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Robert Creeley in Plainfield, Vermont

May 18, 1998

Kyle Schlesinger and Robert Creeley, Plainfield, Vermont, 1998

Full reading (52:33): MP3

  1. On his poetic influences and the Norton Anthology (6:00): MP3
  2. "Sherwood" by Alfred Noyles; "Invictus" by William Ernest Henley (5:22): MP3
  3. "When I am Dead, my Dearest" by Christina Rosetti; "Hart Crane" (6:09): MP3
  4. On Slater Brown; "For Love" (5:04): MP3
  5. On the aging of his mother (7:43): MP3
  6. "For my mother: Genevieve Jules Creeley, April 8, 1887-October 7, 1972" (5:08): MP3
  7. On the condition of poetry and meeting Penelope (5:44): MP3
  8. "So There" (3:22): MP3
  9. "Four Days in Vermont" (5:35): MP3
  10. "Help" (2:27): MP3

THE LOCAL IS NOT a place but a place in a given man — what part of it he has been compelled or else brought by love to give witness to his own mind. And that is THE form, that is, the whole thing, as whole as it can get.

— Robert Creeley, "A Note on the Local," A Quick Graph


"I don't want to dick around about the money. Just tell me when you're going to pick me up." After repeatedly appealing to the president of the college for funds (to no effect), I scrounged up fifty bucks between my friends to bring Robert Creeley, then in residence at Vermont Studio Center, to Plainfield in the spring of 1998. Candidly, he remarked that this was exactly the same sum he had received as an honorarium the last time he read there — twenty-five years earlier. Generosity was the recurring germ of himself.

The morning of the reading saw me heading off in a rusty yellow pick-up with orange lights over the cab, making at least one false turn on Vermont's curly roads before eventually finding Bob. As we made our way, I offered him a "bullet" (an unfiltered Camel cigarette not unlike those I had seen him smoking in photographs), and was pleasantly surprised to learn that he had quit. We continued to drive and talk as the truck's ancient engine ground down on his voice — the names Crane, Lawrence, Pound, Williams, Olson and Zukofsky drifted by. Upon arrival, we took a walk among the dusky pines towards the library, where he mused on several titles before asking if he might borrow a thick blue anthology edited by Marxist poet and critic Louis Untermeyer.

A converted milking shed served as the first home for Cuneiform Press, and the walls displayed various broadsides, journals and ephemera printed there. He asked why I would bother handsetting type in the digital age, "certainly, if we had the technology of the Electronic Poetry Center we would have never published the Black Mountain Review the way we did." Later, crossing hayfields and the ramshackle structures that had once been the rage in Organic and Deconstructive architecture of the seventies, he reminisced in stride, speaking as natural as breathing in the air of mud season. Modestly declining my invitation to eat in a nearby cafe, he suggested the student cafeteria "to take in the scene." It was hamburger night.

After nervously stuttering through my introduction, he graciously took the stage in the Haybarn Theatre (or rather, sat on its edge) before one of the largest audiences I can recall at any event there — ever. He began by speaking of his mentors when he was "our age, so to speak" citing Pound and Williams, quickly turning to their immediate predecessors and lesser-known contemporaries. With the anthology in hand, Bob spoke of his proximity to poets like Gerald Gould, John Drinkwater, D.H. Lawrence, etc. and read Alfred Noyes' "The Song of Sherwood," William Ernest Henley's "Invictus," and Christina Rossetti's "When I am Dead, My Dearest."

Seamlessly shifting between reading and talking like no other, he spoke of Hart Crane and Slater Brown, and at my request, read "For Love" before offering a detailed, and moving introduction to "For My Mother: Genevieve Jules Creeley" from Away (1976). Moving chronologically, I remember the remarkable shift in the audience's attention when he recollected his first chance meeting with his soon-to-be wife Penelope in New Zealand somewhere in the midst of a world tour, marked by the long poem "So There" from the journal Hello written between February 29 and May 3, 1976. He closed the reading by bringing us closer to home — closer to the present with "Four Days in Vermont" and his hip-hop inspired "Help," a cry against the inhumanity of the American health care system.

After the reading, we piled back into the truck to return to the Studio Center. I could read his fatigue, but as always, the conversation kept moving. Somewhere at the junction of Route 14, we saw emergency lights flashing in that impenetrable dark, flagging us down. I couldn't see from where we stood. What had happened? A wreck? A drug bust? I never knew, but the road over the mountain was closed, and the hour-long jaunt turned into a crazy three-hour journey along unlit dirt roads with the dank smell of manure flooding in. Bob kept reminiscing — one tale following another until finally — we arrived. He hugged me, signed a few books under a yellow light in the parking lot, and then, off again.

He had a remarkable way of being local and everywhere at once, a way of making everyone in his presence feel at home — wherever and whenever home takes place.

Kyle Schlesinger
Buffalo, NY

Text and audio originally published in Kiosk 2005.

Recorded by Mark Greenberg
Digitally Remastered by Murat Ergin

© 2008. These sound recordings are being made available for noncommercial and educational use only. All rights belong to the authors. Used with permission of Kyle Schlesinger and the Robert Creeley estate. Distributed by PennSound.