Sunday, December 20, 2009

Minimalism Part VI: Creeley's Collected Later Poems - Little'uns

From the time Creeley initiated his mimimalist phase, in the third section of Words [1967], he explored the possibilities of a poetry based on the smallest, meticulously conceived formulae--or just a handful of carefully placed words--like ingeniously arranged integers, pieces, ciphers, etc.--until the late 1970's, when he resumed the more traditional, characteristic formalities of his earlier career in the volume Hello [1976], which came out amongst a flurry of prose publications including the diary section of A Day Book [1972], Contexts [1973], Mabel [1977], Presences [1976], Was That a Real Poem [1979]. It seemed as if this winnowing, or applied concisions, in Pieces [1969] had forced a reassessment of capability, under the pressure of an interest that had either gone dry, or had reached a logical conclusion in Thirty Things [1974] (about which I have written earlier--see below).

Creeley never wholly abandoned the form, though he did tend to write in more "relaxed" terms for the remainder of his life. Some kind of emotional consolidation or retrospective mood seems to have overtaken him in late middle age.
Still, there are fascinating examples of the "Pieces" style, even into the new century. Here are several examples of his later mimimalist style from Windows [1990], published 20 years after Pieces.
key hole.
There's a big
more at home.
in a
That ice
cream cone'll
I got something stuck
in my hand.
It was a splinter.
The big
Examples like these show a more relaxed motive than the poems in Pieces, which seemed very much like ulterior speculations about cognition, big resolutions, as if the emotional overkill of the poems from the Fifties and early Sixties had been boiled down to some granular density beyond which no further reduction or elaboration might be possible. But these poems seem more playful, even when they're not particularly cheerful in their implication(s)--like toys one might put on a table for a child to play with. Their irreducibility seems a consequence of simplicity, rather than conviction. "The big/red/apple" has a cartoon-like naivete, in which the voice seems overwhelmed by the pretense of pedagogy (TEACHER), and responds with blunt humor. The capital letters function thus as glowering symbolic emblems of fear, intimidation, or power--characteristically seen from a subservient or infantile position: A terrible giant baby!--almost like one of those block-headed Marisol babies. 
That ice
cream cone'll
--the concatenation of hard K sounds--cream/cone'll--enjambed against the elided cone will suggesting the double L's surfeit will topple off, like melting cream off the edge of the stanza, landing on/in the space [occupied by] the word "drip". The moral imprecation--a warning of possible disaster(s)--is resolved/realized in the embarrassment of the word ("drip") itself, the sticky accident of guilt. In William Carlos Williams, such an ingenious little engine would describe a phenomena, without implying any ironic separation--discrete positioning and simple objectification. But the authorial voice in Creeley's poems explores the means--and the implications of those means--deconstructing the effects and laying bear their disguised emotional spins, their terrors and fears.                
This sensitivity to individual letters, evokes kinetic qualities at the smallest possible level of our apprehension of words (or speech sounds--phonemes). It may be that certain speakers--more sensitive to the clues of language--comprehend it at the level of decomposition, or phonemal fragmentation. Certain combinations of words elicit senses of sound or meaning which are otherwise hidden inside the habitual orders of syntax or speech. These "loops" as Creeley sometimes referred to them--which suggests both little parabolic spins and nooses--are like kernals of insight or fascination. We may not at first understand how or why they are so effecting, and indeed they may remain invisible to the casual reader who only comprehends at the quotidian level of syntactical meaning. But poetry at its best is very much concerned with the slants, rings, catches, undulations and tics of common interchange, embedded in the matrix of general discourse.
more at home.
--may function as a code: fields/meadows/more//at home sings as one half of a traditional nursery rhyme.   
1 / 2-3 / 4 / 5-6  
which would be followed by
7 / 8 / 9-10
[as in full fathom five or some similar echoing refrain]
With at home suggesting a domestication in nature as opposed to the misappropriation of land for cultivation, so that "at home" attached to more "domesticates" meadows, links the pastoral to the poetic. If the speaker could be said to be advocating meadows over fields, then FIELDS--as in the earlier poem TEACHERS--functions in a similarly oppressive way, as if in opposition. Thus individual words are treated in opposition to each other--tiny triads--having attractions and resistances deliberately contained in the setting of the poem. Words as things, or as waves of connotation that oscillate in different frequencies in different specific contexts. This dialectical places the poet in an ambiguous relationship to "subject matter"--where words are not simply tools for expression, implying an alienation from language. Doubt and suspicion and skeptical regard are the hallmarks of such a practice, both excusing the speaker from the persuasive associations of syntax and signification, and freeing up our apprehension of the process of composition.   
These senses are endlessly fascinating, though Creeley's need to "say something" appears to have expanded over time, such that the syntactical burden needed to carry his "message" expanded with it. It may be that he tended eventually to regard (his) minimalist works with a skeptical suspicion, deeming them "innocent" explorations, the effects of which were too difficult to adequately control the purposes to which he might put his ulterior summations, about life and writing, the social, relational, aspects of his accrued experience, in later age. If we're to regard this as an aberration of his development as a poet, or as a predictable consequence of a long life's total commitment to an evolving view of the potentials of artistic endeavor, we'd best acknowledge the value of the work itself, instead of what it may signify about the meaning of his biography.   
Inside my head a common room,
a common place, a common tune,
a common wealth, a common doom
inside my head. I close my eyes.
The horses run. Vast are the skies,
and blue my passing thoughts' surprise
inside my head. What is this space
here found to be, what is this place
if only me? Inside my head, whose face?
[from Life and Death, New Directions, 1994]



