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Robert Creeley

Robert Creeley

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Robert Creeley was an American poet
Poet
A poet is a person who writes poetry. A poet's work can be literal, meaning that his work is derived from a specific event, or metaphorical, meaning that his work can take on many meanings and forms. Poets have existed since antiquity, in nearly all languages, and have produced works that vary...

 and author of more than sixty books. He is usually associated with the Black Mountain poets
Black Mountain poets
The Black Mountain poets, sometimes called projectivist poets, were a group of mid 20th century American avant-garde or postmodern poets centered on Black Mountain College.-Background:...

, though his verse aesthetic diverged from that school's. He was close with Charles Olson
Charles Olson
Charles Olson , was a second generation American modernist poet who was a link between earlier figures such as Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams and the New American poets, which includes the New York School, the Black Mountain School, the Beat poets, and the San Francisco Renaissance...

, Robert Duncan
Robert Duncan (poet)
Robert Duncan was an American poet and a student of H.D. and the Western esoteric tradition who spent most of his career in and around San Francisco. Though associated with any number of literary traditions and schools, Duncan is often identified with the poets of the New American Poetry and Black...

, Allen Ginsberg
Allen Ginsberg
Irwin Allen Ginsberg was an American poet and one of the leading figures of the Beat Generation in the 1950s. He vigorously opposed militarism, materialism and sexual repression...

, John Wieners
John Wieners
John Joseph Wieners was an American lyric poet.-Biography:Born in Milton, Massachusetts, Wieners attended St. Gregory Elementary School in Dorchester, Massachusetts and Boston College High School. From 1950 to 1954, he studied at Boston College, where he earned his A.B...

 and Ed Dorn
Ed Dorn
Edward Merton Dorn was an American poet and teacher often associated with the Black Mountain poets. His most famous work is Gunslinger.-Overview:...

. He served as the Samuel P. Capen Professor of Poetry and the Humanities at State University of New York at Buffalo
University at Buffalo, The State University of New York
University at Buffalo, The State University of New York, also commonly known as the University at Buffalo or UB, is a public research university and a "University Center" in the State University of New York system. The university was founded by Millard Fillmore in 1846. UB has multiple campuses...

. In 1991, he joined colleagues Susan Howe, Charles Bernstein, Raymond Federman, Robert Bertholf, and Dennis Tedlock in founding the Poetics Program at Buffalo. Creeley lived in Waldoboro, Maine
Waldoboro, Maine
Waldoboro is a town in Lincoln County, Maine, in the United States. The population was 4,916 at the 2000 census. Waldoboro is a picturesque fishing and resort town.-History:...

, Buffalo, New York
Buffalo, New York
Buffalo is the second most populous city in the state of New York, after New York City. Located in Western New York on the eastern shores of Lake Erie and at the head of the Niagara River across from Fort Erie, Ontario, Buffalo is the seat of Erie County and the principal city of the...

, and Providence, Rhode Island
Providence, Rhode Island
Providence is the capital and most populous city of Rhode Island and was one of the first cities established in the United States. Located in Providence County, it is the third largest city in the New England region...

 where he taught at Brown University
Brown University
Brown University is a private, Ivy League university located in Providence, Rhode Island, United States. Founded in 1764 prior to American independence from the British Empire as the College in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations early in the reign of King George III ,...

. He was a recipient of the Lannan Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award.

Life


Creeley was born in Arlington, Massachusetts
Arlington, Massachusetts
Arlington is a town in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States, six miles northwest of Boston. The population was 42,844 at the 2010 census.-History:...

 and grew up in Acton
Acton, Massachusetts
Acton is a suburban town in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States about twenty-one miles west-northwest of Boston along Route 2 west of Concord and about ten miles southwest of Lowell. The population was 21,924 at the 2010 census...

