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Robert Creeley

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Title: Robert Creeley  
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Subject: Allen Ginsberg, Paul Blackburn (U.S. poet), Charles Olson, David Bromige, Skanky Possum
Collection: 1926 Births, 2005 Deaths, 20Th-Century American Poets, American Male Poets, American Poets, American Tax Resisters, Beat Generation, Black Mountain College Alumni, Black Mountain Poets, Bollingen Prize Recipients, Brown University Faculty, Burials at Mount Auburn Cemetery, Deaths from Pneumonia, Fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Guggenheim Fellows, Harvard University Alumni, People from Arlington, Massachusetts, People from Waldoboro, Maine, Poets Laureate of New York, University at Buffalo Faculty
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Robert Creeley

Robert Creeley
Born (1926-05-21)21 May 1926
Arlington, Massachusetts, United States
Died 30 March 2005(2005-03-30) (aged 78)
Odessa, Texas
Resting place Cambridge, Massachusetts
Language English
Nationality American
Education B.A. at Black Mountain College
Genre Poetry
Literary movement Modernism, Post-Modernism
Notable works For Love
Notable awards Robert Frost Medal (1987)

Literature portal

Robert Creeley (May 21, 1926 – March 30, 2005) was an American poet and author of more than sixty books. He is usually associated with the Black Mountain poets, though his verse aesthetic diverged from that school's. He was close with Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, Allen Ginsberg, John Wieners and Ed Dorn. He served as the Samuel P. Capen Professor of Poetry and the Humanities at State University of New York at Buffalo. In 1991, he joined colleagues Susan Howe, Charles Bernstein, Raymond Federman, Robert Bertholf, and Dennis Tedlock in founding the Poetics Program at Buffalo. Creeley lived in Waldoboro, Maine, Buffalo, New York, and Providence, Rhode Island, where he taught at Brown University. He was a recipient of the Lannan Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award.


  • Life 1
  • Work 2
  • Bibliography 3
  • Film Appearances 4
  • Notes 5
  • Research resources 6
  • External links 7


Creeley was born in Arlington, Massachusetts and grew up in Acton. He was raised by his mother with one sister, Helen. At the age of four, he lost his left eye. He attended the Holderness School in New Hampshire. He entered Harvard University in 1943, but left to serve in the American Field Service in Burma and India in 1944–1945. He returned to Harvard in 1946, but eventually took his BA from Black Mountain College in 1955, teaching some courses there as well. When Black Mountain closed in 1957, Creeley moved to San Francisco, where he met Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. He later met and befriended Jackson Pollock in the Cedar Tavern in New York City.

He was a chicken farmer briefly before becoming a teacher. The farm was in Littleton, New Hampshire. He was 23. The story goes that he wrote to Cid Corman whose radio show he heard on the farm, and Corman had him read on the show, which is how Charles Olson first heard of Creeley.[2]

From 1951 to 1955, Creeley and his wife, Ann, lived with their three children on the Spanish island of Mallorca. They went there at the encouragement of their friends, British writer Martin Seymour-Smith and his wife, Janet. There they started Divers Press and published works by Paul Blackburn, Robert Duncan, Charles Olson, and others. Creeley wrote about half of his published prose while living on the island, including a short-story collection, The Gold Diggers, and a novel, The Island. He said that Martin and Janet Seymour-Smith are represented by Artie and Marge in the novel.[3] During 1954 and 1955, Creeley traveled back and forth between Mallorca and his teaching position at Black Mountain College. He also saw to the printing of some issues of Origin and Black Mountain Review on Mallorca, because the printing costs were significantly lower there.

An MA from the University of New Mexico followed in 1960. He began his academic career by teaching at the prestigious Albuquerque Academy starting in around 1958 until about 1960 or 1961. In 1957, he met Bobbie Louise Hawkins; they lived together, common law marriage, until 1975. They had two children, Sarah and Katherine. He dedicated his book For Love to Bobbie. Creeley read at the 1963 Vancouver Poetry Festival and at the 1965 Berkeley Poetry Conference.[4] Afterward, he wandered about a bit before settling into the English faculty of “Black Mountain II” at the University at Buffalo in 1967. He would stay at this post until 2003, when he received a post at Brown University. From 1990 to 2003, he lived with his family in Black Rock, in a converted firehouse at the corner of Amherst and East Streets. At the time of his death, he was in residence with the Lannan Foundation in Marfa, Texas.