Ed Baker said...

PRESENCE a fun book..

saw Marisol not too many years ago maybe 2002
going into her place

she lives in same building
as my friend/muse (Fay)

then and still a striking woman/figure and


Anonymous said...

baker w/his useless personal anecdotes

i hadnt realized blake in that poem the first time I read it (that poem, "Inside my head"

Ed Baker said...

gee whizz, anonymous..
I think you've no clue what and who is involved in/with Cree's Presence book
I think it is neat and interesting and useful to know that Marisol (who's art and personage 'goosed' Bob Creeley to do this neat book with hwer.

go up to Manhattan and make your visit
Marisol (as far as I know) in yet in and about TRIBECA right along the Hudson


yes just like the rest of poetry and art and those "doing it" as you say


with the emphasisis on both the "less" and the Use"
as I and Bob Creeley frequently say/said

"less is more" more-or-less!

below some old and new "stuff"

Steven Fama said...

Loved this post, and the Creeley poems used as examples. I'm at times a full on freak for minimalist writing. Must be my small mind.

J said...

Didn't love this post, really. There may be a certain creativity to Creeley's ahht--similar to collage-making, perhaps--but, like, compare the poetic product to say, Heart of Darkness, or Kafka, Dostoyevsky, or Hemingway's best WWI writing--it just doesn't hold up-- or other scribes--FS Fitzgerald, good sci-fi ala PK Dick, or Ballard, noir ala Hammett or Chandler---(and I say that in regards to about all minimalist/contemporary poesy---).

Poesy, whether, trad. or beat--tends to be mostly child's play-- read Kirby O's childish rants and attempts at poetry for further evidence of juvenile Narcissism, Inc.

Real poetry may still occur--say with someone like Simic, maybe a few beat barks, Neruda (or back a few decades, Roethke, Frost...), but the little scrapbook school, like brown shoes, doesn't quite make it....

Curtis Faville said...

This post is part of a larger exploration of the development of minimalism as a genre over the last century. I'm not sure why I'm drawn to it--maybe because I respond to a simplicity of means, certainly reductionism appeals to me, the idea of a priori formulae, to summarize, simplify. I don't think many people have paid much close attention to it, consequently it's not understood, is suspect.

Simic is not a minimalist--never was. So there's really no comparison there. He's a fine poet, within his limitations.

And, as far as that goes, Creeley wrote many different kinds of poetry, and prose. It's only one aspect of his work.

I'd like to say "either you like it or you don't" but I think you have to understand and appreciate something for what it is, first, before dismissing it (out of hand).

In my view, the qualities which we most value in poetry aren't those which are laboriously acquired through training and practice and repetition: They're probably innate, intuitive and "natural"--and can be expressed by "immature" minds, as easily, or more so, than by highly trained and sophisticated intelligences.

Ed Baker said...

Ginsberg once told me:

"when writing take out every unnecessary line

every unnecessary word
all unnecessary punctuation

and what is left IS the poem."

then I asked: "well then, who do we write for?"

and he replied:

"for those who dig it."

(I should have paid closer

; you ask:

"what does this have to do with minimalism?"

I reply: "What does anything? I just practice my
own brand of poetry/zen

and call it by it s right name ... I JUST DON'T KNOW

Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Remembering Robert Creeley in Taos - 1971

play clouds on the sky and your feet

in the river, alive

is a nice place

to be.

Copyright 2005 - Evolving-Poems 1965-2005, Gary B. Fitzgerald

Anonymous said...

J, you have coupled an arrogant buttlicker tone to halfassed intellect and/or knowledge.

