Robert Creeley (Bay Area Writers Reading – 1)

Robert Creeley would have been ninety-one tomorrow, May 21st (he died in 2005). In honor of the great man and his birthday, we present, this weekend, another transcription from the extraordinary Bay Area Writers series (from back in 1975-76) – (see also here and here) – Rudimentary recording equipment, so there are, understandably, a few technical problems (particularly at the beginning and the end of tape one (the main tape) but.. what a treasure! , what a remarkable record!

RC: I’m curious, like.. I gather some of you.. that this is a class for some of you and some of you are here as a generous audience. Can anyone tell me quickly what the class’s preoccupations are ?

Student: Bay Area Writers

RC: Bay Area Writers? Well this.. you.. Certainly, from my general.. yeah, for all of the friends of my life, this place has been an extraordinary center. I grew up outside Boston, Massachusetts, and, although that had an awfully august literary history, at the time that I arrived, it was pretty faint – or let’s say it tended to be dominated by the.. by Harvard University, and so (for) a young writer that social pattern, either felt placed with that august, social, sort of, yeah, moneyed group,or else you felt very out of step. I mean, I was really charmed that my mother supported us, my sister and myself, after my father’s death when I was four. She went back to nursing and she was the town nurse for towns of Acton, West Acton,North Acton, East Acton, and South Acton, and Acton Center. And one of my heroes when I was trying to be a writer was Kenneth Patchen and I was charmed that one day she came back from some call she’d made and she said she’d seen (you know, she’d seen the picture of “that man” that, you know, I was so much reading, on the mantelpiece in this charming older couple’s home. And it turned out, that they were his.. they were Miriam {his wife’s] father and mother – the Oikemus’ – I think they lived in North Acton, and they were old–time sort of …he was an old-time laborer (not organizer but his heart and life activity were much committed to the local unions there around mainly Mass(achusetts, the textile unions), and they were very proud of their son-in-law. But that was about the closest I ever got to a writer in that area. So…I’m just going to talk for a little bit to relax and also give you some sense as to what my relation to the Bay Area as a writer, in any sense, really is, because, like, I moved here [the Bay Area] in 1970 to live, but a lot of people moved here in 1970! – between 1965 and 1970, I think you saw a lot of people arrive , and, at one point.. this is back..  I came here first back in 1956, and it was the Spring of 1956, an extraordinary time in San Francisco, and friends I’d come particularly to visit were the Dorns – Ed Dorn and his wife then Helene, who were living then on Grove Street in the city, and I think within twenty-four hours I’d happily met, primarily through his friendships, I met Allen Ginsberg and Phil Whalen and Gary Snyder and Jack Kerouac and a whole host of people..Lawrence Ferlinghetti – I has also a dear friend who I had met earlier in New York, where I had lived for a time, Robert Duncan, who, in effect, gave me introductions, call them, to Jimmy Broughton and Madelaine Gleason and Kermit Sheets, old, old-time people of that whole community. But it was an absolutely dazzling moment to be a young man or young woman in that milieu in San Francisco, simply that it was before the publication of On The Road, it was before the publication of Howl, so that the intensity and concentration of those writers was still primarily in a..lets say, in a communal pattern. I mean, the large, intensive, public use of these writers hadn’t as yet occurred, so that they were in a very intensive community. And Michael McClure was a friend I met at that point..Joanne…later I met Joanne Kyger, Jack Spicer and other dear friends of that same situation. I met Gregory Corso. It was a time when San Francisco seemingly was serving as a community nexus for all these divers patterns and persons of what really comes to be the me the extraordinary revolution in ways of thinking about writing and practicing it that I’d date around… the generation coming of age in the 1940s, and coming to public identification, in a sense, in San Francisco, the so-called San Francisco Renaissance , (which triggered all the subsequent patterns, I mean, the Black Mountain School or the New York School or whatever “school” one wantts to point to. somehow still seems to get a real focus, nonetheless, here in San Francisco, which is extraordinary.

Beat Generation writers were all here. Black Mountain was happily represented (Ed (Dorn) and myself were certainly in that situation. and the kind of cluster that’s formed by Lew Welch, Phil Whalen and Gary Snyder was also much on the scene. I don’t know why it is that San Francisco should be so possible. And I think of other cities that possibly give you the same kind of social patterns could.. like Boston, in some ways, could, but, I think the eminence of New York, just there on the horizon, tends to diminish or disperse the energies that otherwise were the case in Boston. And L.A, seemingly’s really a painter’s city, it never seems really to have cohered quite for writers. And then all those cities like Chicago will serve very intensely for a time the ..they too either go to one coast or the other. People tend to move from one coast to the other. But San Francisco for me was an absolute revelation. I found a company that’s lasted me all my life.