Robert Creeley and Allan Graham, during the taping of "Add-Verse", 2004, photo by Gloria Graham

Creeley first received fame in 1962 from his poetry collection For Love. He would go on to win the Bollingen Prize, among others, and to hold the position of New York State Poet Laureate from 1989 until 1991.[5] He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2003.[6]

In 1968, he signed the “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War.[7]

In his later years he was an advocate of, and a mentor to, many younger poets, as well as to others outside of the poetry world. He went to great lengths to be supportive to many people regardless of any poetic affiliation. Being responsive appeared to be essential to his personal ethics, and he seemed to take this responsibility extremely seriously, in both his life and his craft. In his later years, when he became well-known, he would go to lengths to make strangers, who approached him as a well-known author, feel comfortable. In his last years, he used the Internet to keep in touch with many younger poets and friends.

Robert Creeley died at sunrise on March 30, 2005, in Odessa, Texas of complications from pneumonia. His death resulted in an outpouring of grief and appreciation from many in the poetry world. He is buried in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


According to Arthur L. Ford in his book Robert Creeley (1978, p. 25), "Creeley has long been aware that he is part of a definable tradition in the American poetry of this century, so long as 'tradition' is thought of in general terms and so long as it recognizes crucial distinctions among its members. The tradition most visible to the general public has been the Eliot-Stevens tradition supported by the intellectual probings of the New Critics in the 1940s and early 1950s. Parallel to that tradition has been the tradition Creeley identifies with, the Pound-Olson-Zukofsky-Black Mountain tradition, what M. L. Rosenthal [in his book The New Poets: American and British Poetry Since World War II (1967)] calls 'The Projectivist Movement'." This "movement" Rosenthal derives from Olson's essay on "Projective Verse".

Le Fou, Creeley's first book, was published in 1952, and since then, according to his publisher, barely a year passed without a new collection of poems. The 1983 entry, titled Mirrors, had some tendencies toward concrete imagery. It was hard for many readers and critics to immediately understand Creeley's reputation as an innovative poet, for his innovations were often very subtle; even harder for some to imagine that his work lived up to the Black Mountain tenet—which he articulated to Charles Olson in their correspondence, and which Olson popularized in his essay "Projective Verse,"—that "form is never more than an extension of content," for his poems were often written in couplet, triplet, and quatrain stanzas that break into and out of rhyme as happenstance appears to dictate. An example is "The Hero," from Collected Poems, also published in 1982 and covering the span of years from 1945 to 1975.

"The Hero" is written in variable isoverbal ("word-count") prosody; the number of words per line varies from three to seven, but the norm is four to six. Another technique to be found in this piece is variable rhyme—there is no set rhyme scheme, but some of the lines rhyme and the poem concludes with a rhymed couplet. All of the stanzas are quatrains, as in the first two:


Each voice which was asked
spoke its words, and heard
more than that, the fair question,
the onerous burden of the asking.
And so the hero, the
hero! stepped that gracefully
into his redemption, losing
or gaining life thereby.

Despite these obviously formal elements various critics continue to insist that Creeley wrote in "free verse", but most of his forms were strict enough so that it is a question whether it can even be maintained that he wrote in forms of prose. This particular poem is without doubt verse-mode, not prose-mode. M. L. Rosenthal in his The New Poets quoted Creeley's "'preoccupation with a personal rhythm in the sense that the discovery of an external equivalent of the speaking self is felt to be the true object of poetry,'" and went on to say that this speaking self serves both as the center of the poem's universe and the private life of the poet. "Despite his mask of humble, confused comedian, loving and lovable, he therefore stands in his own work's way, too seldom letting his poems free themselves of his blocking presence" (p. 148). When he used imagery, Creeley could be interesting and effective on the sensory level.

In an essay titled "Poetry: Schools of Dissidents," the academic poet Daniel Hoffman wrote, in The Harvard Guide to Contemporary American Writing which he edited, that as he grew older, Creeley's work tended to become increasingly fragmentary in nature, even the titles subsequent to For Love: Poems 1950-1960 hinting at the fragmentation of experience in Creeley's work: Words, Pieces, A Day Book. In Hoffman's opinion, "Creeley has never included ideas, or commitments to social issues, in the repertoire of his work; his stripped-down poems have been, as it were, a proving of Pound's belief in 'technique as the test of a man's sincerity.'" (p. 533)

Jazz bassist Steve Swallow released the albums Home (ECM, 1979) and So There (ECM, 2005) featuring poems by Creeley put to music.

