It’s hard for me to remember when I didn’t know Robert Creeley’s poetry, or at least some of his poems. His image was fixed in my mind in my undergraduate days from the Gerard Malanga photograph, where Creeley’s single eye, shining out from under a wonderful eave of Sixties hair, was echoed in the adoring eye of his dog. I must have seen him speak or read, shaken his hand, exchanged greetings, a dozen or so times over the past fifteen years. He took me out to lunch once in Buffalo, so that I could ask him questions about Louis Zukofsky – questions he answered with deliberation and warmth, though I’m sure he was aware he was repeating the same anecdotes he had told in his various essays on Zukofsky. But those were the moments by which he wanted his friend remembered, moments of large and small kindnesses, acts of humanitas – the older poet interesting himself not merely in the work, but in the personal welfare of the younger.
Ever since my first poetry teacher, Wyatt Prunty, handed me a copy of his essay “Emaciated Poetry” – a savage excoriation of the meagre lines of Creeley and A. R. Ammons from the standpoint of a dyed-in-the-wool partisan of the pentameter – I perversely enough decided that Creeley was (like Saul) “one of the prophets.” It came as something of a revelation to me to learn (but I have always been a slow learner) that this man, friend to Olson, Zukofsky, Duncan, had never removed himself from the flows of contemporary poetry; from his chair at Buffalo, he remained in touch with the most lively currents of writing, encouraging the young, learning from them. He became a model for me of one who was growing old in poetry without growing out of touch.
For those who heard Bob speak more than once, or who had engaged him in any length of conversation, it was all too easy to gently mock his favorite words: “company” the noun, “dear” the adjective. But it didn’t take long to recognize the depth of emotion with which he invested those sometimes hackneyed words; an investment much like that of his later poetry, which strove to reinvest the simplest of forms and diction – forms and diction that so many of us, the younger generations, regarded only with scorn – with emotional immediacy. Dear, dear man. Light of our company.