I know the latter part by the way you lump poets, which only someone unfamiliar would do.

poetry as "child's play"

let's see:

Homer, Vergil, Milton, Psalms, Aeschylus, Whitman, Shakespeare, Olson, etc etc ie what the fuck are you talking about?

J said...

Step in a ring, Anny phony. El Lay way, any day.

Then when yr knocked out in a matter of seconds, read like Book X of Plato's Republic when recovering (yll like the buttlicker tone). Or Marx. Or even that glib rationalist Bertrand Russell, who had no love for his student TS Eliot and his cronies.

Poets generally work for the King (or Queen, as it were). That goes even for the soi disant leftist and beat sorts--and PB Shelleys you ain't. Dash Hammett's Red Harvest puts most Merican poesy to shame. Then so does Crime and Punishment.

J said...

I would like my response to this rude little person posted, Mr. Faville.

Whatever poetic beauty is (and I doubt Anny could offer anything like a coherent definition), it's not really quantifiable, or verifiable. Now, I might grant something like beauty in Shelley and Coleridge, etc. (and I doubt Anny knows enough Latin or Greek to offer informed critiques of the ancients) But then is it even close to say Beethoven, not to say the end of Crime and Punishment, Heart of Darkness, Hammett and Chandler's best, or King Lear, or Debussy's La Mer? Nyet.

The lyric poet's the Narcissist with a capital N. On that point, Plato, older scholastics, Marx and positivists agree.

Ergo, Beatniks on the ...Gulag-train....! yass. And include the WC Williams, Olsen, Creeley decorative school. Yll can work on the hepcat haikus in some siberian dungeon.

Ed Baker said...


if it wasn't for
my "self"

I wouldn't have a

...concrete OR abstract

Kirby Olson said...


Where would you place Brautigan's work AS POET within the minimalist framework? Creeley and Brautigan were good friends and hung out, and as I read this Creeley poem I saw a similarity in the belief perhaps that poetry DIDN'T HAVE TO BE SO HARD -- it could be dashed, and could be less formal, and perhaps more nonchalant in its approach -- it could be a laundry list, for instance, and not necessarily a masterpiece.

On the back of Loading Mercury with a Pitchfork, is a blurb from Creeley:

"Weirdly delicious bullets of ineffable wisdom. Pop a few!"

-- Robert Creeley

The only other blurb is from Terence Malley:

"I believe that Bruatigan is a writer of both talent and substance -- an artist -- and that he'll be around for a while, for quite a while."

Here are some of Brautigan's poems that Creeley praised quite highly:


I'll affect you slowly
as if you were having
a picnic in a dream.
There will be no ants.
It won't rain.


Any thought that I have right now
Isn't worth a shit because I'm totally fucked up.


Two guys get out of a car.
They stand beside it. They
Don't know what else to do.

The book has 125 pages of poems along those lines, and Creeley encourages us to "Pop a few!"

Ok, I read the whole book, and to be honest, as slight as they are, I like the poems. They're not too bad. But they're not trying too hard. On the other hand, with Creeley, you get this sense that this is big ART, like masterpiece theatre, and yet, I think he wanted to write breezily. If I take him more breezily, I can take Creeley.

What say you?

Is he trying harder than Brautigan did in these pieces?

He gets some wonderful lines -- his title for instance, Loading Mercury with a Pitchfork, is quite stupendous.

But I think one of the things he has in common with Creeley, is that he's not trying too hard, isn't trying to write a masterpiece, and is just shooting the breeze, shall we say.

As such, they're not too bad.

Your Eigner has a lot more ambition, and I think achieves more amazing results at times.

I'm willing to accept Creeley as a Brautigan-type poet. I think Anselm Hollo is another such poet -- writing about daily things and not trying too hard to amaze us, but hitting good hard little singles, and getting on base. I think I'd also put Tom Clark into that grouping. It was a generation that was consciously trying to not try too hard.

Easy breezy.

And perhaps sleazy.


The sexual accident
that turned out to be your wife,
the mother of your children
and the end of your life, is home
cooking dinner for all your friends.

I think I'll grant that Creeley and Hollo were never quite that mean, or as suspicious. Brautigan had a mean side, and a paranoid side. He wasn't really meant to be grooving on a Sunday afternoon, but he did his best.


At the guess of a simple hello
it can all begain
toward crying yourself to sleep,
wondering where the fuck
she is.

(p. 58)

You may deny the similarity, but Creeley himself emphasizes it through his endorsement, no?