. He was raised by his mother with one sister, Helen. At the age of four, he lost his left eye. He attended the Holderness School
Holderness School
The Holderness School is a private, coeducational college-preparatory school in Holderness, near Plymouth, New Hampshire in the United States. The student body of 275 is drawn from 22 U.S. states and 14 foreign countries. While Holderness operates primarily as a boarding school, it also enrolls 50...

 in New Hampshire. He entered Harvard University
Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

 in 1943, but left to serve in the American Field Service in Burma and India in 1944-1945. He returned to Harvard in 1946, but eventually took his BA from Black Mountain College
Black Mountain College
Black Mountain College, a school founded in 1933 in Black Mountain, North Carolina, was a new kind of college in the United States in which the study of art was seen to be central to a liberal arts education, and in which John Dewey's principles of education played a major role...

 in 1955, teaching some courses there as well. When Black Mountain closed in 1957, Creeley moved to San Francisco, where he met Jack Kerouac
Jack Kerouac
Jean-Louis "Jack" Lebris de Kerouac was an American novelist and poet. He is considered a literary iconoclast and, alongside William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, a pioneer of the Beat Generation. Kerouac is recognized for his spontaneous method of writing, covering topics such as Catholic...

 and Allen Ginsberg
Allen Ginsberg
Irwin Allen Ginsberg was an American poet and one of the leading figures of the Beat Generation in the 1950s. He vigorously opposed militarism, materialism and sexual repression...

. He later met and befriended Jackson Pollock
Jackson Pollock
Paul Jackson Pollock , known as Jackson Pollock, was an influential American painter and a major figure in the abstract expressionist movement. During his lifetime, Pollock enjoyed considerable fame and notoriety. He was regarded as a mostly reclusive artist. He had a volatile personality, and...

 in the Cedar Tavern
Cedar Tavern
The Cedar Tavern was a bar and restaurant in New York City last at 82 University Place between 11th and 12th Streets. It was famous as a former hangout of many prominent Abstract Expressionist painters and beat writers...

 in New York City.
"In a quiet moment I hear Bob pause where I never would have expected it. Such resolve. Such heart. And an ear to reckon with. No truly further American poem without his."
Clark Coolidge
Clark Coolidge
Clark Coolidge is an American poet born in Providence, Rhode Island.Often associated with the Language School, his experience as a Jazz drummer and interest in a wide array of subjects--- including caves, geology, bebop, weather, Salvador Dalí, Jack Kerouac, and movies--- often finds...



He was a chicken farmer briefly before becoming a teacher. The farm was in Littleton, New Hampshire
Littleton, New Hampshire
Littleton is a town in Grafton County, New Hampshire, United States. The population was 5,928 at the 2010 census. Situated at the edge of the White Mountains, Littleton is bounded on the northwest by the Connecticut River....

. He was 23. The story goes that he wrote to Cid Corman
Cid Corman
Cid Corman was an American poet, translator and editor, most notably of Origin, who was a key figure in the history of American poetry in the second half of the 20th century.-Early life and writing:...

 whose radio show he heard on the farm, and Corman had him read on the show, which is how Charles Olson
Charles Olson
Charles Olson , was a second generation American modernist poet who was a link between earlier figures such as Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams and the New American poets, which includes the New York School, the Black Mountain School, the Beat poets, and the San Francisco Renaissance...

 first heard of Creeley.

From 1951 to 1955, Creeley and his wife, Ann, lived with their three children on the Spanish island of Mallorca
Mallorca
Majorca or Mallorca is an island located in the Mediterranean Sea, one of the Balearic Islands.The capital of the island, Palma, is also the capital of the autonomous community of the Balearic Islands. The Cabrera Archipelago is administratively grouped with Majorca...

. They went there at the encouragement of their friends Martin Seymour-Smith
Martin Seymour-Smith
Martin Roger Seymour-Smith was a British poet, literary critic, biographer and astrologer.Seymour-Smith was born in London and educated at Oxford University where he was editor of Isis...

 and his wife, Janet. There they started Divers Press and published works by Paul Blackburn
Paul Blackburn
Paul Blackburn may refer to:* Paul Blackburn * Paul Blackburn with English group, Gomez* Paul Blackburn , youth convicted of attempted murder in 1978, cleared and released in 2005...

, Robert Duncan
Robert Duncan
-Arts:*Robert Duncan , American music critic*Robert Duncan , British TV actor*Robert Duncan , U.S. composer*Robert Duncan , U.S. poet-Politics:...

