Robert Creeley (Bay Area Writers Reading – 2)

Robert Creeley (1926-2005)

Robert Creeley continued (from yesterday)

Sunday May 21 – Robert Creeley’s birthday today.

We continue with our transcript of his 1976 Bay Area Writers reading

RC  I thought possibly to read a few of the poems that would’ve come from that time of ..of being in the city…just seeing their titles and…let’s see…”The Bed”  [continues searching] – oh well.. this may get so awkward I won’t bother to ….

Jack’s Blues was sort of written with Jack (Kerouac)  in mind (“I’m going to roll a monkey and smoke it…’…’gone like a sad old candle”) – One other I’ll read from that time and then leap instantly to the present which is [1975]…(My) dear fellow-poet, John Ashbery has a really.. has, like they say, “a great line” in a recent poem, he says, “The present is here to stay” (which takes a long time to recognize as the case) – “The present is here to stay.”

“If You” – where is it? – This was the title of a pleasant sort of chapbook portfolio that..I think it was Henry Evans who was then a printer in the city put together and…he was an old friend of Martha Rexroth’s and he published it with charming wood-blocks or prints by Fielding Dawson – “If You” – (”If you were going to get a pet..”…” If you were going to get a pet, what kind of animal would you get?”)

These go back, that would go back, almost twenty years.But I was thinking of…  I suppose the preoccupation of my life writing would be, endlessly, in terms of how relations are felt, or experienced, how, you know, how one person thus relates to another, how that occurs, how it’s felt, yeah, how it’s felt, how it’s imagined, how it’s experienced, and that, seemingly, is an endless preoccupation.

“A Form of Women” – (“I’ve come far enough…”…”what to say when you see me”

“The Rain” – (“All night the sound had come back again” – “Be wet with a decent happiness”)

There’s one.. I was thinking of this awful, sad, yeah, that horror of that whole awful effect of the earthquake in Guatemala last week, and at one point in the late “Fifties, 1959 to 1961, we’d been in Guatemala. I had a job tutoring children on a… the children on two… the owner’s children on two coffee plantations, and so, for those two years, we got… you know, we had an extraordinary information of what life commonly was like in that situation of those old-time heavy ownership patterns, almost like a feudal, you know, ownership circumstance. – in the most extraordinary physical beauty, where, say, if you cut posts for a fence and, you know, secured them, very soon after, the posts themselves would begin to sprout much as, you know, cuttings from a plant, or what not, you know, the whole fence would start to grow. And this..  People starving in a situation where things can be grown so physically simply – just unbelievable!  And the range and.. the largest cause of mortality in Guatemala when we were there was internal.. infestation of internal parasites. So people, literally, suffocated by the flooding of worms, you know, up into their.. you know, from the stomach up their.. through the throat.. Well, there was one.. the first year we were there, I remember, this town of, say, two or three hundred people, twenty-four children died of whooping-cough (and when we got there there was typhus epidemic in full force – typhoid..typhus, dystentray (of both varieties) and maybe dysentery of… endless.. you know, endless…).  So that some such awful event as that natural, you know, terrifying cataclysmic phenomenon, would have, literally, no resources where .. (with which) to deal with it whatsoever . You know, the Guatamalean Federal Board of Health had funds to put a team in the field for two weeks of the entire year to deal with the epidemic situation of malaria. ..Just incredible!  I mean I was told once (and it was not apocryphal) that you could get anyone in that country murdered, at will, for five dollars – yeah! – or was it twenty-five dollars? – including the President! – you know.. It’s an incredible… Less than one percent of the persons that ..Less than one percent of that country’s persons own something like ninety-nine percent of its physical and economic wealth, you know. So… One man I worked for felt that the Indians were literally of… I mean I would be concerned (understandably, I think).  The prevalence of hepatitis was extraordinary, and so we had the (family)… Sarah and Kate, her young sister and her older sister , Kirsten, were all, lets say, aged, just like fourth grade to… Kate was then just a baby, and I, in my weird American innocence, had brought this tender group into this incredible place and we were there, and there’s no… (it was) three-thousand miles straight north to Alburquerque, New Mexico, where we’d otherwise be living – in this old VW Kombi, one of the prototypes, (and the only thing we had as hope in the world was to keep that damn thing running, you know, no matter what! – as to be able to get out.)  And my salary, I guess was three-thousand (dollars) for the year, with a..kind of.. one of the old..incidental person’s houses thrown in as a living-place (which was good, I mean, it was certainly better far than most persons in that situation had, but the..)  God!, the incredible distance between the patron and the workers was just unbelievable!…. I think their base pay was, like, twelve dollars every two weeks – and a common shirt ( you know a shirt like this – {points to his shirt) would cost in the Guatemalan market about ten or twelve dollars – you’d have to wait two weeks to get a shirt –

