Anselm Hollo
from Caws & Causeries


Some Thoughts for a Celebration of Robert Creeley,
and Black Mountain,
on the Island of Mallorca



The invitation to participate in this event came as a delightful surprise at the midpoint of a sojourn in a small village near Paris, at an artists' and writers' retreat located in an old hotel once patronized by Irish, Scottish, and Scandinavian poets and painters, Robert Louis Stevenson, Frank O'Meara, and August Strindberg among them.

I had been pondering one of the several projects assigned to me, by myself and others, to be undertaken in the five months granted to me in that hospitable place: an entry on the "Troubadours" for an encyclopedia of poetry edited by poet Ron Padgett and designed for the use of high school and college students. I had been wondering (still am, as no doubt many before me) how the troubadours "did it," how they managed to live and work their dream of Congruence—of the joining of sound and sense, poetry and music, love and desire, belief and doubt—how could they maintain this in a world surely every bit as incongruent,
irrational, and random as ours?

And thus, when I received the surprising invitation to participate in this event, I immediately 'flashed' on the fact that one of the books Robert Creeley published in Mallorca from his Divers Press in 1953 was Paul Blackburn's Proensa, a slim volume of a dozen translations from the Occitan masters of trobar. There it was, a connection—and connections, I suspect, is what we poets mostly live by, even in our postmodern skepticism toward notions of coherence and spiritual congruence. We make connections; we recognize them when they are made for us (Jungians call this synchronicity), and we delight in them when they become lasting associations.

I'm not sure if I ever owned a copy of that early Provençal book—books have habits of coming and going, just like people—but I do still have, although not with me in France, one or two Divers Press items, including the poems of Katue Kitasono, Ezra Pound's Japanese correspondent, and an issue of the Black Mountain Review. Gael Turnbull, an early friend in England, gave me a copy of Creeley's The Whip, and his A Form of Women was a glorious find in the Better Books bookstore in London's Charing Cross Road—an almost daily stop on my way home from Bush House where I worked for the BBC from 1958 through 1967.

During those years, that book shop and one or two others provided a genuine if somewhat erratic pipeline to small U.S. American presses and magazines—Jonathan Williams' Jargon Press, Ted Wilentz's Totem/Corinth Books, Andrew Hoyem's and Dave Haselwood's Auerhahn Press, Lawrence Ferlinghetti's City Lights Pocket Poets.

In some recent correspondence about critical attempts at literary groupings, chronologies, 'lineages,' Tom Raworth reminded me that he and I, as well as Lee Harwood, Roy Fisher, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Harry Fainlight, and a number of other UK poets, received these gifts from across the Atlantic all by ourselves, i.e. without any academic intermediaries. There was no friendly professor waving a copy of For Love or Howl at us and saying, hey, you should read this! The only one among us with academic affiliation was Michael Horovitz who was working
on a Joyce thesis at Oxford but otherwise was seriously engaged in staging poetry and jazz road shows in a spirit of Dada Revival.

I remember one occasion in particular that illustrates the contrast between academia and the literary arts as I was experiencing them. Mike had invited Bob Creeley, on one of his first visits to London, to read at one of the multifaceted events he was organizing. The venue was a
basement dive in Soho, and Bob and I sat through the various offerings, which included a young woman in a bikini halter and leopard skin tights doing some sort of expressionist jazz dance number. If memory serves, this was the point at which Bob became a little nervous about, as it were, "fitting in," but went on to acquit himself admirably with a heartstopping rendition of The Ballad of the Despairing Husband.

But what was it, exactly, that Tom Raworth, myself, and others discovered in pages of the Black Mountain Review, Amiri Baraka's Yugen, Cid Corman's Origin? Even though the exact chronology has grown a bit hazy in memory, I think I can safely say that this new work from the United States was exciting, perplexing, and inspiring in entirely new ways-tilted in directions that the writing found in contemporary British books and journals had never come close to. In 1960, the publication of Donald M. Allen's anthology The New American Poetry 1945-1960 made the fact of this transatlantic renaissance even more real, and, for better or worse, it also instituted the categories into which its various strands were then classified: Beat, Black Mountain, 'West Coast', New York School.

Almost half a century later, the categories are no longer so clearly delineated. It seems to me that the younger generations of U.S. American cultural workers in poetry and poetics see "The New American Poetry" as the mainstream of post-World War Two second-wave modernism, and there is quite a bit of dissension among them as to whether they should consider themselves as continuing that lineage or declare themselves staunchly post-modernist. But I am happy to leave such arguments to those who enjoy them.

As a young man coming of age in the European aftermath of World War II, I found in the work of the New American Poets, and in Creeley's poetry in particular, a spirit that was welcoming, challenging, and curiously familiar to my own 'rootless cosmopolitan' post-war sensibility. In his ABC of Reading, Pound says "The man who really knows can tell all that is transmissible in a very few words." The 'few words' of Creeley's poems hit home with an unrivaled accuracy of transmission. Their weave, both plain and ironic, is always aware of how insecure the ground of language can be. Their sense of humor, in the widest application of that idea, is existentially noir as well as humane: light flashing through dark trees by the side of the road.

Mind and heart stop for a fractional moment, time slows, then Thelonious strikes the next note. And the next. And you wonder how you could, ever, not have known that this would be the next word—so unexpected, yet perfect.

