Tuesday, August 05, 2008

“I was astonished at the closeness of his speech with its hesitancies word by word the forms of his writing. It seemed that, in his specialized – i.e. personal, unique, home-made, close to the nose, close to the grain, actual – world of writing and speech, the forms he wrote were precise notations of the way his mind thoughts occurred to him, as he noticed them, and the way they’d be uttered out loud. ... The main principle seemed to be that his mind moved syllable by syllable – as if his basic unit of thought was the syllable – as if thought-forms could be broken down further than picture image, further than thought-breath or whatever larger unit Kerouac or Olson or Duncan or Williams or others have used, could be broken down below words themselves even, to syllables, one by one moving forward in time, one by one at a time left on the page to tell what change mind went thru in the head at the desk or with pen in hand on the lap on a ship or a plane or in bed, slow as a live clock, monosyllable by monosyllable ... here Creeley was exhibiting his own personal objective yoga as it were of speech-mindfulness, a completely unique universe uncovered by awareness of the syllable as basic atom or brick of poetic mind. What was rare to experience was how much the entire set of mind, the set up, represented in the beginning of the poem, was modified by each new single-breath’d syllable. So each one word syllable modified by hindsight all the previous words. Of course that’s universal in speech, but to hear speech so bare that the modifications of mind syllable by syllable were apparent, were the theme and play of the poem, was like raw mind discovery to me anew, like rediscovering Cezanne’s method of creating space, or Poussin’s arrangement of planes or Pound’s quantity of vowels.” (‘On Creeley’s Ear Mind’, 414)

—Allen Ginsberg


Hearing Robert Creeley read at the University of Chicago years ago is one of the high points of my time spent as an audience member at poetry readings. It was only after hearing Creeley read that I began to fully understand the pacing and musicality of his poetry. I understood the importance of the parts to whole as never before. Because of his relatively simple diction my previous tendency was to read the poems quickly and then to reread them as quickly. After hearing them presented by Creeley himself, I slowed myself down and thought of their timing as I hadn't before. Creeley seemed more attuned to this than most other poets I've heard——famous or otherwise. After hearing the intonation of Creeley's poems I realized that many of them are brief enactments of a human drama, re-lived in the telling. They seemed to be less of a language experiment and more of a lyrical document of a psychological gesture. As Ginsberg hints above, Creeley was the master of set up.

His asides also provided such monumental context that I literally forgot where I was while listening.