ON EARTH: LAST POEMS AND AN ESSAY by ROBERT CREELEYJIM MCCRARY Reviews
On Earth: Last Poems and an Essay by Robert Creeley
(University of California Press, 2006)
First is the size and maybe it is the black and white of the jacket -- but just reminds me of the Pocket Poet series from City Lights Bookshop in 1960’s. You know we are all imprinted with that edition of HOWL. Anyway, nice the size of this edition. And a great painting by longtime Creeley collaborator and friend Francesco Clemente on the cover. Creeley did respect the long tradition of friendship and working with a painter. Nice touch in the end. This collection of "Last Poems and an Essay”, according to intro, come from a folder Creeley had with him during a residence in Marfa, Texas. These the works then finished just prior to death. One immediate thing about flipping through this book was discovering that three poems in this small collection are for and to Ed Dorn, Paul Blackburn and John Wieners. And to read these poems and realize the love and what else...adoration, respect Creeley felt towards them so late at the end of his life. And to realize that he chose these three men to write to...not Olson, not Zukoskey, not Duncan or Corman, not any others. Well, personally, fine with me because coming up like I did through the poetics of mid-twenth century -- these are the guys that I could read. Not Pound (who knew history), ditto Olson (who cared about history), not the academics (who studied)...not Snyder even though we all tried, you know, the Boy Scout outside, hiking and Zen stuff. No in the end, and I really do not think I am all that unique here the raucous, city of Paul Blackburn on a NYC subway or in McSorleys and John Weiners bedrock, down alley Boston or Dorns fucked up cowboy stance. Ah....those guys were poets. Well, too, for me, there was Kyger no less then any of them and other women for sure. But not in this book. (Aside: Also nice to see within the Whitman essay Creeley points to one Gregory Corso, who, in my humble opinion was the ONLY member of anything worth calling the New York School of Poetry. Sorry all you Friends of Frank etc...but Corso was the only one who did it and deserves it.)
There is also great surprise and, well, head spinning reality that many of these last poems from Creeley are rhyming lyrical almost classical in there reading. That is a surprise. Something in that to ponder. And not that they are less to read. Oh No. Consider:
Room for one and all
around the gathering ball,
to hold the sacred thread,
to hold and wind and pull.
Sit in the common term.
All hands now move as one.
The work continues on.
The task is never done.
Channeling Ms. Emily? Who knows, but there it is and wholly Creeley. And to find very funny anti-war poem which is not quite a nursery rhyme in form.
And there are the classic Creeley poems to ponder over:
If, as one says, one says
something to another,
does it go on and on then
without apparent end?
Or does it only become talk,
balked by occasion, stopped
because it never got started,
was said to no one?
What’s up with that? Is this Creeley perhaps contemplating a past poem that perhaps became, for better or worse, his most well known “Drive he said....”. Was that poem simply “...said to no one?” Ack, who knows. Doesn’t matter. Important that we have this new poem to carry.
And then the essay of the title: "Reflections on Whitman in Age." Queer title but Creeley begins an explanation in the opening sentence. “In age one is oneself reflective, both of what it has been to live and of what that act has become.....”. Perhaps the “in age” reference is something from the Northeast lingo like “down east”. Who knows. But this essay is for sure Creeley thinking of his position in life and surrounded by Whitman and some others (Keats, etc). Creeley looks at Whitman’s attachment to the sea as a common thread thru his lifetime writing, among other notions. Looking, Creeley is, to see how Whitman manages in late life. Here a quote that says much:
“The roll and turn of the physical waves, their ceaseless repetition, the seeming return of each so particular, the same and yet not the same -- this is the “call”, recall (recoil), he has come to, an indeterminant spillof memories “By any grand ideal tried, intentionless, the whole a nothing.” But one hopes to have been included even so, to have mattered, taken place, been part of, done -- as one says in this utterly merciless country -- something."
This is a striking bit of writing and perfect to end this “slim volume”. Something to carry in ones pocket, ones hand. Something for us to have. Oh sure, the collected, selected, all of everything he ever wrote in 4 volumes from California will appear for just a few hundred bucks.........can’t stop that can we. Good for the future graduate students I suppose...but for now, for we here....to find this group of poems and text by Robert Creeley as a final gift.
Oh Robert, you have done something and it matters.
Jim McCrary lives with his wife, painter, Sue Ashline in Lawrence, Kansas. His latest chapbook from Really Old Gringo Press is titled: Oh Miss Mary and speaks to the real life of Miss Mary Magdeline -- who IMHO is a true Holy Ghost.