Monday, January 21, 2008


Brent Cunningham’s Interview with Robert Creeley is just the fifth volume of Hooke’s Books, but it’s been a doozy of a run thus far, with volumes by Norma Cole, Lauren Shufran, Kevin Killian & Laura Moriarty. This is the third book in a row from this press that I’ve reviewed here, not because I know Cunningham at all well – basically he’s been the affable “tall one” at Small Press Distribution for the past several years, tho he did give me a lift from there one time – but because the projects he does are so distinct, such as Norma Cole’s meditation on Tom Raworth as a collagiste, a selection of Kevin Killian’s wondrous Amazon reviews, and now a literal interview with Robert Creeley done in May of 1998, when Cunningham was finishing up a masters (in poetics?) at SUNY Buffalo & talking an independent study with Bob.

This book is a fascinating object, tho not the first fine press publication of an interview with Creeley. Tho Cunningham says he had no particular eye toward publication at the time he conducted the interview, Creeley had to have known that this would appear in print at some point. He’s brutally frank about some poets & some of his colleagues at Buffalo. He talks in great detail about the circumstances of Olson’s childhood & what made the working class kid from Worcester such an outsider at Harvard. And Creeley discusses why the environs of Amherst, Massachusetts, should have become ground zero for the School of Quietude when such unquiet folk as himself & Emily D could hale from the region as well.

But what I found most amazing here was simple presence of Creeley’s voice, transcribed. If ever you need a one-volume demonstration of why an oral interview later set into print is superior, by far, to one conducted by correspondence or email, this is your book. More than most authors, maybe more than any, Robert Creeley knew how to pattern his prose and his verse to replicate the patterns of his speech. That, in one sentence, was the kernel of Projective Verse and no one did it better than the author whom Olson most often pointed to as evidence for this theory in the first place.

But – as Jack Kerouac demonstrates in great detail in Visions of Cody when he gives you both a transcription of a tape and an “imitation” thereof, truly visions of code – speech, as such, is never the same as its representation. Creeley transcribed is never the same as Creeley crafted. And I’m not devaluing the latter when I argue that there is a place for the former that none of the texts by themselves can offer.

Yes, Creeley has the New Englander’s locution, which is built around reticence. But it’s much more than an accent, nor even “just” a syntax. Creeley works very hard to avoid putting people, objects or situations into received categories. This he often accomplishes by talking around the category, rather than employing its premises. He examines Olson’s background, a Swedish Catholic only child in a community of Swedes who mostly were Lutheran, immigrants who came to work in a factory while his dad instead ended up at the post office, an island of newcomers in this deeply “native” place invested in its role in creating the American revolution, and yet sufficiently insecure so that the goal of its aesthetics was to out-Brit the Brits, a pathological project that lingers to this day in an even more debased form. Creeley talks about stalking Robert Silliman Hillyer into a bar while at Harvard in order to peak into his notebook only to realize that alcoholic sonneteer was reduced to scribbling random squiggles, not even letters or words, so that people would think he was still writing. (When he got sober, Hillyer would become one of the arch-reactionaries of late forties verse, actively campaigning to have the works of Pound banned).

Anyone who has ever spent time with Creeley will know what I mean about the distinctness of his speech. This book is the first such instance of it that I’ve come across in the not quite three years since his death. As such, it’s a great gift for anyone who has missed not just the poetry, but the person as well.


<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?