I do think that Creeley has some formal aspects that put him a notch or two above Brautigan, but if we think of them as playing in the same league, I think Creeley's virtues and his lack of ambition toward the masterpiece idea, help us see him in a clearer light?

Anonymous said...

I don't know why you bring up Plato. Because of course he did not banish poets because it was child's play or unbeautiful or unserious


the opposite is true--he BANISHES THEM because he thinks them dangerous. Dangerous because they give imaginations other than the rather narrow (and impossible) education Plato was planning.

Marx, also as far as I know, did not "hate" poetry or think it unimportant. If he did, I wouldn't be that worried--he was an ECONOMIST.

Bertrand Russell? I have no idea what he thought of poetry (is he the one that fucked TS's wife?)

In any case, you've offered no "answer" to my previous post, only named a few names as if that tells us anything. You're laughable.

& yes I do know some Greek and Latin--though I have no idea why you bring that up here except to TALK DOWN to someone arrogantly.

Again, my list (many of which are the most influential writers to ever live):

Homer, Vergil, Milton, Psalms, Aeschylus, Whitman, Shakespeare, Olson, etc etc ie what the fuck are you talking about?

And did Plato think the lyric poet a narcissist? I was under the impression he thought him dangerous because he created uncontrollably, out of MADNESS ?

Anonymous said...

& of course Ginsberg, Baraka, Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Villon, Grenier, Creeley, Olson, Pound, Zukofsky, WC Williams, Borges, Shelley, Blake, etc all worked for kings and queens.

I find it strange that you think non-poets living under monarchies wouldn't also "work for the queen". As in the prose writers were somehow free of context or had rebel knees to jump the clouds and write "dat raaale good stuf dats rully litterAchoor" get fucking serious you fart-as-solid-body-somehow

Ed Baker said...

I just wann say a few (worthless) words
as I so infrequently am want to do:

1. I am NOT ananohmuss
2. whhy is it necessary to compare one to the other to yet a further away other..

seems to me Curtis was/is in "it" for and witrh the poems!

3. after all The Poet ISSSSS NOT The Poems




it is getting less and less productive to demand that this one and that one is a card-carrying membere
of some group (of grouppies)


Is this what our present day "poets and poet tasters do" make lists as a means of
vilifying and or validating

BOY! I gotta work on my ego, libido

and credentials, art, and poems

after all:

"life I'm in it for the poetry"

J said...

No, Plato banished poets, Anny, because poesy derives from inspiration, emotion, vision, subjective desire--which is to say madness (divine, or not, when yr discussing the usual Merican poet-fraud). Poets do not proceed from Reason, from logic, or geometry. Even the Homeric myths are chockful of supernatural events, for one. You obviously didn't read it. It wasn't political, except by implication.

And reading the work of some narcissist like Creeley (or Brautigan, tho' at least RB had a sense of the absurd), hey--a reasonable person might learn to appreciate the old rationalists (or even fairly recent ones, ala Russell). We are under no obligation to respect literary works, whether Hamlet, or Hallmark. Then, what modern Hallmark specialist could pen a decent five-act play, or even some rocking weird Brechtian thang? Nadie..........

Holy Hallmark Card Batman

Anonymous said...

"make lists as a means of
vilifying and or validating"

I wasn't so much making a "group" as rattling off some names I thought universally known to show that poets were what J thought them to be. We could include hundreds and hundreds of others.

"No, Plato banished poets, Anny, because poesy derives from inspiration, emotion, vision, subjective desire--which is to say madness (divine, or not, when yr discussing the usual Merican poet-fraud). Poets do not proceed from Reason, from logic, or geometry. Even the Homeric myths are chockful of supernatural events, for one. You obviously didn't read it. It wasn't political, except by implication."

None of this contradicts what I said Plato thought. You say "even the Homeric myths" as if that wasn't Plato's primary example.

Wasn't political? Are you insane? THE REPUBLIC--the ideal REPUBLIC, my friend. JESUS.

Plato thought poets extremely influential, which is why he banished them. I do not mean that he recommends the reading of it etc., I mean that he says it has the potential to cause the worsening, with resepct to passion, emotions (non rational), of man, so much so that he must ban it from his ideal state--which is most definitely political.

And if you mean Homer wasn't political, you plainly know nothing of Homer's influence on Greek culture. He was the "guideline" of ethics, values (heroism, cowardice, diplomacy, love, etc etc) for all men growing up in the polis. In any case, this doesn't so much matter. Plato thought ALL POETRY political by its power to promote emotion, passion, unreason. It disrupts the morality he imagined right for the state. That you don't understatnd this elementary Platonic point further shows your general unknowledge.

