Saturday, May 16, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 39.2 (Robert Creeley)

Pieces (x 2)
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Creeley, Robert

I have two copies of this book. The first copy I purchased at Rust Belt Books, either because Graham Foust or Brian Lampkin, both of whom were generous about letting people know when a book they might have wanted arrived in the store, had clued me into the fact it was available. The second copy I plucked from the shelves of Just Buffalo's library prior to having sold the whole thing off. There was no good reason to have a second copy, but I couldn't resist.

Pieces has always been my favorite book of Creeley's, even though I hate the font they used for the poems. It's an awkward, bold, sans serif font that I find really unpleasant to read. It's one of the few books I have ever read where I felt the font got in the way of my reading experience.

Fortunately, my first experience reading many of these poems came in the form of the Selected Poems, which was likely printed in a serif font that was a little less taxing on the eyes as they moved from word to word, page to page. I can remember reading "Numbers" on the job at a law firm in New York and smiling all the way through it and then reading it again and again.

A few years ago, soon after he had left Buffalo for Brown, I was writing an article about Creeley for Artvoice, a local paper, in which I talked about "Numbers" being my favorite Creeley poem. I had always wondered about the section called "The Fool," which is set off from the rest of the poem in that it is written in prose and is in quotation marks:

"With light step, as if earth and its trammels had little power to restrain him, a young man in gorgeous vestments pauses at the brink of a precipice among the great heights of the world; he surveys the blue distance before him its expanse of sky rather than the prospect below. His act of eager walking is still indicated, though he is stationary at the given moment; his dog is still bounding. The edge which opens on the depth has no terror; it is as if angels were waiting to uphold him, if it came about that he leaped from the height. His countenance is full of intelligence and expectant dream. He has a rose in one hand and in the other a costly wand, from which depends over his right shoulder a wallet curiously embroidered. He is a prince of the other world on his travels through this one all a midst the morning glory, in the keen air. The sun, which shines behind him, knows whence he came, whither he is going, and how he will return by another path after many days."

I wrote to him to ask where the language came from. Turns out it is the boilerplate used to describe the tarot card by that name in most standard decks. Even though the language and the sentiment very much sound like Creeley, I never really thought of him as a tarot card kind of guy. In his response, he seemed to not to think of himself as such either, replying that the language came from a 19th Century handbook of the tarot "or some such." I took this to mean that the language was what interested him, not so much the tarot deck per se.

I read this at his memorial in the UB Poetry Collection. At that moment it felt very much like something he had written about himself.

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