Creeley has shaped his own audience. The much imitated, often diluted minimalism, the compression of emotion into verse in which scarcely a syllable is wasted, has decisively marked a generation of poets.

Voice Literary Supplement

Robert Creeley

Robert White Creeley (1926–2005), poet, novelist, short story writer, essayist, editor, and teacher was born in Arlington, Massachusetts. He entered Harvard University in 1943, leaving after one year to drive an ambulance in the India-Burma theater of World War II. He returned to Harvard in 1945 and helped edit Harvard Wake, no. 5, a special E.E. Cummings issue, in which Creeley’s first published poem, “Return,” appeared. After dropping out of Harvard during the last semester of his senior year, he started a close and fruitful friendship with Cid Corman and helped launch Corman’s magazine, Origin, which became the vehicle that most promoted Creeley’s poetry in the 1950s. During the 1950s, Creeley taught at Black Mountain College in North Carolina and was an editor of its innovative literary journal, the Black Mountain Review. He received his BA from Black Mountain College in 1955. Creeley was one of the originators of the “Black Mountain” school of poetry, along with Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, and Denise Levertov. These poets developed the theory of “projective verse”—a poetry designed to transmit the poet’s emotional and intellectual energy directly and spontaneously, depending on natural speech rhythms and line determined by pauses for breathing. Creeley’s frequently quoted statement, “Form is never more than an extension of content,” expresses an important precept of the Black Mountain poets. Although Creeley published several books of poetry during the 1950s, he did not received widespread recognition until 1962, when For Love: Poems 1950-1960 appeared establishing him as an important poet and presenting several of the concerns that occur throughout his work, particularly his focus on language and his preoccupation with human relationships. After getting his MA from the University of New Mexico, he taught there from 1961–1962. He has been affiliated with universities ever since, including University of British Columbia, and San Francisco State College. At the State University of New York at Buffalo, he was Professor of English from 1967–1978. In 1978 he was named David Gray Professor of Poetry and Letters, and presently he is their Samuel P. Capen Professor of Poetry and the Humanities. Creeley has received numerous awards for his work including the Levinson Prize in 1960, two Guggenheim fellowships, the Shelley Memorial Award and the Robert Frost Medal, both from the Poetry Society of America, and The American Awards for Echoes, 1994. He was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1987 and received a Distinguished Fulbright Fellowship to serve as the Bicentennial Chair in American Studies at the University of Helsinki, Finland, 1988–89, and another Fulbright for the University of Auckland, New Zealand in 1995. He served as New York State Poet from 1989–1991. In 1995 he was a winner of the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writers’ Award. He is the 1999 winner of the biennial Bollingen Prize in Poetry, in June 2000, he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Before Columbus Foundation American Book Awards, and he was the 2003 winner of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Lannan Foundation.

cover image of the book If I Were Writing This

If I Were Writing This

If I were writing this was the last book of poems completed by Robert Creeley and published during his lifetime (New Directions, 2005). The words he wrote to describe this book are oddly prophetic: “Age brings experience, not wisdom; age makes time actual - each day another - until there is no more. These poems have been my company, my solace, my feelings, my heart. When they cannot speak it will all be silence.” Though Creeley died in 2005, his poems are not silent - they vibrantly continue to embrace life while acknowledging, with no self-pity, the inevitability of death. The message (as he always ended his letters) is “Onward!”

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cover image of the book Just In Time: Poems 1984-1994

Just In Time: Poems 1984-1994

Just in Time: Poems 1984-1994 continues the consolidation of Robert Creeley’s later work begun with So There: Poems 1976-83 (1998). Just in Time combines Memory Gardens (1986), Windows (1990), and Echoes (1994) in a volume that further validates the Lifetime Achievement Awards conferred on Creeley by the Before Columbus Foundation in 2000 and the Lannan Foundation in 2001. The poet himself comments about his later work: “Much echoes in these poems from the necessary ’voyage to oblivion’ they prepare for, but they are fact of no simple despair. Each day stays specific, possible, each relation defining, whether of life or of death. As my longtime mentor, W. C. Williams, best put it, ’The descent beckons as the ascent beckoned ….’One continues and learns despite.”

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cover image of the book Life And Death

Life And Death

In 1999 Robert Creeley received the prestigious Bollingen Prize in Poetry, and was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Both honors made specific note of his experimental style, his long influence, and his ongoing importance. Robert Creeley’s stature has been further confirmed by a Lifetime Achievement Award conferred by the Before Columbus Foundation as part of its American Book Awards 2000. Creeley’s 1998 collection, Life & Death, now available as a New Directions Paperbook, is a high point in a career that has poignantly combined “linguistic abstraction with specificity of time and place” (R. D. Pohl, Buffalo News).

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So There

So There: Poems 1976-83 combines three earlier collections of Robert Creeley’s work published by New Directions –– Hello: A Journal, February 29-May 3, 1976 (published 1978); Later (1979); and Mirrors (1983). This first gathering of the poet’s later work continues but also stands in contrast to his early poems as presented in the monumental Collected Poems 1945-1975 (University of California Press, 1982). Few poets have so clear a demarcation in their work. In 1976, Creeley set off to visit nine countries in the Far East, to explore his sense of self in a foreign landscape. He found not only a “company” of fellow beings but also a transformed sense of life and subsequently a new family. He sees today that these three books in a single volume emphasize the “determined change in my life they are the issue of.” They record a watershed period when Creeley “moved beyond his early influences to become a unique master” (Publishers Weekly, about Mirrors).