I heard someone not long ago say that it was usual for arrogance to pop up in the semi-learned. Meaning, you.

And you call Creeley a narcissist. I wonder how this applies to a man that was one of the first poets to proclaim the self, the ego, as secondary in the poet's creation of poems.

You simply don't know what you're talking about.

Anonymous said...

and thatll be my last post on this topic as we're dra a g g in g

Ed Baker said...

I am miffed

I practice

"I just don't know" poetry and art.

where being in any "box"
becomes prelude to burial


am working as fast as I can on these three


to play with breeze


on sudden wind


it is (all) so simple
one stroke at a time

not sure that this adds to this discussion


does it really matter?

J said...

Mr. Faville, again, I would like my post to appear. I am hardly matching Annystein in terms of rudeness, not to say great generalizations and the usual..... Ethan Hawkeish bad angst.

Be one with yr Ethan, dewd!

The literature business has ripped us off for years. (and the culprits includes the oriental-ish beat-mystic schools as well. Yo, Kerouac jeans man).

Plato's points contra-aesthetics are somewhat progressive I would aver, though of a harsh sort. The ancien regime reactionaries are the ...aesthetes. Shelley's flights depended on the of his daddy.

Sort of Ezra Pound vs Bertie Russell. Alas, Lord Russell generally wins that chessmatch, regardless of Pound's bluster (and even Maestro Pound had quite a bit of the huckster to him).

Anonymous said...

All rite one more:

"The literature business has ripped us off for years."

I suppose I wouldn't disagree with this. I wouldn't point to the poetry area though; I'd look to the shitty, mass market paperbacks and so on.

" The ancien regime reactionaries are the ...aesthetes. Shelley's flights depended on the of his daddy."

by ancient regime you mean old Greeks?

You're projecting one culture onto another to justify a political critique.

This has become a boring topic. You, in my view, don't have the knowledge to talk poetry, or the sincerity to not let judgments of poetry become contaminated by political agendas.

Ed Baker said...


but Old Ezra (and young Ezra) sure knew a lot
and sure did alot..

without him and his works

who would "we" have to kick around?

he was a genius. and

what America needs right now is a few geniuses, damn few of us left!

Anonymous said...

I agree with Ed (on ezra, geniuses

the smug, self-righteousness that usually accompanies a "writing off" of pound is too common "these days"

J said...

In my view, you don't have the knowledge to discuss anything BUT your favorite little hallmark card, and like most lit-phonies your arrogance and pseudo-erudition doesn't count for jack. You simply don't understand Plato's point or apparently any critique of aesthetic language---let's like try Carnap, since you don't care for the ancients.

Now, some ..poetry might be "meaningful" to some. Proving it is another matter. It certainly doesn't mean as history, science, economics or logic/mathematics means. Non-referential. Narratives are slightly different. Then I doubt you ever glanced at Derrida & Co either---or say Joyce).

Even Christopher Lasch knew the score on bleatnik narcissism (googlestein 'er, Annyberg). And yes, political, 95% of poesy useless as tits on a bull.

Anonymous said...

I wrote out a longer reply, but I think I should not post it. It should be clear to anyone reading these arguments that you are not only arrogant (you HATE the ancients downtya you little worm!?), semieducated (derrida), and unperceptive (poetry useless), but also tremendously, painfully corny ("googlestein"--really?). Plato--who wrote "aesthetic" dialogues--would be ashamed, one imagines.

J said...

Forget the small talk, schackaspeaere.

Post your addy, Anny, like connect-shun.

It's on. Time to rumble, daffodil. Yr an embarrasment not only to Reason, but to manhood, coward. I piss on the graves of beats, greeley, NAMBLAcrats, even St Kerouac. Scabs. Even Chas Bukowski, talented bum knew dat.

Anonymous said...

If only

1) I knew your address


2) could send farts in the mail.

J said...

I linked my blog, Anny the Hallmark hipster, unlike you.

You sound like one of Sillyman's pseudos (as does Baker). Yes the big radicals talking about their love for Obama, Rahm Emmanuel, corporate America, boodha AND the latest chapbook from some ivy league sappho-state.

Strictly Genteel

Anonymous said...

I don't like Obama, Rahm Emmanuel, corporate America, "boodha," and can't comment on the chapbook obviously as you're too vague.

what else you got simpleton?

J said...

Simple as a left hook, basura.

Your latest minimalist-decoration means ....nada....except maybe at yr favorite boutique. You have no vision, no insights, no clue.

The average zippy cartoon a bit more profound than yr life's work....