Jacket 31 — October 2006        link Jacket 31 Contents page        link Jacket Homepage
Robert Creeley

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Alexander Jorgensen

Emails to a Younger Poet

This piece is about 5 printed pages long.

My emails with Robert Creeley began in late 1997. As I remember, my general feeling at the time was one of bluesy disenchantment. Apart from what seemed troublesome attempts at garnering encouragement from a very typical family rooted in the culture of old-time big city immigrants - and I recall what seemed inordinate attention given to most practical, surely viable and, of course, to fitting in - my own particular experience with writing up to that point, the groups and reading circles, university life, had really run to exhaustion. Given the desperate temper of those days and, perhaps, because of my New England background, I think it little surprise initial motivation for writing undertaken came byway of rugged Thoreau: “If a man loses pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music in which he hears, however measured, or far away.” In terms of being a mentor, RC was exactly the kind of rare support “young” writers require; that is to say that without burden of airs, and indeed he once referred to himself as “old country western singer,” he would encourage out of deep appreciation for the often struggled process of both creation and life. And did so with compassion.

 — Alexander Jorgensen
Mumbai, India, October 2006

Subj: Re: I would like your advice
Date: 98-05-0513:32 EDT
From: (Robert Creeley)
To: (Alexander Jorgensen)

Dear Alex,

I don’t see that you should let rejection by Warren Wilson dissuade you from writing a way you actively feel your own. Like it or not one has to figure a situation like Warren Wilson’s will necessarily accommodate the usual – and the shifts and turns of emphasis and content in your poems won’t prove to be that. So, onward despite. Much better to get your response from peers and from your own reading and writing – not an institutional base no matter how benign. Are there workshops, etc where you are to locate company? A degree etc is really something else – and I’d suggest one in something not quite so arbitrary as a Master of Fine Arts (or whatever). Anyhow, you’re still there. That’s the point.

My best,

Robert Creeley

64 Amherst Street, Buffalo, NY 14207
Tel 716 875 2108 * Fax 716 875 0751

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Subj: Re: Part 2
Date: 98-02-16 06:31:52 EDT

Dear Alex,

I don’t think there’s any valid answer to be found for your question other than in your own need to write. If you don’t have to, don’t – but if writing permits a possibility of saying something – “How to get said what must be said” or simply that it’s a pleasure, which Williams also insisted upon – then I don’t see how or why you should, as you say, “grow up” and put it aside. As to it’s being “good,” certainly it’s determined, coherent writing, whatever that can finally mean – it does what you intend, I’d think. Anyhow you are blessed or stuck by having the answer so particularly yours to make. Others will have endless opinions – some useful, some not – but that really can’t be the decisive reason why you write or not.

Sincerely,

Robert Creeley

64 Amherst Street, Buffalo, NY 14207
Tel 716 875 2108 * Fax 716 875 0751

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Subj: Re:
Date: 99-12-28 06:31:52 EDT

Dear Alex,

I think, most simply put, there is no “general front” with respect to poetry, or if there is, it really is a market effect, not an initiating circumstance. Even when a poet, for whatever reason, gains a wide public, as did Dylan Thomas, it curiously is of little point to him or her other than the income it affords and the like authority. Poetry is local, to persons and places – it’s like humor (as Rene Thom said).

The “some people think” part, whether close friends or those one doesn’t know at all, can’t finally locate for you what you are doing. You are not involved with “market testing,” you can hardly anticipate where you are going in any particular way at all. One’s following one’s proverbial nose – and there is no guarantee of any pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. One has to be compelled to do it, willy-nilly, and must finally consider that fact sufficient as reason.

I certainly went through long periods of such response – except for “the few golden ears,” the friends who did “hear” me, as Ginsberg speaks of it. Even when one’s accepted, there is no necessary rapport gained with anything or anyone. As someone said, people always seem to like the work one did ten or more years ago, not what one’s doing now.

