Category Archives: National Poetry Month

Robert Creeley — a poet

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On this, the day after the final day of National Poetry Month (April 2017), a poet who wore more than one hat (in that he was affiliated with more than one group of American poets in the 20th century) is Robert Creeley (1926 – 2005).  He was considered among the Beat poets in the 1960s to be a contemporary, and prior to this, when he was a teacher at Black Mountain College when it existed in the 1950s in North Carolina, he was regarded as one of the “Black Mountain Poets.”  Later in the 1980s, and until his death in 2005, Creeley forged his own way, breaking away from the solely spare style he’d been known for, while still creating a distinctive style.  He is also considered influential in shifting poetry from depending on history and tradition as being sources of poetic inspiration and giving instead the ongoing experiences of a person’s life more significance.

I was introduced to Robert Creeley by a friend who gave me a miniature book about him entitled “Robert Creeley Autobiography.”  It turns out this small book is a reprint of Creely’s autobiography that appears in the resource “Contemporary Authors, Autobiography Series,” Volume 10 published in 1989.

I would like to read more of this poet – he is considered fairly prolific and also wrote prose and essays as well.

OLD STORY

Like kid on float
of ice block sinking
in pond the field had made
from winter’s melting snow

so wisdom accumulated
to disintegrate 
in conduits of brain
in neural circuits faded

while gloomy muscles shrank
mind padded the paths
its thought had wrought
its habits had created

till like kid afloat
on ice block broken
on or inside the thing it stood
or was forsaken.

–Robert Creeley, 1994

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April is here and this man in the suit is a poet…

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Not Ideas About the Thing
But the Thing Itself

At the earliest ending of winter,
In March, a scrawny cry from outside
Seemed like a sound in his mind.

He knew that he heard it,
A bird’s cry, at daylight or before,
In the early March wind.

The sun was rising at six,
No longer a battered panache above snow . . .
It would have been outside.

It was not from the vast ventriloquism
Of sleep’s faded papier-mache . . .
The sun was coming from outside.

That scrawny cry—it was
A chorister whose c preceded the choir.
It was part of the colossal sun,

Surrounded by its choral rings,
Still far away. It was like
A new knowledge of reality.

–Wallace Stevens, American poet (1879 – 1955) from “The Collected Poems” (published 1954)

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A poem to begin the month…

In honor of National Poetry Month that begins on April 1st, I found a Carl Sandburg poem. I’m not all that familiar with Sandburg’s poetry — he is a well known 20th century American poet and this poem “Boxes and Bags” is from his poetry book “Harvest Poems: 1910-1960.”

I actually stumbled upon this poem in a very recent anthology entitled “The Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects” selected/compiled by Paul B. Janeczko and illustrated by Chris Raschka.

Boxes and Bags
—Carl Sandburg

The bigger the box the more it holds.
Empty boxes hold the same as empty heads.
Enough small empty boxes thrown into a big empty box fill it full.
A half-empty box says, “Put more in.”
A big enough box could hold the world.
Elephants need big boxes to hold a dozen elephant handkerchiefs.
Fleas fold little handkerchiefs and fix them nice and neat in flea
handkerchief boxes.
Bags lean against each other and boxes stand independent.
Boxes are square with corners unless round with circles.
Box can be piled on box till the whole works comes tumbling.
Pile box on box and the bottom box says, “if you will kindly take notice
you will see it all rests on me.”
Pile box on box and the top one says, “Who falls farthest if or when we
fall? I ask you.”
Box people go looking for boxes and bag people go looking for bags.

Walt Whitman at Bear Mountain

Contained within a book of poetry “The Poet’s Choice” (published 1962) that I recently bought at a used book sale, is a poem by Jamaican poet, Louis Simpson (1923 – 2012) entitled “Walt Whitman at Bear Mountain.”  Mr. Simpson came to the U.S. when he was 17 to attend college and remained here, eventually teaching at University of California, Berkeley and SUNY at Stony Brook.   He was very interested in understanding America, his adopted country, and his poems at times reflect an investigation into the myths that he believed this country tells itself.

Walt Whitman at Bear Mountain 

. . . life which does not give the preference to any other life, of any previous period, which therefore prefers its own existence . . .   — Ortega y Gasset

Neither on horseback nor seated,

But like himself, squarely on two feet,

The poet of death and lilacs

Loafs by the footpath.  Even the bronze looks alive

Where it is folded like cloth.  And he seems friendly.

 

“Where is the Mississippi panorama

And the girl who played the piano?

Where are you, Walt?

The Open Road goes to the used-parking lot.

 

“Where is the nation you promised?

These houses built of wood sustain

Colossal snows,

And the light above the street is sick to death.

 

“As for the people – see how they neglect you!

Only a poet pauses to read the inscription.”

 

“I am here,” he answered.

“It seems you have found me out.

Yet, did I not warn you that it was Myself

I advertised?  Were my words not sufficiently plain?

 

“I gave no prescriptions,

And those who have taken my moods for prophecies

Mistake the matter.”

Then, vastly amused—“Why do reproach me?

I freely confess I am wholly disreputable.

Yet I am happy, because you have found me out.”

 

A crocodile in wrinkled metal loafing . . .

 

Then all the realtors,

Pickpockets, salesmen, and the actors performing

Official scenarios,

Turned a deaf ear, for they had contracted

American dreams.

 

But the man who keeps a store on a lonely road,

And the housewife who knows she’s dumb,

And the earth, are relieved.

 

All that grave weight of America

Cancelled!  Like Greece and Rome.

The future in ruins!

The castles, the prisons, the cathedrals

Unbuilding, and roses

Blossoming from the stones that are not there . . .

 

The clouds are lifting from the high Sierras.

The Bay mists clearing;

And the angel in the gate, the flowering plum,

Dances like Italy, imagining red.

–published in Louis Simpson’s book of poems “At the End of the Open Road” (1963)