Poetry News

B O D Y Literature Reviews The Selected Letters of Robert Creeley

By Harriet Staff


For their Friday pick last week, B O D Y Literature chose The Letters of Robert Creeley, edited by Kaplan Harris, Peter Baker, and Rod Smith (University of California Press 2014). Stephan Delbos remarks on the unique fact that much of Creeley's influence came through correspondence. More:

...As he writes in 1952: “my place is so much on the paper, and not where it might, even ought, to be. I’m real portable these days, like the fucking typewriter. I argue against ‘place’, and that false sense of what it counts as, which is usually generator for an altogether dead memory, etc.”

Throughout Creeley’s travels, he maintained a vigorous involvement with avant garde American poetry. The 1950s alone account for nearly 40 percent of the letters here, as the editors point out. For much of that decade, Creeley and Charles Olson were nearly fanatical correspondents, sharing poetry and ideas, arranging the publication of books on Creeley’s The Divers Press in Majorca, or in The Black Mountain Review, which Creeley edited.

These letters provide insight into Creeley’s work and illuminate the generation of ideas that have come to be synonymous with contemporary poetry. By placing these concepts in the context of Creeley’s life, and in the context of the letters in which they were composed, The Selected Letters of Robert Creeley expands our understanding of the sharp subtlety of Creeley’s thought. Perhaps his most famous dictum, “form is never more than an extension of content,” which Charles Olson cited in his watershed essay “Projective Verse” (1950), is here presented in its entirety:

That is: the intelligence that had touted Auden as being a technical wonder, etc. Lacking all grip on the worn & useless character of his essence: thought. An attitude that puts weight, first: on form/ more than to say: what you have above: will never get to: content. Never in god’s world. Anyhow, form has now become so useless a term/ that I blush to use it. I wd imply a little of Stevens’ use (the things created in a poem and existing there… & too, go over into: the possible casts or methods for a way into/ a ‘subject’: to make it clear: that form is never more than an extension of content. An enacted or possible ‘stasis’ for thought. Means to.

The editors have done a fine job creating a selection of letters that forms a narrative with enough non-sequiturs and varied correspondents that the book never lulls. Their scholarly apparatus is streamlined yet informative. The Selected Letters of Robert Creeley is thrilling, emotionally and intellectually. . . .

Read the full review at B O D Y.