Copyright 2005 The Buffalo News
Buffalo News (New York)

March 31, 2005 Thursday


LENGTH: 442 words

DIED MARCH 30, 2005



Robert White Creeley, a longtime University at Buffalo English professor who was widely regarded as one of the greatest poets of the last 50 years, died Wednesday of pneumonia in a hospital in Odessa, Texas. He was 78.

Mr. Creeley was in West Texas as a writer in residence funded by the Lannan Foundation.

He taught at UB for 37 years and was part of an English department that enjoyed an international reputation in the 1960s and 1970s. He left in 2003 to take a post at Brown University, in his native New England.

"His place in American poetry is enormous," said Charles Bernstein, a poet and former UB colleague now at the University of Pennsylvania.

Mr. Creeley's poetry was renowned for its spare, direct language and its accessibility.

His work earned him a host of honors, including the Bollingen Prize, an award previously won by W.H. Auden, e.e. cummings and Robert Frost. He was named New York State's poet laureate in 1989.

Friends remembered Mr. Creeley as a generous colleague, a caring mentor to students and a passionate supporter of artists.

"The real sense of him is just incredibly human. He's my ideal of a poet," said Diane Christian, a longtime UB English professor and close friend.

He wrote more than 60 books of poetry and criticism and enjoyed collaborating with painters, jazz musicians and other artists outside his field.

"He existed in a world of all the arts," said Bruce Jackson, a UB colleague and close friend.

A native of Arlington, Mass., who grew up in working-class West Acton, Mr. Creeley lost his left eye in a childhood accident. He attended Harvard University but struggled academically. He hit his stride as a poet in the years after World War II, befriending several leading members of the Beat generation, including Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.

He was an originator of the "Black Mountain" school of poetry, which established a new, anti-academic form of poetics.

In the wider Western New York community, Mr. Creeley worked with the Just Buffalo Literary Center, CEPA Gallery, Hallwalls and other cultural institutions.

At the time he left UB, Mr. Creeley was the Samuel P. Capen professor of poetry and the humanities. He and his wife, Penelope Highton, who survives, lived in a converted firehouse in Black Rock.

Mr. Creeley, who was married three times, had nine children.

He will be buried in his family plot in Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Mass., which is the final resting place of fellow poets Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and James Russell Lowell.

UB will hold a public memorial reading in his honor at 3:30 p.m. April 7 in the Poetry Rare Books Room, 420 Capen Hall, on the North Campus.