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Echoes is an exploration of the limits and resonances, public and personal, of age. Included in this collection is “Sonnets,” an outcry against human violence and dogmatism (“Come round again the banal / belligerence almost a / flatulent echo of times”), while the book’s closing sequence, “Roman Sketchbook,” contemplates with wit and affection the measure of one’s literal body in echoing time and place. Creeley as ever articulates the givens of life, its daily fact and possibility with careful, concise invention.

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cover image of the book Windows


Windows is Robert Creeley’s first collection of poems since Memory Gardens (1986). It marks, as its title implies, a framing of realities that is neither simply passive nor reflective. For Creeley, age and travel have served to highlight the foreignness of everyday circumstances, so that the window-passages between “inside” and “out” have become increasingly more necessary for survival.

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cover image of the book Memory Gardens

Memory Gardens

The title of Robert Creeley’s new gathering of poems, Memory Gardens, softly announces his meditative theme. As on a quiet walk through a familiar landscape, the poet leads us along paths of recollection. Thoughts turn back upon themselves, evoking half-forgotten intangibles of past moments. Childhood and family, old loves lost and new loves gained, the change of seasons, supper in the kitchen––it is such particularities as these that Creeley catches with the spare lines of his tight constructions. Though comprised of short poems in the main, the collection includes three exceptional sequences: the poignant “Four for John Daley”; “Après Anders,” macaronic improvisations on work by the German poet Richard Anders; and “A Calendar,” a group of twelve poems, one for each month of the year, appropriately concluding the book with a December “Memory” (“Only us then/remember, discover,/still can care for/the human”).

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Love and loss, birth and death, the passage of time are recurrent themes in Mirrors, Robert Creeley’s first major collection of new work since 1979. Seizing on the particulars of his own life and others’, the poems gathered here are not so much meditations as reflections, the “mirrors” of the title, of the poet’s world then and now. The British critic James Campbell, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, has said that “behind Creeley’s best work… is a perpetual counting of blessings, a continual record of the minutest feelings and tiniest sensations of the heart and mind.” And indeed, in Mirrors, Creeley moves us with his quiet simplicity as he takes us further into ourselves, pointing us toward the warm truths, the sad ones as well, we can find there.

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cover image of the book Later


The epigraph to Later, Robert Creeley’s second book of poems published by New Directions, enjoins the reader to “hold in mind/ All that has loved you or been kind.” This commitment to the continuity of life on a fragile planet, limited by both time and space, has become increasingly important to a poet who, “if older,” takes a certain pride in knowing the boundaries of the possible. Where his 1978 verse journal Hello chronicled an actual journey (to New Zealand, Australia, and the Far East), Later deals with an interior exploration rooted in everyday sights and sounds––the play of light and shadow through a window, the lap of waves on a beach. Past occurrences and expectations are reconciled with an acceptance of inevitable change, and in the poignant title sequence Creeley marvels, “but now the wonder of life is/ that it is at all.”

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cover image of the book Hello


With a lilt––“’That’s the way / (that’s the way) / I like it / (I like it)’”––Robert Creeley begins his verse journal Hello, the record of a whirlwind tour of Southeast Asia. Starting in Fiji, he then spent a month in New Zealand (the trip having been sponsored by the New Zealand Arts Council), followed in a few weeks’ time by stays in Australia, Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Japan, and Korea. It was a singular experience, coming as it did at a time of much change in the poet’s personal life. He went, as he remarks in a postscript, “because I wanted to––to look, to see, even if briefly, how people in those parts of the world made a reality, to talk of being American, of the past war, of power, of usual life in this country, of my fellow and sister poets, of my neighbors on Fargo Street in Buffalo, New York. I wanted, at last, to be human, however simplistic that wish. I took thus my own chances and remarkably found a company.” The text is a graph of outward detail and inner change, kaleidoscopic in its sense of moving from place to place, warm in its feeling of being at home in the human community.

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Creeley has shaped his own audience. The much imitated, often diluted minimalism, the compression of emotion into verse in which scarcely a syllable is wasted, has decisively marked a generation of poets.

Voice Literary Supplement

One of the very few contemporaries with whom it is essential to keep in contact.

Hugh Kenner

Few writers have shown so consistent a dedication to their work … as Robert Creeley over the years. His influence on contemporary poetry has probably been more deeply felt than any writer of his generation.

Terry Southern, New York Times Book Review

Creeley is absolutely mesmerizing in his ability to suspend and to define the passage of thought, the process of experience in all its ironic, inexorable sadness. No poetic theories are required to support such art: it achieves its own permanence by relating at once to our own groping, semi-articulate wonder.

Joyce Carol Oates, New Republic

As editor, publisher, traveler, teacher, writer; as mind-worker Robert Creeley has been a seminal figure of the second half of the 20th century.

from the Citation for the 1999 Bollingen Prize in Poetry

Here Creeley’s riffs reach the formal height and emotional depth of his old work.

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