Creeley at 70 in Buffalo
a review by
Loss Pequeño Glazier

DATELINE BUFFALO. October 10th-12th, 1996. First night: Eileen Myles, introduced by Creeley, kicks off the 70th birthday celebration in honor of Robert Creeley reading to a packed crowd in the large Hallwall's performance space, with its stage bordered on three sides by the audience. Her figure animated against the somewhat large stage, reading and letting each page of text drift to the floor after reading it. Voice, presence, narrative rang solidly to a thoroughly enthusiastic crowd.

Second day: the formal opening of activities by William Greiner, UB president and Creeley colleague who first met Creeley long-distance while Creeley was in Finland. Then, Gil Sorrentino, fondly introduced by Joseph Conte, reading in the Katherine Cornell Theatre, a good-sized semi-formal spaceship architecture palace space on the edge of Buffalo's tundra-tinged north campus.
Sorrentino read prose from a new piece (I think forthcoming in Conjunctions). A richly written piece, supercharged with irony, purposely laden with the banalities of the wife-swapping (cunt-swapping more accurately by the words of its narrator) personalities it characterized and the revolting misogyny and sexual beasty balls of its less-than-likable narrator. Above this content, the precision of Sorrentino's prose glimmered like a city skyline. Amiri Baraka, originally scheduled to read with Sorrentino, was unable to appear. Creeley therefore gave a preview mini-reading, talking briefly and reading the full text of his The Dogs of Auckland (approximate title) chapbook forthcoming from Meow Press. A gorgeous piece of work.

This reading was followed by a reception in the poetry collection and its great assembly of rare, beautiful, and ephemeral Creeley materials and also a retrospective (mostly small press) of poetry chez Buffalo for the past 50 years. A delirious spread of rare and richly-diverse print artifacts that gave a varied sense of the "scene" as passing in and out and back into the "city of no illusions". Back at Katherine Cornell, next up was the Creeley-Dine event, the room full to the rafters. (So packed the fire marshall was threatening to turn back poetry-goers if they could not prove they had a seat.)

Creeley was introduced at length and eloquently by Susan Howe. Then an extraordinary reading by Creeley. First an explanation of the 1-2-3 method then a 1-2-3 section from Mabel: A Story a prose work dating an early Creeley-Dine collaboration. This was a long piece, at times dropping into choppy Burroughsesque rhythms, other times richly wry and funny, and other times simply sailing along tellingly. A rare treat to witness the performance of this important earlier prose piece. This reading was followed by "Histoire de Florida" a later, powerful, long, languid, pulling out like the tide and the backdrop of all-that-has-happened, rhythmic, emotional, and meditative masterwork.

Next Dine was introduced excellently by Charles Bernstein followed by the Creeley-Dine conversation. Truly extraordinary, to hear these two men talk about a range of subjects near and dear to both art and writing, "tools" of any trade, age and its perspectives, perseverance and its perspectives, the necessities of incessant travel and, well, all in all, what it means to hang in there. This was a primo opportunity to hear both the writer and the artist talk. Creeley and Dine were terrific. It was a particularly wonderful opportunity to hear from Dine, an artist who gets to Buffalo all too rarely, and to hear him speak so openly, honestly, his talk as rich as writing itself, there in the open space where things are stilled for some hours we can all hold for the true celebration of artistic life they are. Hey, this is what it means to hang in there.

DAY 3. Back in the Katherine Cornell theatre, Susan Schultz could have had no more style, zest, and presence than in her introduction of John Ashbery in which she first met a man who called himself Ashbery (Bernstein) and in which she recounted her pilgrimage to the Ashbery family apple farm not far from the site of the present event. Ashbery's reading was first-rate. Ashbery, a poet who will soon be the same age as the man who this gathering celebrated, performed fully in command of his craft, reading from his latest book as well as from new poems. Ashbery's reading was followed by a reception across the hall where poetrygoers were able to congregate and compare notes at the penultimate chime of this poetry celebration's verse-bent clock.

What could top things so far? The finale of course! The night of day three, Hallwall's Jazz concert with Steve Kuhn and Carol Fredette. Perhaps the most decked out I've seen Hallwall's with not only great book tables (thanks to Talking Leaves) but also, inside, two food tables, one with the cheeses, meats, breads, and grapes, and the other buckling under the weight of the two enormous cakes (one chocolate, one yellow) specially lettered for such a day. Inside, Kuhn and Fredette got going. Standards sprinkled among renditions of takes from the Steve Swallow release Home (ECM Records 1160) on which Sheila Jordan did the vocals. The piano's tones, registers, chordal thunderwalls in boots soled with celestial dust-while Fredette's scats were nourished by dizzying drops into the deep, mellow, honey-coated lower register of her extraordinary voice. Many numbers to stun the crowd ("She Was Young" and "Ice Cream" among the memorable takes) and many numbers lifted like toasts to the music ship's first mate seated with a grin and pensive attentiveness front row center. One of the outstanding moments was Kuhn's solo improvisation dedicated to Creeley. No piano has ever been explored, imploded, stretched into silver multi-vocaled strands, rode into a thundered, multi-leveled, multi-chromatic union with the absolute possibilities of sound.

As the program was originally envisioned, Mercury Rev would've been next on stage. They had canceled so, really, it would've been over now. But seated behind me in the second row, humming audibly to some of the standards was the man who would do the finale for this 70th, Amiri Baraka, introduced with incredible acumen by Bill Fischer.

Baraka could've no less stormed the stage than if he had been backed by the John Coltrane quartet itself. Baraka's small build gives one no preparation for the immense vision, rhythm, voicing, and cadences that will emerge from the flaming words of his performance. Invoking as central to the Yugen of Baraka's earlier years, "the big three" of the magazine, Ginsberg (is that right?), big Charlie Olson, and Bob Creeley. (Sorrentino, by the way, also appeared in Yugen.) Baraka paid homage to Creeley then performed from Transbluecency and his more recent Funk Lore (Los Angeles: Littoral Books, 1996). Baraka's humming, chanting, and vocal renditions of the standards-a la-Baraka were in perfect accord with the chords still lingering, clinging to the packed, overflowing theatre. No printed text can do this! People filling all seats, people on all sides, standing, squatting, spilling out into the Hallwalls' hallway. Blues, transblues, transvoicings, the unbelievable coup d'états of Baraka's "lowcoups" (African American version of that knock-out blast commonly associated with the haiku), and his closing triumph (slaves, dig, we were once slaves). Indeed, it was about people, what we are, the rhythms that vibrate through one and the same. Amiri brought it home. And home we were-at least so is Buffalo in many senses. Oh, for a home like this. Happy birthday celebration, Robert Creeley!

Review and photos: Loss Pequeño Glazier
Design: ejr