, Charles Olson
Charles Olson
Charles Olson , was a second generation American modernist poet who was a link between earlier figures such as Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams and the New American poets, which includes the New York School, the Black Mountain School, the Beat poets, and the San Francisco Renaissance...

, and others. Creeley wrote about half of his published prose while living on the island, including a short story collection, The Gold Diggers, and a novel, The Island.'. He said that Martie and Janet are represented by Artie and Marge in the novel, The Island. He traveled between Mallorca
Mallorca
Majorca or Mallorca is an island located in the Mediterranean Sea, one of the Balearic Islands.The capital of the island, Palma, is also the capital of the autonomous community of the Balearic Islands. The Cabrera Archipelago is administratively grouped with Majorca...

 and his teaching position at Black Mountain College
Black Mountain College
Black Mountain College, a school founded in 1933 in Black Mountain, North Carolina, was a new kind of college in the United States in which the study of art was seen to be central to a liberal arts education, and in which John Dewey's principles of education played a major role...

 in 1954 and 1955. They also saw to the printing of some issues of Origin
Origin (magazine)
Origin magazine, is an American poetry magazine that was founded in 1951 by Cid Corman. The magazine provided an early platform for the work of Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, Gary Snyder, Theodore Enslin and other important, ground-breaking poets, who collectively created an alternative to academic...

 and Black Mountain Review on Mallorca because the printing costs were significantly lower there.

An MA from the University of New Mexico
University of New Mexico
The University of New Mexico at Albuquerque is a public research university located in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in the United States. It is the state's flagship research institution...

 followed in 1960. He began his academic career by teaching at the prestigious Albuquerque Academy
Albuquerque Academy
Albuquerque Academy is an independent co-educational day school for grades six through twelve located in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA. It is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Southwest and the New Mexico State Department of Education. Albuquerque Academy is also a member of...

 starting in around 1958 until about 1960 or 1961. He read at the 1963 Vancouver Poetry Festival and at the 1965 Berkeley Poetry Conference
Berkeley Poetry Conference
The Berkeley Poetry Conference was an event in which individuals presented their views and poems in seminars, lectures, individual readings, and group readings at California Hall on the Berkeley Campus of the University of California during July 12 – July 24, 1965.The conference was organized...

.
Afterward, he wandered about a bit before settling into the English faculty of "Black Mountain II" at the University at Buffalo
University at Buffalo, The State University of New York
University at Buffalo, The State University of New York, also commonly known as the University at Buffalo or UB, is a public research university and a "University Center" in the State University of New York system. The university was founded by Millard Fillmore in 1846. UB has multiple campuses...

 in 1967. He would stay at this post until 2003, when he received a post at Brown University
Brown University
Brown University is a private, Ivy League university located in Providence, Rhode Island, United States. Founded in 1764 prior to American independence from the British Empire as the College in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations early in the reign of King George III ,...

. From 1990 to 2003, he lived with his family in Black Rock
Black Rock, Buffalo, New York
Black Rock, once an independent municipality, is now a neighborhood of the northwest section of the city of Buffalo, New York. In the 1820s, Black Rock was the rival of Buffalo for the terminus of the Erie Canal, but Buffalo, with its larger harbor capacity and greater distance from the shores of...

, in a converted firehouse at the corner of Amherst and East Streets . At the time of his death, he was in residence with the Lannan Foundation in Marfa, Texas
Marfa, Texas
Marfa is a town in the high desert of far West Texas in the Southwestern United States. Located between the Davis Mountains and Big Bend National Park, it is also the county seat of Presidio County. The population was 1,981 at the 2010 census....

.
He first received fame in 1962 from his poetry collection For Love. He would go on to win the Bollingen Prize
Bollingen Prize
The Bollingen Prize for Poetry, which is currently awarded every two years by Beinecke Library of Yale University, is a literary honor bestowed on an American poet in recognition of the best book of new verse within the last two years, or for lifetime achievement.-Inception and controversy:The...

