Thomas R. Whitaker
Classroom Issues and Strategies
Dedicated to a friend of Crane who became a friend of Creeley, this
is the opening poem in For Love. Is it a negative portrait or a
sympathetic study of difficulties central to Creeley's own career? Certainly
it contains many leitmotifs of Creeley's poetry: stuttering, isolations,
incompletion, self-conscious ineptness, the difficulty of utterance, the
need for friends, the confrontations of a broken world.
"I Know a Man"
The colloquial anecdote as parable? How does the stammering lineation
complicate the swift utterance? Why should the shift in speakers occur
with such ambiguous punctuation--a comma splice? According to Creeley,
"drive" is said not by the friend but by the speaker.
The closing poem in For Love, this is informed by the qualities
attributed to Crane in the volume's opening poem. "For Love"
is one of many poems to Bobbie--wife, companion, muse, and mother of children--that
wrestle with the nature of love, the difficulty of utterance, and a mass
of conflicting feelings: doubt, faith, despair, surprise, self-criticism,
gratitude, relief. The poem is a remarkable enactment of a complex and
This poem drives yet further inward to the ambiguous point where an
inarticulate self engages an imperfectly grasped language. Not the wife
or muse but "words" seem now the objects of direct address, the
poem's "you." Nevertheless, the poem's detailed phrases and its
movement through anxious blockage toward an ambiguously blessed release
strongly suggest a love poem.
Though seldom an explicitly political poet, Creeley here brings his
sardonic tone and his belief in utterance as our most intimate identity
to bear on the question, What has happened to the America that Whitman
celebrated? "The United States themselves are essentially the greatest
poem," Whitman had said in his Preface to the 1855 Leaves of Grass.
And he had often spoken of the "words" belonging to that poem,
as in "One's-Self I Sing" and in the reflections on "the
People" in Democratic Vistas.
"America" modulates those concerns into Creeley's own more
quizzical language. We may read it as a dark response, a century later,
to Whitman's "Long, Too Long America" in Drum-Taps. For
Creeley's more extended response to Whitman, see his Whitman: Selected
Significant Form, Style, or Artistic Conventions
In "Projective Verse" Charles Olson quotes Creeley's remark
that "Form is never more than an extension of content." Creeley
liked, as an implicit definition of form, a Blakean aphorism that he learned
from Slater Brown: "Fire delights in its form." His central statement
of open poetics, involving "a content which cannot be anticipated,"
is "I'm Given to Write Poems" ( A Quick Graph, pp. 61-72).
It is useful to know that, when reading his poetry aloud, Creeley always
indicates line-ends by means of very brief pauses. The resultant stammer--quite
unlike the effect of Williams's reading--is integral to Creeley's style,
which involves a pervasive sense of wryly humorous or painful groping for
the next line.
Comparisons, Contrasts, Connections
William Carlos Williams
told Robert Creeley, "You have the subtlest feeling for the measure
I have encountered anywhere except in the verses of Ezra Pound." For
Creeley's relation to Williams, see his essays in A Quick Graph
and Paul Mariani, "Robert Creeley," in A Usable Past (Amherst:
University of Massachusetts Press, 1984). For his relation to Pound,
see "A Note on Ezra Pound" ( A Quick Graph ), and for
his sustained and mutually valuable relation to Charles
Olson, see again A Quick Graph.
Perhaps the class would like to compare "Hart Crane" with
Robert Lowell's "Words
for Hart Crane" in Life Studies. Two views of Crane,
two modes of portraiture, and two historically important styles of mid-century
American verse; these plus "The Broken Tower" itself would make
a fascinating unit of study.
Refer to headnote in the text for complete information.