In fact, altho’ it’s off the… it isn’t that it isn’t poetry, by any manner or means but, years ago, a French magazine was doing a kind of pleasant hustle on the whole subject of San Francisco and Beat writing and asked me to write a quick reminiscence of that time which doesn’t happily go on very long at all. If I can locate it quickly…yeah, it’s called “Random Thoughts on San Francisco, March 22 1956” –  {reads]

– “There are lovely persons in the world when persons and place burn with a like heat as (Charles) Olson would say. I accept. .I finally accepted some intuition, or habit, or simply coinidence, as arranged, that this should be the case, and all those to be blessed truly will be present. I felt that way arriving in San Francisco in March of 1956. The city was humanly so beautiful but that fact would not normally have changed my mind in itself. I’d left Black Mountain College just at the turn of the year in real despair, with a marriage finally ended, separated from my three children, very confused as to how to support myself, and so I headed West for the first time, thinking to be rid of all the Eastern-isms of my New England upbringing and habit. I had friends living in New Mexico, a phenomenal place in its own right, and thought to settle there, but, after a month or so, I found myself restless, dependent, and in no sense clear as to what might be my next move. An old friend and student from Black Mountain, Ed Dorn was living in San Francisco, so that’s where I headed, to see the Pacific Ocean if nothing else. I got there mid-afternoon, if I remember correctly. Ed and Helene gave me a whirlwind tour in their mini Morris Minor, and we drank a lot and celebrated (my arrival). Ed told me that (Kenneth) Rexroth had generously invited us to dinner but that he (Ed) had to go to work at the Greyhound bus terminal at six. I (got) drunk.. and recall (drunk) vomiting heavily in the street before going up to Rexroth’s apartment . People had already eaten (and), tactfully, made no point of my late arrival. Later that same night, returning to the Dorns’ apartment, I was charmed by the arrival of Allen Ginsberg at midnight, He got off work at the Greyhound terminal at that hour and we talked much of the night about writing and Projective Verse and his own interest in (Jack) Kerouac and (William) Burroughs. My information of the latter was meager but fascinating – that is, Robert Duncan had told me that Kerouac was the man who had written a thousand pages in which the only apparent physical action was a neon sign over (the) storefront flashing off and on! . Burroughs, in a story that had him confused with Jack, was said to have been asked at a party to demonstrate his expertise with revolvers by shooting an apple off the head of his wife. A gun was given him, he took aim and fired and, sadly, killed her. His apocraphyl remark was tha,t “I should never have used a .45 they always under-shoot” – [ You know, that was.. no, that was..that is not Burroughs’ nature] – Rexroth’s weekly evenings proved an intensive meeting-place – (then, I remember, there was a bar on Grand Street called “The Place”) –“The Place”, a great bar with genial host, Leon and sometimes-bartender, John Ryan, was another. One night Allen asked the Dorns and myself to meet him there after he got off work so he could introduce us to Jack Kerouac, now back in the city. We got there early and sat at a small table in the front of that small space and waited, peering about to try and figure out which one of the others might be Jack. I was particularly drawn to a man who was sitting up against the back wall on the way to the toilet, seeming alone, sort of musing, with extraordinary eyes and a head that had somehow larger-than-life-sized intensity. When Allen came in, he asked if we’d seen Jack, and we said “No”, and then he pointed to this man that I’d been watching and said, “there he is” – but we had little conversation that night, unhappily. Jack was pretty comatose from drinking, and when we all got back to the apartment he was sharing with Al Sublette, to eat, the large steak, I remember, kept getting dropped on the floor in the process of being cooked (they were trying to turn it over with a fork, and it would  flop on the floor, and put it back in the pan) – Jack passed out on a bed and when I was delegated to wake him up, he regarded me with those extraordinary eyes and I felt like a didactic idiot!.  Remembering now, it all tends to swirl – great parties at Locke McCorkle‘s house out in Mill Valley

(It’s on Montfort Road, as you go past that turn-off that takes you up on the hill to go over to Bolinas or Stinson, instead, you continue on maybe, I’d say an eighth of a mile and the house that Locke McCorkle then lived in is sitting right on the right, and it goes up a steep hill, and back of that, then, had a small cabin up at the top, where..persons.. I mean, there would be the immediate house.  (I think it rented for some incredible amount, like thirty-five dollars a month) – just this incredible house, that Locke did some.. Locke was a.. at that point in his life, he was a kind of itinerant union carpenter who would work part-time repairing houseboats, or building them, or doing things like that – and it made him, you know, a sufficient (and very comfortable) living. And he then lived there with his wife and two children. And it was a great congregating place for people, like.. from the city, as ourselves, and these really charming parties would take place there, and last, in no…no hopeful sense.. I remember when Gary (Snyder) was to go to Japan, that there was a big party given there to celebrate his last night in the city.  Anyhow…} –

“Great parties at Locke McCorkle’s house out in Mill Valley, Allen and Peter charmingly dancing naked among the dense pack of clothed bodies, flowers at the prom –  [like. both Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky were… again, it wasn’t some extraordinarly erotic number, it was more like..Trotskyites, you know, demonstrating for some point of necessary order, so that their nudity was by no means offensive,  or even aggressive, you know, it was just that they were naked – which to be naked in Mill Valley in winter, you know, is not as comfortable as it might seem – they had a lot of heart!)