, among other and held the position of the New York Poet Laureate
Poet Laureate
A poet laureate is a poet officially appointed by a government and is often expected to compose poems for state occasions and other government events...

 from 1989 until 1991. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
American Academy of Arts and Sciences
The American Academy of Arts and Sciences is an independent policy research center that conducts multidisciplinary studies of complex and emerging problems. The Academy’s elected members are leaders in the academic disciplines, the arts, business, and public affairs.James Bowdoin, John Adams, and...

 in 2003.

In 1968, he signed the “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War.

In his later years he was an advocate of, and a mentor to, many younger poets, as well as to others outside of the poetry world. He went to great lengths to be supportive to many and he had great sympathy for 'ordinary' people. Being responsive appeared to be essential to his personal ethics, and he seemed to take this responsibility extremely seriously, in both his life and his craft. In his later years, when he became well-known, he would go to lengths to make strangers, who approached him as a well-known author, feel comfortable. In his last years, he used the Internet to keep in touch with many younger poets and friends. He was rather shy, somewhat cautious, but he was not at all afraid; he would stand up in situations where many others would not.

Robert Creeley died at sunrise on March 30, 2005, in Odessa, Texas
Odessa, Texas
Odessa is a city in and the county seat of Ector County, Texas, United States. It is located primarily in Ector County, although a small portion of the city extends into Midland County. Odessa's population was 99,940 at the 2010 census. It is the principal city of the Odessa, Texas Metropolitan...

 of complications from pneumonia
Pneumonia
Pneumonia is an inflammatory condition of the lung—especially affecting the microscopic air sacs —associated with fever, chest symptoms, and a lack of air space on a chest X-ray. Pneumonia is typically caused by an infection but there are a number of other causes...

. His death resulted in an outpouring of grief and appreciation from many in the poetry world. He is buried in Cambridge, Massachusetts
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Cambridge is a city in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States, in the Greater Boston area. It was named in honor of the University of Cambridge in England, an important center of the Puritan theology embraced by the town's founders. Cambridge is home to two of the world's most prominent...

. He was scheduled to visit Albuquerque Academy, where he held a teaching post, 10 days after the day he died, to help celebrate their 50th anniversary.

Work


According to Arthur L. Ford in his book Robert Creeley (1978, p. 25), "Creeley has long been aware that he is part of a definable tradition in the American poetry of this century, so long as 'tradition' is thought of in general terms and so long as it recognizes crucial distinctions among its members. The tradition most visible to the general public has been the Eliot-Stevens tradition supported by the intellectual probings of the New Critics in the 1940s and early 1950s. Parallel to that tradition has been the tradition Creeley identifies with, the Pound-Olson-Zukofsky-Black Mountain tradition, what M. L. Rosenthal [in his book The New Poets: American and British Poetry Since World War II (1967)] calls 'The Projectivist Movement'." This "movement" Rosenthal derives from Olson's essay on "Projective Verse".

Le Fou, Creeley's first book, was published in 1952, and since then, according to his publisher, barely a year passed without a new collection of poems. The 1983 entry, titled Mirrors, had some tendencies toward concrete imagery. It was hard for many readers and critics to immediately understand Creeley's reputation as an innovative poet, for his innovations were often very subtle; even harder for some to imagine that his work lived up to the Black Mountain tenet—which he articulated to Charles Olson in their correspondence, and which Olson popularized in his essay "Projective Verse," -- that "form is never more than an extension of content," for his poems were often written in couplet
Couplet
A couplet is a pair of lines of meter in poetry. It usually consists of two lines that rhyme and have the same meter.While traditionally couplets rhyme, not all do. A poem may use white space to mark out couplets if they do not rhyme. Couplets with a meter of iambic pentameter are called heroic...

, triplet
Tercet
A tercet is composed of three lines of poetry, forming a stanza or a complete poem. English-language haiku is an example of an unrhymed tercet poem...

, and quatrain
Quatrain
A quatrain is a stanza, or a complete poem, consisting of four lines of verse. Existing in various forms, the quatrain appears in poems from the poetic traditions of various ancient civilizations including Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, and China; and, continues into the 21st century, where it is...

 stanzas that break into and out of rhyme as happenstance appears to dictate. An example is "The Hero," from Collected Poems, also published in 1982 and covering the span of years from 1945 to 1975.

