Echoes – Brief Poems by Robert Creeley

RobertCreeleyNewBioImage_Credit-ChrisFelverRobert Creeley (1926 – 2005) was born in Arlington, Massachusetts in 1926. When his father died in 1930, he was raised by his mother and sister in Acton. An accident when he was four left him blind in one eye. He attended Holderness School in Plymouth, New Hampshire. He was admitted to Harvard in 1943 but left to serve in the American Field Service in 1944 and 1945, and drove an ambulance in India and South-East Asia. Creeley returned to Harvard after the war, though he never graduated.  During the 1950s he studied and taught at the Black Mountain College, NC and later became visiting professor at a number of US universities. From 1978 he was professor of poetry at the State University of New York.

One of the originators of the Black Mountain school of poetry, he developed a spare, minimalist style evident in For Love: Poems 1950–60 (1960). He later received an MA from the University of New Mexico. He began corresponding with William Carlos Williams, who seems to have put him in touch with Charles Olson, a poet who was to have a substantial influence on the direction of his work. Excited especially by Olson’s ideas about literature, Creeley began to develop a distinctive and unique poetic style.

Of his own work he once said,  “I write to realize the world as one has come to live in it, thus to give testament. I write to move in words, a human delight. I write when no other act is possible.” He was admitted to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1988, and was the recipient of the Frost Medal (1987) and the Bollingen Prize in American poetry (1999). He died on March 30, 2005.

The Poetry of Robert Creeley

I first encountered Robert Creeley’s poetry when I bought, in a Dublin bookshop in the early 1970’s, a  copy of the expanded edition of Contemporary American Poetry, edited by Donald Hall.  There were many exciting poets in that eclectic collection. One of them had a quieter voice than the others. There was something unique and entrancing about some of the poems included. I Know a Man, which now has the almost mythic status of a poem like The Red Wheelbarrow, struck me, even then, as  a wonderful mixture of slang, subtle syntax and casual understatement. The Rain  is a poignant love poem, delicately constructed and unified with a quiet subtlety. Kore is an old-fashioned ballad given a new-fashioned twist. Looking through that battered paperback, over forty years on my shelves, I see that I wrote into it another Creeley poem that meant much to me then and still has a haunting resonance, The Immoral Proposition. What unified all these poems is a quiet voice which could offer gentle subtleties even in small doses, as the poems quoted below display.



Brief Poems by Robert Creeley

The Puritan Ethos

Happy the man who loves what
he has and worked for it also.


A Token

My lady
fair with
arms, what

can I say to
you—words, words
as if all
worlds were there.



Walls are
relief in lifting
themselves. Let

you also
lift yourself,
selves, shelves.


the apology

I think to compose a sonnet
on ladies with no clothes. A

graciousness to them
of course.


from Gnomic Verses


In the way it was in the street

it was in the back it was
in the house it was in the room
it was in the dark it was


fat fate

Be at That this
Come as If when
Stay or Soon then
Ever happen It will



Particular pleasures weather measures or
Dimestore delights faced with such sights.



Outstretched innocence
Implacable distance
Lend me a hand
See if it reaches



Now the inevitable
As in tales of woe
The inexorable toll
It takes, it takes.



Head on backwards
Face front neck’s
Pivot bunched flesh
Drops jowled brunch.



Little bit patted pulled
Stretched set let cool.



Whenas To for
If where From in
Past place Stated want
Gain granted Planned or


have a heart

Have heart Find head
Feel pattern Be wed
Smell water See sand
Oh boy Ain’t life grand


oh oh

Now and then
Here and there
On and on



Season’s upon us
Weather alarms us
Snow riot peace
Leaves struck fist.



Passion’s particulars
Steamy hands
Unwashed warmth
One night stands



Pat’s place
Pattern’s face
Aberrant fact
Changes that



Driving to the expected
Place in mind in
Place of mind in
Driving to the expected



You have to reach
Out more it’s
Farther away from
You it’s here



All that’s left of coherence.


echo again

Statement keep talking
Train round bend over river into distance



Everything’s before you
were here.



Think of the
Dance you could do
One legged man
Two legged woman.



Sunrise always first—
That light—is it
Round the earth—what
Simple mindedness.






The Poetry Foundation page on Robert Creeley

The Electronic Poetry Center’s link to on-line resources on Robert Creeley.

Paris Review interview with Robert Creeley.

The Cortland Review interview with Robert Creeley.

The PennSound page with links to readings by Robert Creeley.

Robert Creeley’s Life and Career.

A detailed and fascinating London Review of Books essay by Stephen Burt on Robert Creeley’s poetry.

The Radical Poetics of Robert Creeley, an interesting essay by Marjorie Perloff.

The Robert Creeley Foundation.




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