But you didn't know, or you forgot, and the poem's music takes you through a series of the kind of observations that, in Pound's words, "rest as the enduring data of philosophy"—a love of the kind of wisdom that refuses to abandon the endlessly and even exasperatingly contradictory human heart for grand abstractions.



Drive, he said. And years later, no longer in swinging London but in the great monstrous USA, we're on our way from Baton Rouge Louisiana where, after causing a bit of righteous ruckus at the local institution of football and learning (in that order), we get so weary of our disgruntled hosts that we do not want to stay another minute and decide to drive back instead of waiting for the morning plane, drive all the way back to Buffalo New York, first heading the wrong way, west instead of east, this can't be right, look at all that Spanish moss, and make it through hours of talk and laughter and blizzards, on our way, on the road, reminiscing about earlier considerably shorter road trip in darkest Michigan, we got there then, wherever that was, and we'll make it this time too.

As we do one morning in Gloucester, years before, when Bob's trusty old VW bug comes to a halt on the beach and sinks into soft wet sand up to its hubcaps, whereupon one of our company proceeds to walk into the waves, heading east toward the rising sun, and has to be rescued before the waters close above her head, she is a tall woman but not that tall, and then we all trudge to the nearest general store for some terrible coffee and a telephone.

I think back on such moments as instances of the U.S.American duende. Which is all about distances, about getting there, and the there never quite turning out the way one had imagined, or there not even being any there there, but instead, something else both comical and vaguely or even overtly threatening, yet again, at times, unexpectedly beautiful and reaffirming—as in Histoire de Florida:

        Miles and miles of space are here in unexpected senses,

        sky washed with clouds, changing light, long sunsets
        sinking across water and land, air that freshens, intimate.
        Endless things growing, all horizontal, an edge, a rise only of feet

        above the sea's surface, or the lakes, the ponds, the rivers,
        all out, nothing that isn't vulnerable, no depths, no rooted senses
        other than the actual fabric of roots, skin of survivals.



Contemporary French poet and art critic Alain Jouffroy recently reminisced about something Marcel Duchamp pointed out to him many moons ago: "[ . . . ] since posterity changes its criteria of taste and judgment every fifty years or so, no one can stake any advance claims on its support without exposing themselves to ridicule." Jouffroy has also spoken "in favor of the dissenting role of an avant-garde made up of individuals whose interconnections exist outside any political, institutional or commercial system," and called "this system of direct relations between individuals [the] Externet." (Interview by Jacques Henric, artpress 238, September 1998, Paris.)

Yet, such an "externet," an association of artists, poets, philosophers, human beings whose connections are as far as humanly possible "outside any political, institutional or commercial system," does not, as far as I can see, require its participants to be apolitical, a-institutional, or even a-commercial. To glance back at the troubadours: on one hand, they can be seen as workers in the "arts-and-entertainment" industry of their day; on the other, as victims of a political repression that struck many of them and their people very severely in the Albigensian crusade. The second wave of modernist poets—in the United States as well as in post-World War II central Europe—responded to absolutist systems and their consequences and agreed with Sartre's dictum that the artist's role must always be anti-authoritarian, no matter how seemingly benign the authority. In the case of The New American Poets, their work, as it appeared in Don Allen's anthology, and before that, in the Black Mountain Review and a plethora of individual small press volumes, can certainly be seen as part of the intellectual and political awareness that built up the head of steam leading to the lid blowing off in 1968 on both sides of the Atlantic. Yet again, as with the troubadours, an understanding of their work only in those terms would be an over-simplification.

Skeptic and agnostic though I am, I find myself in intuitive agreement with Scottish poet Ian Hamilton Finlay when he says that "consecutive sentences are the beginning of the secular" .... Not to introduce notions of the "sacred" or "numinous" here, I also feel that I could go on uttering many more "consecutive sentences," trying to express my sense of what it is that generates and holds together our temporal webs of poetic understanding and solidarity, without getting any closer to succeeding even half as well as Creeley does in these lines from his poem The Company:
        [ ... ]
        Recorders ages hence will look for us
        not only in books, one hopes, nor only under rocks
        but in some common places of feeling,
        small enough—but isn't the human

        just that echoing, resonant edge
        of what it knows it knows,
        takes heart in remembering
        only the good times, yet

        can't forget whatever it was,
        comes here again, fearing this
        is the last day, this is the last,
        the last, the last.

François Villon, who took up some of the Occitanian poets' forms a few centuries later and set them well to his own music, was another who lived on that "echoing, resonant edge / of what it knows it knows." In The Spirit of Romance, Pound says about him:

        Villon never forgets his fascinating, revolting
        self. If, however, he sings the song of himself
        he is, thank God, free from that horrible air of
        rectitude with which Whitman rejoices in being
        Whitman. Villon's song is selfish through selfabsorption;
        he does not, as Whitman, pretend to be
        conferring a philanthropic benefit on the race by
        recording his own self-complacency.

Not entirely fair, of course, and as we know, Pound later "made his peace" with Walt. But in a world where much baser versions of a "horrible air of rectitude" and self-complacency still run rampant in what passes for public discourse, voices like Villon's and Creeley's thankfully still create a common space in which there is room to breathe—in which there are human Presences (one of my favorite Creeley works), places of feeling, light on the waves, light flashing through dark trees by the side of the road.

September 1998