Jacobo Arbenz (1913-1971), democratically- elected President of Guatemala, deposed by a CIA-backed  US coup in 1954

Yeah, Arbenzs government had fallen, simply that he could get no cooperation from the land-owners otherwise. And they just left him without a technocracy of any order And thngs began to fall apart economically. He lost his funding (and) you know, power-base, so to speak, it’s an incredible country, you know! – We were there during (John F) Kennedy’s use of Guatemala, you know, as a staging number for the invasion of Cuba (I always wondered what all those American soldiers were doing in Guatemala City all the time, specially large numbers of airforce used to be whooping it up up and down the Main Street and there was no particular explanation as to why, why were there so many American soldiers present? – Well, they were there to train for (the) ill-fated Bay of Pigs trip, you know… But again, this government had so little…had authority, but it was all ownership of authority, I mean, for example..the milk we drank commonly in Guatemala was shipped in from California – ha! ha! – foremost, you know, they had a deal with the Federal Government to create this weird subsidy for the hauling in of powdered milk, when the country, again, had adequate possibilities for having its own dairies situation.. Endless..   I don’t know.. Very sad… So I want to get off that as a reality! – I wrote that poem there.

And another poem was written there, if I remember. “The Name” (Be natural, wise/, as you can be, my daughter..”… saving you such vicious self-/exposure…let you/pass it on/in you I cannot/be more than the man who watches”

One last poem from this book which is the title poem (and this again was written probably in the late “Fifties”” – “For Love” (“Yesterday I wanted to speak of it…”…” Into the company of love it all returns” – I see that ”Can I eat what you give me/I have not earned it” – that, I love to “pay my own way”, so to speak, (as I dare say many here do too), but, again, it’s the sad limit of being human, if we can’t accept what comes to us with no such..I mean, if we can’t accept our so-called “luck” or what’s simply directed towards us as affection, or whatever.. I mean, if we have to always think that our only possible return, let’s say, in this sad way is,.   if all we get in the world is what we’ve earned, we probably won’t get much at all, no matter what we do!

Robert Creeley

I’d like to go to more recent poems – see what’s the point – (does someone have an ashtray or a…thank you..perhaps I can use..I’ve got matches but..thank you (Creeley is handed a cup) I can just put a little water in that and use it – oh, that’s great – and that’s  [a second cup ] for wine – terrific!)

Well, I’ll read you two actually. There’s one that comes. coming back to..or, really coming, more particularly, to live in the (BayArea) in San Francisco, rather Bolinas. You come in no easy pattern, I think, exhausted. We’d been that Spring, 1970, in Buffalo, New York, where I was teaching, and those of you who had any involvement with teaching, or being a student at that time, will recall the extraordinary horrors of that Spring when the Kent State killings occurred and the killings also in the South, and then when campuses generally were in a state of near- , you know, near riot and chaos. I saw am old friend last weekend, Edgar Friedenberg, who’d been a colleague at Buffalo at that time, who’s himself an extraordinary critic or commentator, let’s say, on American, or educational patterns generally, but particularly on American educational patterns, and he recalled a mutual friendly student having heard me saying, at some awful moment of, not confusion, just wanting to… saying, well, we were debating whether it was better to be gassed than to be beaten! (since those seemed to be the options that most students then had!)

And I recall as a teacher, wanting to continue classes and some responsibility to being, not merely hired to do so but having people expecting to have them as meeting places, and, you know, a situation where you’d hopefully get some kind of information that you had in mind to have (or some discussion of some information) that was crucial to your own interests. And to have all that stop was really hard. I mean, socially and personally. It wasn’t that you wanted to maintain “business as usual”, but you wanted to maintain the integrity of that communityof interest . On the other hand, if you met in the usual classroom, you simply identified where you were, and subjected , particularly your students, to all kinds of harassment as they came and went from those meeting-places. And there were… you know, Buffalo at least, there were , very absolute beatings of people, women and men, slashings of tires, cordons of police around them and then hitting them, and mace-ing them, and all the rest. In other words, there was a state of extraordinary civil hysteria that the community, and the police  as well, had, sadly, you know, gone into. I don’t say that they were without provocation, that would be absurd, but let’s say their reaction was far far more than would seem, you know, justifiably the case. It’s an old working-class city and the.. you know..there was already an attitude towards students that they were in some ways extraordinarily privileged people in the social group, (which in some ways was truly the case in that community), and to see any conduct on their part that didn’t seem to respect the fact that they have, you know, this extraordinary privilege, they had a chance to, , get out of the..  you know, steel-mills, and factories, otherwise the case, and if they didn’t respect it in the way that that community, understandably, supposed it should, they were thought to be just, you know, punks and little wise-guys. And there was real frustration and, you know, let out. They were really horribly treated.

