Thursday, May 28, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 39.19 (Robert Creeley)

Creeley, Robert
Faas, Ekbert
Robert Creeley: A Biography

The only thing worse than a literary biography is a bad literary biography. The only thing worse than that is a hatchet job posing as a bad literary biography, which is what this book is. I don't know the whole back story to this, so I am only passing along what I've heard, which is that at some point Creeley stopped participating in this project because he didn't like Faas' approach.

There is a lot to dislike, not the least of which is using a (justifiably) angry ex-wife's memoir as a postscript to a biography of her ex-husband. The effect of this is to give her words an extraordinary authority throughout the rest of the narrative, making her judgment and the judgment of the erstwhile biographer uncomfortably close, and making this book feel more like an ambush than an exploration.

Most troubling of all is the reductive nature of the work, whose thesis can be summed up as follows:

Robert Creeley was a violent, profligate, misogynistic, alcoholic who wrote a lot of poetry that passionately and clearly articulated its violence, profligacy, misogyny and alcoholism to an eager postwar audience. At 50, he found a wife and family that made him happy, causing the quality of his poetry to deteriorate and the biographer's interest in his life to vanish.

WTF, Ekbert? Why even bother?

After Creeley died, I was confronted with a publisher at a local paper who had known and admired the macho, violent, salty dog Creeley, whom I had never met (I knew the kind, good-humored and unbelievably generous old poet who took me under his wing). I wrote a feature article/obituary in the week immediately following his death, the purpose of which was to remember the man I knew and to make note of the enormous contribution he had made to American poetry.

To my horror, the publisher inserted stories of his seduction of Kenneth Rexroth's wife and a few other salacious details. Adding insult to injury, he put my name on the piece and did not make note of where he had made insertions. Point being that I got the same feeling reading Faas that I got from the publisher of this paper -- that his interest in Creeley had little to do with the work and a lot to do with his interest in the lurid details of his personal life.

I was fortunate to begin reading the Dunacan-Levertov correspondence immediately following this book, which provides a two other perspectives on Creeley and his first marriage, and serve as a useful counter to the portrait painted in this book. If you haven't read those letters, do. If you haven't read this biography, consider yourself lucky and stay away.

Well, kids, that's it for the Creeley section. I don't think I am going to make it to the end of the C's before I leave on Saturday, but I do intend to keep updating the blog while I am away. Not sure what I'll write in the absence of my library -- maybe just a public journal or something along those lines. I'll figure it out when I get to it.

Until then...


Tiny Leone said...

Hey Mike, it was good seeing you over the holiday weekend.

Do you know if there's another biography in the works? and if so who's the author, and who's the publisher?


Michael Kelleher, Buffalo, NY said...

Hey E-gel,

Good seeing you as well -- no idea about another bio. Ben F. may know, as he has his ear close to the ground on Creeley stuff.