"The Hero" is written in variable isoverbal ("word-count") prosody; the number of words per line varies from three to seven, but the norm is four to six. Another technique to be found in this piece is variable rhyme—there is no set rhyme scheme, but some of the lines rhyme and the poem concludes with a rhymed couplet. All of the stanzas are quatrains, as in the first two:

THE HERO
Each voice which was asked
spoke its words, and heard
more than that, the fair question,
the onerous burden of the asking.
And so the hero, the
hero! stepped that gracefully
into his redemption, losing
or gaining life thereby.


Despite these obviously formal elements various critics continue to insist that Creeley wrote in "free verse
Free verse
Free verse is a form of poetry that refrains from consistent meter patterns, rhyme, or any other musical pattern.Poets have explained that free verse, despite its freedom, is not free. Free Verse displays some elements of form...

", but most of his forms were strict enough so that it is a question whether it can even be maintained that he wrote in forms of prose. This particular poem is without doubt verse-mode, not prose-mode. M. L. Rosenthal in his The New Poets quoted Creeley's "'preoccupation with a personal rhythm in the sense that the discovery of an external equivalent of the speaking self is felt to be the true object of poetry,'" and went on to say that this speaking self serves both as the center of the poem's universe and the private life of the poet. "Despite his mask of humble, confused comedian, loving and lovable, he therefore stands in his own work's way, too seldom letting his poems free themselves of his blocking presence" (p. 148). When he used imagery, Creeley could be interesting and effective on the sensory level.

In an essay titled "Poetry: Schools of Dissidents," the academic poet Daniel Hoffman
Daniel Hoffman
Daniel Gerard Hoffman is an American poet, essayist, and academic. He was appointed the twenty-second Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1973.-Biography:Hoffman was born in New York City...

 wrote, in The Harvard Guide to Contemporary American Writing which he edited, that as he grew older, Creeley's work tended to become increasingly fragmentary in nature, even the titles subsequent to For Love: Poems 1950-1960 hinting at the fragmentation of experience in Creeley's work: Words, Pieces, A Day Book. In Hoffman's opinion, "Creeley has never included ideas, or commitments to social issues, in the repertoire of his work; his stripped-down poems have been, as it were, a proving of Pound's belief in 'technique as the test of a man's sincerity.'" (p. 533)

Jazz bassist Steve Swallow
Steve Swallow
Steve Swallow is a jazz double bass and bass guitarist and composer born in Fair Lawn, New Jersey.One of the leading bassists in jazz, Swallow is noted for collaborations with Jimmy Giuffre, Gary Burton and Carla Bley...

 released the albums Home
Home (Steve Swallow album)
Home is an album by bassist Steve Swallow featuring poetry by Robert Creeley recorded in 1979 and released on the ECM label.-Reception:The Allmusic review by Ron Wynn awarded the album 2½ stars calling it an "Interesting concept"....

 (ECM, 1979) and So There (ECM, 2005) featuring poems by Creeley put to music.

Posthumous publications of Creeley's work are ongoing. Some of these include the two volume edition of his Collected Poems, which has already appeared. Forthcoming is The Selected Letters of Robert Creeley edited by Rod Smith
Rod Smith (poet)
Rod Smith, who was born in Gallipolis, Ohio in 1962, is an American poet, editor and publisher. He grew up in Northern Virginia and moved to Washington, DC in 1987. Smith has authored several collections of poetry, including In Memory of My Theories, Protective Immediacy, and Music or Honesty. He...

, Kaplan Harris and Peter Baker for University of California Press
University of California Press
University of California Press, also known as UC Press, is a publishing house associated with the University of California that engages in academic publishing. It was founded in 1893 to publish books and papers for the faculty of the University of California, established 25 years earlier in 1868...

.

Film Appearances

  • "Creeley" (directed by Bruce Jackson and Diane Christian, 1988.
  • Poetry in Motion
    Poetry in Motion (film)
    Poetry in Motion is a 1982 documentary directed by Ron Mann featuring contemporary North American poetry and music. Featured are some of the Black Mountain poets, Beats, minimalist poets, and avante-garde poets.-Featured artists:*Helen Adam...