Anyhow.. So we came. I’d been invited to teach in San Francisco State for a year, (and (I) took the place of Kay Boyle when she went on..  (she herself was obviously exhausted from her whole time with (S.I.) Hayakawa and that whole trip). But, I mean, it was incredible, her parents, I recall.. and James Michener wrote a kind of text involved with the State circumstances, and, as part of his research, he interviewed (or had interviewed) a number of parents of students there) and found those people in such awful human consternation, and, I think, true confusion, that parents were now saying (an extraordinary percentage of parents thus questioned) were saying (that),” yes, if their sons or daughters had been attacked or killed in this fashion, they would’ve thought it a righteous act! – so, incredible, you know. It’s incredible how many parents themselves felt this extraordinary confusion a propos to the situation of their own children.

So, he felt that was a cop-out. Anyhow. he .came to San Francisco.He had an old friend living., he had several old friends living in Bolinas. Arthur Okamura, extraordinary painter of the area (who’s been living (t)here now for at least twenty more years, in, variously, around the Bay (– he works.. he had a studio in Berkeley, he taught for a long long time, and still does, and part… ) ….absolutely extraordinary is Tom Clark and Joanne Kyger, is absolutely a dear friend …

All my poems are… I don’t know who understands them, and why they’re printed, but, I’m not going to argue about it. I’m certainly not going to argue with anyone a propos. “Bolinas and Me” – like this poem is really egocentric – “for Stan Persky” – and for those in the company who would remember, a very very… a true genius of this place for a long time was Jack Spicer, who was this legendary poet, who none of us, apart from, say, living in San Francisco, those of us who were living in other parts of the country would have very fugitive senses of Jack’s actual writing, because he absolutely insisted that writing be local and that it be the activity of an actual community of persons,  and that it not get hooked up with some awful exploitation of itself as commercial value, or big-star-dom, or that kind of stuff. He really… for a time edited a magazine and the one injunction upon its publication was that it should not leave the city, that it was considered a very dire offence to slip that magazine out of the city to any friend or interest otherwise not present. And he’d print..almost anything,, he had a box for a long time in The Place and if you wanted your poems published, you just put them in that box and, sooner or later, they’d see the light of day in his magazine. He wanted it completely without the usual kinds of didactic, you know, editing, or criticism, or whatever, he just wanted an absolutely communal magazine. And he was a true genius as a poet. Happily now his Collected Books are published and edited by another dear person of this city, Robin Blaser, and you can get them from Black Sparrow. Jack was an extraordinary mentor for a number of younger writers, as Joanne Kyger, George Stanley, Stan Persky (to whom this poem is dedicated), Richard Brautigan, actually, learned an extraordinary amount of his (ability) to write from Jack Spicer and would say so without question.

Jack Spicer (1925-1965

-[tape continues in media res] – … of that part of the country, he’d [ sic]  get a whole lot of people to read itSo he enrolled as a student at UBC..which.. so he enrolled as a student….   “Bolinas and Me” – “For Stan Persky” (“Bolinas and me./ believe me..”… “Bolinas sits on the ground/  by the sea, sky/ overhead”) – I wanted that final ““Bolinas sits on the ground / by the sea, sky/ overhead” – I wanted something, not just to flatten it out but make it as literally, and generally, present as a physical place as one could say it – That part about “the Marriage burns, soars.”. [“Marriage burns, soars – / all say the roar of it/ from the lovely barnspace./ The people, the plenitude of all”],  an old friend, now sadly dead, had built himself an extraordinary house and there was a wedding of two friends who still are old-time neighbors, and that is Ebbe and Angela Borregaard, Ebbe, himself a poet and carpenter. And there was the marriage performed in this incredible old-time community pattern with people getting up to give testament to their marriage or to the circumstances thus related. It was one of the most moving human things I think I’d ever been present to – Yeah.

