Friday, November 14, 2014

Creeley’s Letters

Robert Creeley, c. 1955
(Photograph by Jonathan Williams)

Sundry gleanings out of the pages of The Selected Letters of Robert Creeley (2014), the oddly reassuring human rub of the “merely” factual. How Creeley’s Divers Press in Mallorca printed—along with books by “the usual suspects” of Olson, Duncan, Blackburn, &c.—A Handbook of Fancy Pigeons (1954), by H. P. Macklin (“who writes a series of articles in the Am/ Pigeon Journal (who is buying out the edition, for distribution etc) on divers odd & out-of-fashion breeds.”) Noted in a letter to Cid Corman dated “December 24, 1954.” Creeley, of neighbor Robert Graves: “Just now I’m trying to locate a good pair of Homers for Graves—who plans to use them for communication between Deya & Palma—very funny.” In that letter, too, Creeley reports: “We just got a monkey—very lovely little thing, a lady, etc. I’ve always wanted one . . .”

How—to a page of a “July 15, 1952” letter to Charles Olson—Creeley stuck a photograph of “two hands shaping pottery on a wheel.” And thence wrote:
Just saw this photograph. Someday wd be very great to do book, i.e., not to ‘do’ book, but if it happened so, with just such things interspersed without comment.
                                                                                                                                            So that text would have equivalent in visual, i.e., pictures. Both as ‘rest’ for the reader, and pulling out of his sense of content generally, i.e.,—so he gets it everywhere, is present in a multiplicity of things.
                                          Not as ‘illustration’ but as like things. It could be good. I mean, real wide play,—of things like this, bits of cloth, anything that had relevance.
Anticipating W. G. Sebald’s photograph-punctuated prose. Or I think of Susan Howe’s “Fragment of the Wedding Dress of Sarah Pierpont Edwards” in Souls of the Labadie Tract (2007), the blue swatch pictured therein.

How Jack Spicer apparently attempted to join the gang teaching at Black Mountain—Creeley writing (“September 5, 1955”): “under any other circumstances but those which we now face, I’m certain that the college would be very interested in your qualifications as a possible addition to the faculty . . .” Think of Spicer there in the Carolina highlands, with no ocean: “The grand concord of what / does not stoop to definition.”

How earnestly Creeley riffs regarding Charlie Parker’s rhythmic concision and variance. In a “July 19, 1953” letter to Olson, he calls Parker, rather awkwardly, “one of the most substantial users of what time can do in any business.” And tries to apply Parker’s acuity to verse:
That thing of cutting an 1/8th off the quarter, etc., is it, and the precision of such rhythms so got is a) the necessary fine-ness of the intention and b) the greater potential of variation then possible. I.e., what bugs either one of us, in the old biz of closed verse, or any such partitioning of potential forms, etc., is the damn loss of variation effected. Not, to grant them the obvious, that infinite variation within the given isn’t also possible, etc., etc., but that total set is pre-determined. Bird, in any case, first man importantly, call it, to stress the vertical potential of the melodic line, and by vertical I think I mean much of what you have always meant, i.e., that emphasis on the single & total content of any one word or note therein occurring without an overstress on projection-along-a-line, or what they loosely call ‘sequence’, or what you’ve called horizontalism. What I’m trying to say, in any case: that Bird manages single content of the note, call it, in conjunction with total content, and/or its place in the whole structure of the melody, etc., etc. Whereas, say, usual ‘modern song’ goes along, etc., i.e., moves from note to note (and gains our patience or impatience only in same), Bird clears notes one by fucking one, and reasserts a rhythmic structure with each note posited. Myself, I think you go back to Bach before you ever find it done quite so clearly.
The “single & total content of any one word” recalling (again) Olson’s “whatever you have to say, leave / the roots on, let them / dangle / / And the dirt / / Just to make clear / where they come from.” (Knocking briefly around looking for Olson’s “horizontalism” I find, out of a letter postmarked “10 August 1950” to Frances Boldereff: “we are a perpendicular axis of planes which are constantly being intersected by horizontal planes of experience coming in from the past (coming up from the ground—or, like you say, that underground tide) and going out to the future . . . it is at the innumerable points of intersection that images and events spring up which are like tastes in the mouth . . .” Certes, the spatial metaphor of “COMPOSITION BY FIELD”—“no track other than the one the poem under hand declares”—in Olson’s “Projective Verse” is one of unprepossessed horizontality. Odd how Creeley’s evident disdain for “usual ‘modern song’” that “moves from note to note” might be read against Olson’s shout that “ONE PERCEPTION MUST IMMEDIATELY AND DIRECTLY LEAD TO A FURTHER PERCEPTION.”)

How Creeley, writing to William Carlos Williams after reviewing the Williams’s Selected Essays (“the goddamn review—it was a messy (my messiness, that is), difficult job”), and quibbling therein about Williams’s writings about “measure” (“the ‘relatively stable foot’ called for in ‘On Measure,’ . . . is, I think, a confusion. To take literally the first of the sentence, ‘The line must be measured to be in measure . . . ,’ is to involve oneself in an obviously vicious circle. No poem was ever written ‘in this direction.’”), quotes Thomas Campion, who claimed “he wrote to no measure”:
                Kinde are her answeres,
                But her performance keeps no day;
Breaks time, as dancers
                From their own Musicke when they stray . . .
And quotes, too, a few lines out of Ben Jonson’s “A Fit of Rime Against Rime”: “Still may Syllabes jarre with time, / Still may reason warre with rime, / Resting never.” So lovely as to occlude the argument.