     (directed by Ron Mann), 1982.
  • Complete Unknown
    Complete Unknown
    Complete Unknown is an unreleased Bob Dylan-themed documentary film that screened at film festivals in Canada and the U.K. in 2003 and 2004. It was co-directed by Canadian filmmakers Griffin Ondaatje and Craig Proctor and features their comically circuitous pilgrimages with cameraman Simon...

     (directed by Griffin Ondaatje and Craig Proctor), 2003. [as yet unreleased]

Research resources


External links


Readings and talks (audio files)

Interviews

Sites, exhibits, artist pages

Others on Creeley including retrospectives, essays, tributes
  • Drive he sd - or did he??? Poet Aram Saroyan
    Aram Saroyan
    Aram Saroyan is an American poet, novelist, biographer, memoirist and playwright. There has been a resurgence of interest in his work in the 21st century, evidenced by the publication in 2007 of several previous collections reissued together as Complete Minimal Poems.- Biography :Saroyan was born...

     describes a personal and anecdotal reading of Creeley's famous poem `I Know A Man', based in part on a conversation with Creeley himself
  • "Writers' program adds color to Marfa" a brief capsule of Creeley's last days at a writer's colony in West Texas where he died in March 2005, already ill with emphysema.
  • Feature: Robert Creeley (1926–2005) this feature, edited by Michael Kelleher
    Michael Kelleher
    Michael Kelleher is an American poet. He is the author of two collections of poems, Human Scale and To Be Sung...

    , with contributions by Amiri Baraka
    Amiri Baraka
    Amiri Baraka , formerly known as LeRoi Jones, is an American writer of poetry, drama, fiction, essays, and music criticism...

     & Susan Howe
    Susan Howe
    Susan Howe is a American poet, scholar, essayist and critic, who has been closely associated with the Language poets, among others poetry movements. Her work is often classified as Postmodern because it expands traditional notions of genre...

     among others
  • "ON WORDS: A Conference on the Life and Work of Robert Creeley" article about this Conference which was held Oct. 12-14, 2006 in Buffalo, NY.
  • Various brief biographical sketches


Reviews and critical perspectives
  • On Words: Reasserting the Power of Robert Creeley's Verse article by Michael Kelleher
    Michael Kelleher
    Michael Kelleher is an American poet. He is the author of two collections of poems, Human Scale and To Be Sung...

     at Art Voice site.
  • Critical Review
    Critical Review (Brown)
    The Critical Review is a student publication that produces reviews of course offerings at Brown University. The student group that produces it is also called the Critical Review. The reviews are written by Brown students from course evaluation questionnaires distributed to class members in the...

     evaluations of Professor Creeley
  • Of Accumulation: The Collected Poems of Robert Creeley by poet Ben Lerner
    Ben Lerner
    Benjamin S. Lerner is an American poet, novelist, and critic. He was awarded the Hayden Carruth prize for his cycle of fifty-two sonnets, . In 2004, Library Journal named it one of the year's twelve best books of poetry...

    , this appeared in the print journal boundary 2


Online poetry, poems and artist collaborations
  • Anamorphosis: Collaboration with Francesco Clemente
    Francesco Clemente
    Francesco Clemente is an Italian and American contemporary artist. Influenced by thinkers as diverse as Gregory Bateson, William Blake, Allen Ginsberg, and J Krishnamurti, the art of Francesco Clemente is inclusive and nomadic, crossing many borders, intellectual and geographical.Dividing his time...

     at 2River
  • American Dream: Collaboration with Robert Indiana
    Robert Indiana
    Robert Indiana is an American artist associated with the Pop Art movement.-Life and work:Robert Indiana was born Robert Clark in New Castle, Indiana. His family relocated to Indianapolis, where he graduated from Arsenal Technical High School...

  • Still Life: Collaboration with Donald Sultan
    Donald Sultan
    Donald Sultan is an American artist, known for large-scale still life paintings executed with bold contrasts of bright color and deep black forms, tight, nearly abstract compositions, and unorthodox media....

  • "Add-Verse" a poetry-photo-video project Creeley participated in