I remember once saying to Steve Lacy, after he and his company had had what seemed a great evening in Boulder, “Wow, that was terrific!” He said, “You think so? We were all out of tune the whole evening.” So do consider the source, like they say. We all want to be like and approved, perhaps, but that’s not the burden of poetry either. “How to get said what must be said… ,” in whatever kind of way, is much more like it. Critics are the last resource for such judgment as you want – which is not that they are “out to lunch” or “bad people.” You are just working a very different street.

So onward! Quite literally. You have a whole new century coming up to ponder these matters, at least for whatever time affords. There will always be something more.

Happy New Year!

Best As Ever,

Robert Creeley

64 Amherst Street, Buffalo, NY 14207
Tel 716 875 2108 * Fax 716 875 0751


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Subj: Re: Thanks
Date: 01-01-28 21:13 EDT

Dear Alex,

Only possible answer seems, your nose – and to follow it as ever. I have no sense at all as to what an appropriate career move, call it, would ever be. Jumping off high cliff? Screaming in downtown Prague at high noon? Retiring to cave period? I never had a clear sense of such things except the dogged and insistent immediate plans of trying to do this, find that, and so on. Just now I am about to take part in a seminar at the University of Maine, concerned particularly with the writers etc -- and so the Black Mountain Review. That journal came out in usual editions, of seven issues, of something like 4 to 500 copies per. You couldn’t give them away – as Jonathan Williams, who trucked them around the country in his station wagon, would tell you. Now it’s a “reference” for the period. Who could have “planned” that? Onward!

Best as ever,
Bob

64 Amherst Street, Buffalo, NY 14207
Tel 716 875 2108 * Fax 716 875 0751

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Subj: Re:
Date: 01-12-17 21:15 EDT

Dear Alex,

What I can do in reading is to make clear what sense or impression I have -- and, very occasionally, suggest that x might work more effectively than y. But you are far too particular a writer to be served by finagling, even well intentioned by someone as myself, etc. Anyhow I liked both poems, and, as said, thought the last two verses of Persephone were especially good. The fine-tuning is your authority, period! Sounds like a great place you are headed for -- I much hope it lets you settle in for travels of all sorts. Onward!

All best for the season,

Bob

64 Amherst Street, Buffalo, NY 14207
Tel 716 875 2108 * Fax 716 875 0751

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Subj: Re: Dogs
Date: 02-03-17 1:44 EDT

Dear Alex,

I much hope the clouds have passed a bit. There is inevitably that time when one thinks there is little if any possibility left, and everything goes flat in consequence. For me the thing then useful was poem of WCW’s, called “The Mind’s Games.” I send it here in two attachments because I cannot get it all into one ‘image.’ I don’t know why it paradoxically soothed me but it did. Likewise the poem “These.” This time of his writing, the early and mid-forties, was a great one. I learned a lot in all senses -- and I held on!

Best as ever to you,

Bob

64 Amherst Street, Buffalo, NY 14207
Tel 716 875 2108 * Fax 716 875 0751

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Subj: Re: Q
Date: 02-06-13 18:34 EDT

Dear Alex,

Just getting in here, so this needs be quick. Speaking for myself, like they say, I read your poems as often a ‘double,’ part the ironic and usually witty take on habits of speech, ways people think of themselves, one’s endlessly various place with said one and all -- and then the equally often presence of what would be your feelings, the so-called ‘you’ who is writing. Apropos, I’ll attach a poem here written here about a year ago, almost like watching one’s fingers type etc etc. Anyhow I am sure the fellow in Iowa is serious but if he thinks what you are doing is gibberish, then one knows he’s not getting it -- and that’s that. If you want particularly to write ‘for him,’ then you will have to alter present structure and tone – but otherwise I’d see no reason. One keeps pushing edges – as Pound said of James -- just to find out where they say. Otherwise it’s like Williams, ‘Minds made up like beds,’ or words to that effect. Onward!

Best as ever,

Bob

PO Box 384, Waldoboro, ME 04572
Tel 207 832 6301 * Fax the same but call first!