“Jack and I sitting on the sidelines, shy, banging on upended pots and pans- “keeping the beat” . Gary Snyder’s wise old young eyes, his centeredness and shyness also – Phil Whalen’s quote  – ”Well, Creeley, I hope you know what you’re doing” – visits to Mike McClure’s with Ed, Ronnie Bladen upstairs in their undesignated commune” – [ This.. Ronald Bladen was then living with the McClures, and I was trying to think of one or two other people sharing the house with them, so it was a.. it was like an early old-time form of communal living, and they were all, diversely, artists, like Ronnie becomes this extraordinary sculptor subsequently ]

Let’s see – Ronnie Bladen upstairs In their undesignated commune, Mike practicing the trumpet in the cellar. Anyhow, blasts of sound and talk of (Jackson) Pollock energy. Lawrence Ferlinghetti standing outside his great and initial City Lights Bookstore asking me what living was like in Majorca – cheap? – he’ had the care to review – The Gold Diggers, (which is an early collection of stories, the only collection of stories that I ever published) – to review the Gold Diggers for the San Francisco Chronicle, and that was surely a first! – Walking around the city with Allen and Phil,  Allen reading his “Howl” which he had in a big black binder notebook. Each time we’d stop at a curb, or in a cafe (Mike’s – used to be the old Mike’s Sandwich Shop on Broadway – great Italian food), or just on a bench in the park. Later, I typed the stencils for a small edition of that transforming poem. I was trying to get work and Martha Rexroth gave me the job as I remember, Allen had given her prior to the City Lights publication. There were other dear friends of that time, James Broughton, an old friend of (Robert) Duncan’s, Kermit Sheets, Madelaine Gleason, (Duncan himself was in Black Mountain but his care that I should be at home in the city was so kind). I’d go to them when I was exhausted, and that was frequently. I finally managed to get an apartment on Montgomery Street tho’ I never succeeded in living there. I did write some poems though on a huge typewriter Martha had got me. The bed. “Just Friends”, old Charlie Parker favorite, “She Went to Stay“A Folk Song” and “Jack’s Blues” among them. One night, I invited the gang over, like they say, and one of the company was a particularly ominous heavy who’s pleasure was turning schoolgirls on (there were two with him) to heroin, and finally I got freaked. Peter Orlovsky, true angel, somehow managed to clear the whole room of people, then paused himself at the door before leaving, to say, “Would you like me to turn off the light?” – We talked endlessly day and night. We rehearsed our senses of writing, possible publications, shop-talk. Jack was not going to let the editors cut up On The Road the way they had The Town and the City. He was getting himself ready for Malcolm Cowley’s impending visit to talk it over, which Jack, rightly, feared might be heavy-handed advice.Both Ed and I were asked a lot of questions of (Charles) Olson) and his Projective Verse. – Was it just more razzle-dazzle intellectualism? McClure and Whalen were particularly intrigued, and were already at this time in correspondence with him. Allen, as always, was alert to any information of process that might be of use. So, time went by and it was so packed with things happening it seems now strange to me it was such a short time – only three months!

Came June and I was restless again, and so headed back to New Mexico with huge rucksack and (a) sleeping-bag (that) Jack had helped me locate – (I managed to get all my stuff and Martha’s typewriter into the former somehow)  – from an army-surplus store in Market Street. I still have them. The sleeping bag, in fact, is presently on a bed in the next room. Why does that matter?  At times it seems all we have of the human possibility to “keep the faith”,  tho’ why an old sleeping-bag and a primordial-issue rucksack, now looking like a faded grey ghost, should be the tokens, one must figure for oneself. Each time  I drive cross the country in the under-powered battered VW I likewise hold onto, hitting those Kansas spaces where Burroughs rightly remarked one “gets the fear”, I think of Neal Cassady and that Pontiac he could wheel round corners as if on a turntable. Pure burning energy. Listening to fantastic Bombay Express Indian record of Locke’s, Neal flagging the train on through. People give you life in that way. Things you didn’t think you knew, or could do. Suddenly it’s possible. Answers you never expected to come out of your own mouth. One time, after a night-long party at Locke’s, people had variously come to rest either in the house at the bottom of the hill, (great sloping ground of musky eucalyptus and grass), or else in the small cabin towards the top, kids and big people all together in one heap. Jack proposed he and I sleep outside just to dig that wild soft air and tender darkness. I woke in bright dazzling morning light with Jack’s face inches from mine asking in mock sternness, “Are you pure?”.  To which I replied, as if for that moment in his mind, “That’s like asking water to be wet”    (Well that’s about,… that’s a quick flash of that.. of that time and those persons)

to be continued

One comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *