From the Archive: Robert Creeley
on the edge,
—"Here," Poetry, February 1967
For over half a century, Robert Creeley (1926-2005) explored the possibilities of a minimalist approach to the American idiom as inventively as any poet since William Carlos Williams. In the late fifties and throughout the sixties, while he was still honing his avant-garde aesthetic and distinctive lyric style, the young Creeley was a prolific contributor to Poetry. Like many of the most innovative writers of the time, including Robert Duncan, George Oppen, and Lorine Niedecker, Creeley's poetry and prose appeared regularly in Editor Henry Rago's pages. Fifty years to the month after Creeley debuted in Poetry, we look back at a preliminary stage of his development.
Even in these earlier poems, Creeley's work demonstrates a commitment, above all, to experimental technique. In a piece like "Here," we see how the slightest formal nuance, a surprising enjambment or variation in line length, informs our interpretations of the words themselves, reinforcing the poem's message of close attention. As Creeley famously declared in the "Projective Verse" manifesto, written by his friend and Black Mountain College colleague Charles Olson, "Form is never more than an extension of content."
Stripped of metaphor, devoid of rhetorical figures, chiefly confined to subjects involving the self, Creeley's early poetry remains resourceful, employing a lively voice and rhythm. Many of these poems were written in the aftermath of a bitter divorce and during the beginning of the relationship that led to Creeley's second marriage. In pieces like "Sing Song," "Variations," and "Enough," we see the poet returning again and again to the question of love. For Love: Poems 1950-1960, the book that first won him national recognition, contains many poems which first appeared in Poetry, including the title work, which Rago published in May 1961. In "For Love," Creeley agonizes over his relationship's "tedium,/ despair...painful/ sense of isolation," yet concludes, "Into the company of love/ it all returns."
During this twelve-year period when Creeley was making a name for himself and contributing regularly to Poetry, the magazine twice awarded him major prizes: The Levinson Prize, for ten poems published in 1960, and The Union League Civic and Arts Foundation Prize, for seven poems published in 1967. To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Creeley's first Poetry publication, we present a slideshow of his early work. With their knack for cunning syntax, subtle rhyme, and quiet heartbreaks, the best of these poems possess all the qualities of Creeley's classic style.