Early work by Creeley appeared in the avant garde little magazine Nomad at the beginning of the 1960s. Posthumous publications of Creeley's work have included the second volume of his Collected Poems, which was published in 2006, and The Selected Letters of Robert Creeley edited by Rod Smith, Kaplan Harris and Peter Baker, published in 2014 by the University of California Press.


Spanish translations:

  • En la tierra: últimos poemas y un ensayo (México: Textofilia Ediciones, 2008) ISBN 978-968-9459-02-6

Film Appearances

  • "Creeley" (directed by Bruce Jackson and Diane Christian), 1988.
  • Poetry in Motion (directed by Ron Mann), 1982.


  1. ^ from Robert Creeley: Selected Poems, 1945-2005, edited by Benjamin Friedlander; (University of California Press, 2008)
  2. ^ Meaning, I Hear You - Kyle Schlesinger
  3. ^ Interview by Alastair Johnston regarding Divers Press
  4. ^ Lewis Ellingham, Kevin Killian (1998). Poet be like God: Jack Spicer and the San Francisco renaissance. Wesleyan University Press.  
  5. ^ "New York". US State Poets Laureate. Library of Congress. Retrieved May 8, 2012. 
  6. ^ "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter C" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 20 April 2011. 
  7. ^ “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” January 30, 1968 New York Post
  8. ^ 662 pgs, this volume collects Hello: A Journal, Later, Mirrors, Memory Gardens, Windows, Echoes, Life & Death, If I were writing this, On Earth, and 4 previously unpublished poems.

Research resources

  • Robert Creeley Papers, 1950-2005 (432 linear ft.) are housed in the Department of Special Collections and University Archives at Stanford University Libraries
  • The Robert Creeley Papers at Washington University in St. Louis

External links

Readings and talks (audio files)
  • Robert Creeley reading May 11, 1976 Part I(online audio file via UC Berkeley Media Resources Center)
  • Robert Creeley reading May 11, 1976 Part II (online audio file via UC Berkeley Media Resources Center)
  • Robert Creeley reading August 12, 1963 University of British Columbia, Vancouver
  • Audio recordings of Robert Creeley, from the Woodberry Poetry Room, Harvard University
  • [2] Robert Creeley Interview with Hedwig Gorski transcript included in special Robert Creeley Issue, Journal of American Studies of Turkey (JAST), No. 27, Spring 2008.
  • 20 Questions with Robert Creeley at Milk Magazine
  • Interview by Robert Arnold
Sites, exhibits, artist pages
  • Robert Creeley Foundation, Acton, MA
  • Creeley Page at Modern American Poetry
  • Exhibit at the Academy of American Poets site
  • Poems by Robert Creeley at includes links to over two dozen poems, an extensive bibliography, a perspicacious biography, and suggestions for further reading
  • Works by or about Robert Creeley in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
  • Creeley Author-Homepage @ SUNY-Buffalo's Electronic Poetry Center
  • Kerouac Alley: Robert Creeley this feature is a A Directory of the Beat Generation & Literature and includes selected poems, a multimedia & internet directory, live feeds, and other resources
Others on Creeley including retrospectives, essays, tributes
  • Drive he sd - or did he??? Poet Aram Saroyan describes a personal and anecdotal reading of Creeley's famous poem `I Know A Man', based in part on a conversation with Creeley himself
  • "Writers' program adds color to Marfa" a brief capsule of Creeley's last days at a writer's colony in West Texas where he died in March 2005, already ill with emphysema.
  • Feature: Robert Creeley (1926–2005) this feature, edited by Michael Kelleher, with contributions by Amiri Baraka & Susan Howe among others
  • "ON WORDS: A Conference on the Life and Work of Robert Creeley" article about this Conference which was held Oct. 12-14, 2006 in Buffalo, NY.
  • Various brief biographical sketches
Reviews and critical perspectives
  • Life and DeathReview of by Forrest Gander at The Boston Review.
  • On Words: Reasserting the Power of Robert Creeley's Verse article by Michael Kelleher at Art Voice site.
  • Critical Review evaluations of Professor Creeley
  • Of Accumulation: The Collected Poems of Robert Creeley by poet Ben Lerner, this appeared in the print journal boundary 2
Online poetry, poems and artist collaborations
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