Robert Creeley in Buffalo Conversation – 1980 – 3

Charles Olson ( 1910-1970)

Conversation between Robert Creeley and Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky and Allan DeLoach in Buffalo in 1980 continues

ADL: (Basil) Bunting used to graph his poems, you know, “Briggflatts”, in particular. He told me he charted the rise and the fall and the structure in the poem. What was it?

AG: We actually were talking about the development of the ear for quantity..

ADL: Mm-hmm.

AG: …The length of the vowel which Bunting developed, which (Louis) Zukofsky developed, and that was Creeley’s specialty, [to Robert Creeley] – Did Charles Olson pay specific attention to that as a practice for himself?

RC: Yeah! Remember there is a piece of Olson’s where he’s taking (I think I can maybe even find it), a particular writing about..or to Cid Corman

AG: [reporting]  Bob is from the other side of the room saying yes, he did indeed. It was a piece of Cid Corman’s that Bob went to get. He’s coming out of the library now.

RC: There’s a take where he’s talking about Cid’s take on, you know, Theocritus...

AG: Uh-huh

RC: And he’s showing Cid how to do it. And then there’s also his take on Shakespeare, where he’s really speaking, I think, in a funny way, more of quantity. Yeah, he says that.. the title of the piece is literally..uh.. if there’s an index in this thing… it says.. the “quantity” is in the title. It’s not… It’s in this piece on Shakespeare, on Shakespeare’s later verse, yeah – “Quantity in Verse..”

AG: Uh-huh. I haven’t read that. What book is that?

RC: It’s in the Human Universe – Human Universe– and that’s “Quantity in Verse, and Shakespeare’s Late Plays” 

AG: Amazing,

RC: Yeah, and he, for example, was interested in , I think what he would call quantity in runes or..

AG: Uh-huh. Yes he had that in that…

RC: Yeah.

AG:...the guy going across the river…  (sic)

RC: Yeah, And  I felt there was a tacit…

AG: (W.S.) Merwin had it,,,

RC:  And I felt that (John) Ashbery would be pretty interesting to talk to about quantity. I presume, maybe, I don’t know.

AG: And so, well, it occurs to me that all these years I’ve… (It’s) just sort of been a mythological disappearing horizon in poetry and I never actually investigated it. I mean, I never actually found out who had an ear for it, except (Ezra) Pound.

ADL: Well it’s curious that your.. the Sappho thing, sounded like Allen Ginsberg reading the poem

AG: No, it’s not foreign. It’s just a repeated cadence that you can talk in. Once you get on to it you get used to it. [to Robert Creeley re Charles Olson] What does he say?

RC: The piece on Theocritus is really… well, anyhow, I think he’s really hitting the diction more than the quantity. Presumably Theocritus would be measuring the quantity. He’s a Latin poet.

AG: Yeah, well, apparently Latin does both. Latin measures both accent and quantity, I’m told…

RC: Yeah, I think it’s shifting now. And I’m sure that local pronunciation is really…like those southern Italians, man…strange,

AG:..And I read that, somewhere, that the German admits both quantitative measure and simultaneous…

RC: I always had a very hard time paying attention to  quantity in American speech. To me American speech is so intimate with stress in conversational terms and otherwise, so that it’s hard for me to get hold of unless we backtrack, in the way you were during the demonstration, to hear.

AG: Well, where I heard it was listening to Bunting’s conversations…

RC: Well, the British, you see, don’t accent in the…

AG:..and listening to (William) Burroughs, and some Southerners talk..

ADL: Yes, the regional patterns then really come into play.

RC: Really are strong.

AG: Listening to old men talk with that voice, that old man’s talk, old talk

RC: “We’ll come no more…”

ADL: I remember when I first met (Charles) Olson, he made a comment sitting around with some.. a group of people, and he turned to me, and he says in this booming voice of his, “you know you and I may be the only indigenous American voices around this table”.

RC: Dig it

ADL: But he was talking about the accent..  the particular…

RC: Yeah. He spoke of the accent of the actual place instead of the greater American voice

ADL: The fact of the regional voice. Yeah, right, that’s what I mean. Peter (Orlovsky)’s voice, I mean, is absolutely his.

RC: I hear.

AG: Okay, here it is. (Charles) Olson is pointing out lines of Shakespeare which demonstrate quantity.

RC: Yeah

AG: (“Ceres, most bounteous lady, thy rich leas)/ of wheat, rye, barley, fetches, oats and peas;/ Thy banks with pinioned and twilled brims to make cold nymphs chaste crowns;” (from The Tempest)

RC: Yeah, that’s..

AG: “To make cold nymphs chaste crowns;”….

RC:  …“chaste crowns”… that’s..

AG: Now the only way you can pronounce it…

RC: …is to try…

AG:  ….is to stretch out the vowels to make…

RC & AG:  “to make cold nymphs chaste crowns;”

AG: rather than make cold nymphs…

RC: to make cold nymphs stretch vowels,,,

AG: So it slows down the speech. It’s for quiet, slowed down, deliberate statement, when every syllable says something, says some thing.

ADL: Right

RC: That’s wild

AG: So then when you’re writing mo-no-syl-lab-ic…

to be continued

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