Friday, May 22, 2009

Aimless Reading: The C's, Part 39.7 (Robert Creeley)

Life & Death
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Creeley, Robert
Life & Death

I am sure I bought this at Talking Leaves soon after it came out. At the time, I was in my second semester of grad school. Toward the end of the first semester, I had finally got up the courage to send Creeley an email saying I admired his work and would like to meet him sometime. He invited me for coffee at a Buffalo coffeehouse called Caffe Aroma.

When I arrived, I found him sitting toward the back of the room at a little table waiting for me. One of the many traits the man did not share with most of his fellow poets was punctuality. He was always on time -- even early!

We sat and talked for a little while. I told him a little about my self and so forth and then finally he said, "So, what do you want to do?" I said I didn't have anything particular in mind. He asked if I would like to do some kind of tutorial with him and if so about what. After I rattled off a few names of poets I might like to read with him like Zukofsky or Williams or Olson or Pound, he asked if I was a poet. I told him I was and he said, "Why don't we just talk about your poetry?" Of course! Yes! He told me to bring him a stack of my poems to our next meeting and that we should meet up once a week or so for lunch to discuss what I was writing. His daughter, Hannah, who was probably 13 or 14 at the time, showed up at the Caffe at just that moment to pick him up. He called her, "Dear Heart," which I thought was very sweet.

I brought him a literal stack of poems -- probably 50-75 pages worth -- a week later, which he took home to read over the holidays. We then met again in the spring semester. He took me once a week for a grilled cheese sandwich and a cup of coffee, usually at a little Greek diner called Pano's (which has since become a monstrously large Greek restaurant). We mostly just talked -- sometimes about my poems, sometimes about poems I was reading, sometimes about whatever movies we had seen over the weekend.

I guess the point, if one could call it that, was that the poems were part of the conversation, not all of it, and that it was the conversation itself, the passing of words and ideas and emotions back and forth between two people, that mattered most. I think that was apparent in his reading style as well. He would tell long, rambling anecdotes and stories in between poems, and he would tell them in exactly the same cadence as he would read the poems, so that if you didn't see him pick up the book or put it down, you would not really be able to discern whether or not he was talking or reading.

I remember once, just before Life & Death came out, he told me this very long story about visiting Florida and seeing all of these retirees trolling the beaches with metal detectors and so forth and how disgusted he was by the whole thing -- retirement, age, golf carts, death etc. When I bought the book and read the poem "Histoire de Florida," I realized that he had narrated much of the "story" of the poem to me over grilled cheese sandwiches at Pano's. I even had the eerie sense of having heard some of the language before.

I also remember telling him how much I liked the book. He said nothing, kind of half-snorted, then gave me vaguely contemptuous look that seemed to say, "Please, let's not stoop to empty compliments."

Here's a recording of him reading the poem in Buffalo in 1996:

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