Jess (Collins), Ebbe Borregaard and Jack Spicer, Drew House, Stinson Beach – Photograph by Joanne Kyger

Words…since she’s..  “For The Graduation – Bolinas School, 1971″,  for Sarah” –  (“Pretention has it/you can’t/get back/what’s gone by”…” I was trying to remember/ what it/ was like/ at your age”) –

[Some shifts in the tape follow here]  – “The same old friend that I mentioned…”  “and how lovely”  – “printer who had worked a long time.. ”

“The Temper” – (“The Temper is fragile/ as apparently it wants to be/wind on the ocean, trees/ moving in wind and rain”) – “Trees moving in wind and rain” – If I can find any more of those poems .   “As You”  – (As you come down/ the road, it swings/ slowly left and the sea/opens below you,/west. It sounds out”) – “As We Sit” – (sitting down by the channel between Stinson and Bolinas) – “(There is a long/ stretch of sky/ before us” … “..A wind/blows steadily/ as we sit”)  – I wanted something very…

..a poem for Ebbe’s birthday. So finally it came down to these two lines. It was “For Ebbe” (“And Ebbe/ with Love” )– So I figured. “That’s all you get this year Ebbe, you know!” – It’s funny.

(See if I can find the [three poems written on graduation] ..the last of them.. the last year I wrote a poem for.. “this artist …who was”  “…if I can find it..somewhere”,  “there’s another one”) [ tape continues to shift]

And, simply looking around, (at) the pleasure of the company, the first couple of lines of this poem, [“The honor/of being human..”] –  (I) just came home and completed it.  And one thing that really attracted me about these three poems, (one written each year, like (19)71, (!9)72) and (19)73) – that the insistent image of the poems was that the world is round.            I mean, coming back around in the center, in the things being said, the sense of a circle, really going back, you know –  Will The Circle Be Unbroken? – you know, the whole concept, or whole experience, of human faith is as keeping the circle intact, and, I suppose, Imean, like a wedding-ring, or something, or the obvious significance of “come into the circle” and the sense of the magic.. (“The world will be/as ever round, and/all yourselves/ will know it/on to, and around/and around/ No one knows what will/ happen.That/ is the happiness/of the circle,/finding you” –

– I like the fact that “hap” and ‘happiness” are  (the same),  so to speak – that when you’re happy, something’s happened. If nothing happened, you wouldn’t be happy! – I know I wouldn’t be happy if nothing happened! –

Well, I’ve lost track of time again, does anybody have a watch? –  I had a watch when I came but..  I still carry… I had one.. I don’t.. . I can’t even remember where I put it.. [Creeley’s informed of the time] – Eight thirty-one… what’s the… so to speak.. yeah.. probably.. I’ll tell you what would be useful to me (if anybody has anything)  as a question, anything that they’d like to.. I don’t… I always feel it’s inappropriate imposition upon attention..that you’d like to bring up or the early…

Jack Kerouac (1922-1969)

Student: You mentioned, your knowledge of Kerouac. Did you know him well?

RC: No, the time that I knew Jack was just that – (19)56). We had some correspondence, subsequently,  but sadly it took him far away from where I was living so I never saw him again, had, as I say, a few letters now and then – and would have word of him through mutual friends, Allen Ginsberg and Peter (Orlovsky) and Gregory (Corso) and so on. But he began to be more and more… Yeah,  I’d be.. drinking heavily and more paranoid and more separated by the sad commercial uses that people seemingly put on him or that he felt..accepted. Ken Kesey I’d seen Neal (Cassady) from time to time when I was in San Francisco. I never had the opportunity to meet Ken Kesey, which I would have….and Tom Wolfe? –

