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The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor

Robert Creeley
(b. 1926)

Robert Creeley has been widely recognized as a central figure in contemporary American writing. Creeley grew up on a small farm in West Acton, Massachusetts, where his mother worked as a public health nurse. After graduating from Holderness School in New Hampshire, he attended Harvard, drove an ambulance in India for the American Field Service, returned to Harvard, and then left without a degree in 1947. By that time he had married Ann MacKinnon, with whom he tried subsistence farming for a while near Littleton, New Hampshire. In 1949 he began to correspond with Cid Corman (the later editor of Origin) and in 1950 with Charles Olson, who continued to be a mentor. The Creeleys soon moved to southern France and then to Mallorca—the scene of his later novel, The Island. In 1954 Creeley joined Olson at Black Mountain College, North Carolina, where he received a B.A., taught, and edited Black Mountain Review. After a divorce he left Black Mountain for the West, settling in Albuquerque, where he taught at a boys’ school. In 1957 he married Bobbie Hall, who over the next two decades would provide many occasions for poems. After two years as a tutor in Guatemala, and an M.A. from the University of New Mexico, Creeley became an instructor of English at that institution in 1961. During the 1950s he had published widely with little magazines and presses. In the 1960s he gained a national reputation; and he has continued to teach and read his poetry at various universities. A divorce from Bobbie was followed in 1977 by marriage to Penelope Highton. Since 1978, he has been Gray Professor of Poetry and Letters at the State University of New York at Buffalo, and, more recently, Capen Professor of Poetry and Humanities. He was New York State Poet for 1989–1991.

Creeley’s poetry has been shaped by his New England childhood, his early admiration for Wallace Stevens, Paul Valéry, and classical poetry, his wide reading in European love poetry, his years of discussion with Charles Olson, his assimilation of the Whitman tradition as modified by William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, and Hart Crane—and also by his own experimental openness, his remarkable ear, his obsessive self-examination, and his firm sense of the poem as an act of responsibility. He has a classicist’s respect for given poetic forms and also a Projectivist’s insistence that form must be an extension of freshly perceived content. Though his poems may at first seem thin or abstract, they express with honesty and precision a quite specific interior drama: the struggle of consciousness to articulate its movements in response to an ungraspable and “broken” world. Whether arising from occasions of loss, perplexity, ironic reflection, gratitude, or brief ecstasy, the poems render that drama in their groping diction, tortured syntax, wry echoes and rhymes, strategic line-breaks, and stammering pace. Since the writing of Pieces Creeley has often sought to construct from brief poems or prose notations a larger form that might register the difficult passage of such a consciousness through its continuing present. Memory Gardens modulates his lifelong concerns into a more quietly elegiac and meditative mode, and Windows engages more fully both the “inside” and the “outside” worlds.

Thomas R. Whitaker
Yale University

In the Heath Anthology
For Love (1962)
Hart Crane (1962)
I Know a Man (1962)
Words (1967)
America (1969)

Other Works
The Gold Diggers (stories) (1954)
For Love: Poems, 1950-1960 (1962)
The Island (novel) (1963)
The Charm: Early and Uncollected Poems (1967)
Pieces (1969)
A Quick Graph: Collected Notes & Essays (1970)
A Day Book (prose and poetry) (1972)
Listen (play) (1972)
A Sense of Measure (essays) (1973)
Contexts of Poetry: Interviews, 1961-1972 (1973)
Thirty Things (1974)
Away (1976)
Presences (prose) (1976)
Hello: A Journal (1978)
Later (1979)
Mabel: A Story (1979)
Was That a Real Poem and Other Essays (1979)
Charles Olson and Robert Creeley: The Complete Correspondence, ed. George F. Butterick (1980)
The Collected Poems 1945-1975 (1982)
Mirrors (1983)
The Collected Prose (1984)
Memory Gardens (1986)
The Collected Essays (1989)
Irving Layton and Robert Creeley: The Complete Correspondence, ed. Ekbert Faas and Sabrina Reed (1990)
Windows (1990)

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Interview with Robert Creeley
From the April 1998 edition of The Cortland Review.

Robert Creeley
A biographical sketch.

Robert Creeley
A comprehensive portal to primary and secondary Creeley resources on the web.

The Academy of American Poets

Provides a biography, a list of works, and some poems for reading online.

Secondary Sources

Tom Clark, Robert Creeley and the Genius of the American Common Place, 1993

Cynthai Dubin Edelberg, Robert Creeley's Poetry, 1978

Edward Halsey Foster, Understanding the Black Mountain Poets, 1995

Paul Mariani, "Robert Creeley," in Usable past: Essays on Modern and Comtemprary Poetry, 1984

Sherman Paul, The Lost America of Love: Rereading Robert Creeley, Edward Dorn, and Robert Duncan, 1981

Carroll F. Terrell, ed., Robert Creeley: The Poet's Workshop, 1984

John Wilson, ed., Robert Creeley's Life and Work: A Sense of Increment, 1987