University at Buffalo: Reporter

Robert White Creeley

Poet, novelist, short-story writer, essayist and editor, Robert Creeley was an originator of the "Black Mountain" school of poetry, along with Charles Olson, Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov. Black Mountain established a new and anti-academic poetic tradition that has been reflected in the work of many poets who have come to occupy significant places in the 20th-century literary canon.

Citing Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams as their literary forebears, these poets developed the theory of "projective verse"-poetry designed to transmit the poet's emotional and intellectual energy directly and spontaneously, depending on natural speech rhythms and lines determined by pauses for breathing. Creeley's frequently-quoted statement, "Form is never more than an extension of content," expresses an important precept of the Black Mountain poets.

Creeley is a minimalist poet whose work has been said to reflect with contemporary inarticulateness, "a kind of contemporary stammer...a fear of opening up." His often brief, laconic verses result from his process and his attitude toward poetry. He considers the writing of a poem an effective means of self-discovery and so emphasizes the process of writing over the final result.

Contemporary visual art and music were crucial to the formation of his technique. Like abstract expressionism and modern jazz, Creeley's poems are reductive renderings of precise images and emotions, and he employs unusual syntax, punctuation and grammar. He has produced a large body of collaborative works with contemporary artists that include Jim Dine, John Altoon, Robert Indiana, R. B Kitaj and Marisol; musician Irene Aebi, and others.

Because his work is intensely self-examining, Creeley has been called a solipsistic poet whose references are often too personal and result in obscurity and narrowness of vision. Nevertheless, critics consider him a significant force in contemporary poetry. His work has generated considerable debate. Since his days as an instructor at Black Mountain College and a founder of the Black Mountain movement, he has been a major influence on younger writers and an important voice in American literature.

He co-directs the UB Poetics Program, which he and colleagues Charles Bernstein, Raymond Federman, Leslie Fiedler, Dennis Tedlock and Susan Howe developed to encourage the exploration of language and its capacity to express and represent human experience.

Creeley's collected poems (1945-75) were published by the University of California Press in 1982 and represent the work of 30 years from his first collection "Le Fou" (1952) to "Thirty Things." Since 1975, his poetry publications have included "Hello: A Journal," "Later," "Mirrors," "Memory Gardens" and "Windows." His prose was collected and published in 1984 and his collected prose was published by the University of California Press in 1989.

He has received a number of prestigious awards, including the Robert Frost Medal from the Poetry Society of America in 1987, the year he was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. In 1988, he received the Distinguished Fulbright Award to hold the Bicentennial Chair in American Studies at the University of Helsinki, Finland. That year, he also received the Walt Whitman Citation from the New York State Writers' Institute and, in accordance with the citation, was named New York State Poet Laureate for 1989-91.

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