Thursday, May 14, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 39 (Robert Creeley)

Creeley, Robert
For Love: Poems 1950-1960

I am pretty sure I bought this at Rust Belt Books in Buffalo. I am also pretty sure it was Graham Foust who clued me in to its presence at the store, though I may be confusing that with Pieces, which I also purchased there. In that case, it was probably the store's former owner, Brian Lampkin, who pointed this one out to me.

I am pretty sure I read "I Know A Man" before any other Creeley poems. I am pretty sure I read it without knowing Creeley by name.

I have two memories of learning his name, both of which feel like primary experiences.  However, I don't think either one can claim to be the real "first time" I learned it. 

1. I saw Creeley once in a documentary about Jack Kerouac -- that may have been the first time I became aware of him by name.

2. I also stumbled upon his Collected Poems 1945-1975 in the basement stacks at the Fordham library while avoiding the work I was supposed to be doing for class. I never could concentrate on my work, and so to avoid the task at hand I would often conduct random searches through the stacks, pulling books off the shelves and flipping through them for sometimes hours on end -- preferably until the library closed and I could return to my apartment having spent the night "at work," even if I had accomplished nothing in the process.

My first impression, as I have written elsewhere, was that I did not like Creeley's poems very much. They were so damn short! I spent very little time with them, and it wasn't until several years later that I came upon his work again, this time at a reading he was supposed to give in NYC with Allen Ginsberg at the old DIA center in Soho. Turned out Creeley got snowed in in Buffalo and was replaced on the bill by Anne Waldman.

The DIA Center printed two little broadsides, one by Ginsberg, the other by Creeley, which they gave out to all the attendees. I think the Ginsberg poem was called "Now and Forever," which begins with the great line "I'll settle for immortality--"

The Creeley poem was "Edges," from the collection, Echoes. I had both tacked to the wall above my desk in my bedroom in New York for a long time. A few lines from the Creeley poem always stayed with me:

...I am not simply a response to this, this light
not just an agency sees and vaguely adumbrates, adds an opinion
there is no opinion for life, no word more or less general.

Again, it was a few more years before I really discovered Creeley. In the two years between my return from Ecuador and my departure for Buffalo, I worked as a temp. I spent most of my time on these jobs reading or writing or both, as I often had hours of paid downtime each day. One of my last temp jobs was working at a law firm whose clients included Calvin Klein, Luis Vuitton, etc.

My job was mostly to make sure my boss's chicory-flavored coffee was ready for him when he arrived in the morning, then to look busy at my desk for the rest of the day. I arrived about twenty minutes ahead of the boss, during which time I would prepare his coffee and then make copies of 20 or so pages from whatever book I was reading. I would keep the pages on a clipboard beneath several other work-related sheets of paper, which provided cover in case he wanted to know what I was reading. Some days I would be more brazen and just hold a book open behind the partition that separated my desk from the hallway and his view.

I can remember purchasing a copy of Selected Poems -- the one with the white cover and the blue crayon window with four images of Creeley at various ages contained within the mullions. I read it at work every day for about a week and I remember experiencing a real joy reading his poetry that I have rarely experienced with other poets.

I remember sitting at the desk smiling to myself all day long, then catching myself smiling and worrying I was giving myself away, then not giving a damn because I hated the job anyway, and continuing to read and to smile at what I read. Not long after that, I moved up to Buffalo, where I was fortunate to get to know him for a few years.

And speaking of Kerouac:

Jack's Blues

I am going to roll up
a monkey and smoke it, put
an elephant in the pot. I am going out
and never come back.

What's better than that,
lying on your back, flat
on your back with your
eyes to the view.

Oh the view is blue, I saw that
too, yesterday, and you
red eyes and blue

I am going to roll up
a rug and smoke it, put
the car in the garage and I'm
gone, like a sad old candle.

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