It tends to be primarily an activity that keeps to a relatively small nucleus of persons thus involved (that can be very extensive …significant, you know).. I mean,  I want to say that poetry, for me, is a personal art. Although it can have, you know, an incredible extension in time and space, it’s most intensive and most active, I think, in a relatively small nucleus of people, so that it communicates itself, almost, I want to say cluster-to-cluster – I mean it gives us this extraordinary information, you know, of our internal factual lives. That… in that information, it is unique. I mean, it really gives witness, or actuates, or states, a whole area of being human that otherwise has no articulation, except that it does happen. I mean, you can hear, or read, or thus find communication with, states of human experience that have, I think, pretty truly no other way in which to transmit, (or if they do, they have no way that can be dependably looked at, or gone to as a source). I mean, a letter, let’s say, from a friend, may communicate some extraordinary experience of feeling that he or she is having, that you as the person receiving the letter will then thus be permitted to enter, but, you know, you can go to something as common as a Public Library and read some poems by whomever, and you will have very..possibly that same nature of communication occuring, but without the necessity, you know of having it be a letter, specifically, to you, you know. It will be a letter. I mean , (Walt) Whitman’s incredible saying, you know, “Who touches this book, touches a man”, you know, [“..this is no book./Who touches this, touches a man..“] – There’s no extraordinary metaphor in that statement whatsoever. Its true – “Who touches this book, touches a man’ – Who reads these words and experiences them as being said, and hears them in his or her head, or mind, or heart, enters the experience of that situation of feeling with which the writer was possessed. And that ability to communicate is extraordinarily dear. And I don’t think, in that respect, it will ever go out or die. it becomes, at various points, ritualized again in the social habits of the group. I mean, poetry, amomg say, American Indians, or persons who have a strong collective pattern of living together as people, can be used to ritualize, you know, the social information of the whole group, can specify them specifically as humans, or can make them specifically articulate as human beings in that place or time. As people become more fragmented in their social patterns, and more, you know, diversely or awkwardly placed, it would seem that poetry becomes a much more personal art, you know, an art that speaks from one person to another one person. So that our poetry in this country has been primarily personal poetry, a lyric poetry, and we have few poets who have a large, collective, you know, articulation (as is the case in Russia, for example, or other poetries of other cultures), but the specific experience of being physically and emotionally and intellectually an American, I think, “finds voice”, like they say, in our poetry perhaps more articulately than in any other form of our activity.

..Despite the fact that we share with other species, the ability to communicate in divers patterns and ways but, our human words are entirely… I mean human’s die, words die with them. No one will ever remember the passive periphrastic ! or…you know, what’s the case of this word or that or what tense is this verb in, all that kind of incredible laborious logistical patterning that we’ve evolved to define what we’re doing, you know, as people speaking .

Genevieve Jules Creeley

My mother, when my sister…my sister lived in Berkeley for about ten years, with her family, her husband then working for a UNESCO-funded educational research group. He’s a New Zelander, who came first to this country to teach at the University of Wyoming, and then, from that situation, went into this educational research group,,and then, when it closed down in the late (!9)60’s, as the funding began to be tight, he went back to teaching as a sort of…..

The point is simply that my mother lived with him for part of the “Sixties, after my aunt died, her sister, They, she then moved from Florida, where she’d been living in an old-time trailer-park, to Berkeley, where my sister lived. And then the family then moved back to Wyoming, and then the altitude was thought to be some hardship for my mother, so the last year of her life she came to spend with us in Bolinas.  And then, that summer, we all went east to Gloucester, which is close to where she grew up, and that was dear. And then we returned to Bolinas in September, and my mother was increasingly feeling lousy with some kind of abdominal, some kind of constriction, or some kind of block, in her intestines, apparently, diagnosed by a really good-news doctor in Point Reyes (who)  argued that she would possibly be relieved by an operation But she was then eighty-five,  so that she and I….

[second tape continues in media res]

….(if she had the) operation that would only be of further disappointment and discomfort. And I can recall she was at that point in the County Hospital here in Marin. And she was an old-time nurse, so I remember the doctor saying, “Well, don’t you think your mother better decide this for herself. .I mean, you’re all being very liberal and interesting about the fact that you don’t think an operation would be wise if it would only cause her more discomfort”,  blah, blah, blah – “but, in the meantime, it is her life, you know, that you’re talking about, so I think the question should be appropriately asked her” – And she decided that she would like to have the operation, thinking that, if it were successful, she might live another x number of years, and if not, that was no horror to her either.  So she had the operation and it was, happily, seemingly successful, but the doctor then told us that he could only go on to the lower intestine, and the upper intestine might have some further problem, but he didn’t..  It was some kind of.. not growths even, but just places in the intestine where the walls had become scarred or something, and they tended to adhere and get small blockages, which were causing her all this difficulty. But then, sadly, she went back into the same damn dilemma, and, that time, she didn’t survive . So, this is “For My Mother Genevieve Jules Creeley (April 8 1887 to October 7, 1972)” – (“Tender, semi-/articulate flickers/of your/ presence,,..”.. “…. I am here/and will follow”)

Thanks a lot for your patience. Yeah… it’s…  I’d like to end with that. Thank you.

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