem that loads more in the way of sheer implication onto the shoulders of the indefinite pronoun than has been seen since Emily Dickinson first learned that giving the Es gibt its head in a poem could conjure cathedral tunes with heft.
     Viewed in the aggregate, the poems in For Love are on the whole in favor of what they titularly eulogize, though the for does allow for a little nugatory stress on the contributory curlicue of "out of, despite . . . ," a sense wryly upheld in "Saturday Afternoon":

It is like a monster come to dinner,
and the dinner table is set,
and the fire in the fireplace,
good luck to good humor—

The monster you love is home again,
and he tells you the stories of the world,
big cities, small men
and women.

Make room for the furry, wooden eyed
monster. He is my friend
whom you burn.
Amen.

That "Amen" is both priceless and conjugative of almost infinite liquidity where the Poundian CONTRA NATURAM's are put out on display like Beanie Babies, each with its own cute name and tag. But there are also more hushed times in Creeley's world when love surprises by imposing its regime without so much as a hint of irony or let of hindrance from beyond. It is then that canticles like "Love Comes Quietly" breathe their valediction on all lesser—all baser—humilities:

Love comes quietly,
finally, drops
about me, on me,
in the old ways.

What did I know
thinking myself
able to go
alone all the way.

Though the Creeley everyone knows does not always go quietly just because love sometimes deigns to come into one's life that way. Now and then the Creeley we love as much as we know can play barrel-ass the best of us in poems that explode in the brain like impossibly speeded up video games. Of course that ends up being but cold comfort to the joysticks-in-the-mud who think poetry is making vilanelles out of divorces and dog funerals, as witness the (in)famous "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.

     It would be a shame if 200 years from now the only Creeley poem subject to hologrammatic dramatization was "I Know A Man." But it would come as no surprise if it did. Creeley's verse is all about staking a claim on a happenstance likely as not to have been salted with pyrites. And so, a poem like "I Know A Man" seems already to have been written in the "hologrammar" of the American cultural scene when that scene is not just the dominant one on the planet but omnipresently ubiquitous within every human environment. It is possible to feel this way about some of the wilder shores of the Creeley love affair with language because "Creeley-speak" conveys more in the way of gesture than inscribable languages are normally set up to handle. (His ever-shifting "Game Boy" manipulations owe as much to body language as verbal.) Which is why those Rube Goldberg semaphores of his may, like Celanese, prove to have legs when other poetic idioms, once energetically ambulatory, are reduced to a sea of stumps.
     It will perhaps one day be seen as one of Creeley's pearlier inadvertencies that he helped to abolish the basis on which major poets could be distinguished from minor ones (thus not only saving his bacon for posterity but dooming countless others to inconsequent lard). He did this by shrinking poetic vistas (and the language needed to sustain them) almost to the vanishing point, duplicating—at least in the minds of critics like Marjorie Perloff—what Wittgenstein did to the parlous and noisome talk of Western metaphysics. It's as though Creeley wondered, when first putting himself together as a poet, whether, in the course of vying for the sort of supremacy a Spenser, a Milton, a Wordsworth or a Yeats attained, it was necessary to engineer a personal Camelot and seek bardolatry like the meanest flâneur of the impractical. Is being a poet really worth all that fiddle? Is keeping up expenses on such a fiction any longer even possible?
     Creeley has done us all the inestimable service of scaling back to habitable levels the lime-tree bower aggrandizements of being a poet. A poem of his says resolutely, calmly, even almost matter of factly: no more madness, no more roilings with the muse on futons of hopelessness and despair, no more poetry for poetry's sake. If poetry can't pay its way with byproducts of its own imaginative energies and the uses to which these can be put both in and out of poetry, then maybe poetry is in fact what its detractors have long insisted it was: a pretty excrescence, but not recommended for the unreality-challenged. Possibly Creeley's most important lesson is that poetry is never a cure for the malady that brings it into existence:

When I know what people think of me
I am plunged into my loneliness. The grey

hat bought earlier sickens.
I have no purpose no longer distinguishable.

A feeling like being choked
enters my throat.

Fortunately his verse also teaches us that a good deal of this is neither here nor there, is in effect so much blithering nonsense. Poetry, when it works, is its own here or there, a place of the neat and disorderly, of the simple and the complex, of the dire, the dour, and, as this essay now about to conclude has tried to show, at least this much of "The Door (for Robert Duncan)":

It is hard going to the door
cut so small in the wall where
the vision which echoes loneliness
brings a scent of wild flowers in a wood.

What I understood, I understand.
my mind is sometime torment,
sometimes good and filled with livelihood,
and feels the ground.

But I see the door,
and knew the wall, and wanted the wood,
and would get there if I could
with my feet and hands and mind.

Lady, do not banish me
for digressions. My nature
is a quagmire of unresolved
confessions. Lady, I follow. . .

     In the work of few contemporary poets do we so often get the sense of ducks lining up just right in poem after poem after poem. Just what ducks they are is part of the mystery that is Creeley-iana. But they're all there, bright as pippins, on the page, in our minds, gracing a diminutive (yet somehow space-filled) world that at once seems transistorized and open-valved, imprinted with circuits and circuitously printed; portending a love that while on everyone's tongue (but no one's lips) offers to lead us, all goats gotten, to hell and back, should we but give the word. And if it is given, what then? Will we, world without end, end without words, words without world, follow? Creeley's faith is we will, wherever she— Love—leads, follow, secure in the knowledge, however gnomic, with which Creeley's For Love leaves us: that for all the blather we are meant to endure; for all the blather that justly or not must endure us, there is that which makes poems as well as love. The that, the the, the pronunciamento whose voice we are, whose saying we are, into whose company, come hell or high water, it all returns—we all return.


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© 2001 Contemporary Poetry Review