Robert Creeley Courtesy of the Sunday Star, Auckland, New Zealand, 1995, and New Directions. BOOKS & THE CULTURE The Obit Page BY BOBBY BYRD “I believe in a poetry determined by the language of which it is made. I look to words, and nothing else, for my own redemption… I mean the words as opposed to content.” Robert Creeley IDoet Robert Creeley died in Odessa, Texas, of all places. A Creeley poem would have smiled at the irony, wondering in short gasping breaths about sadness in the Ukraine at the edge of the Black Sea, wondering if that human sadness was the same sadness he saw in the face of the black nurse in Texas who was watching him die. Then a few days later the Pope died in Romewhere he was supposed to die. The media made sure that the whole world followed the Pope on the journey to his new status as Holy Cadaver and Future Saint. But news of Creeley’s death, not-withstanding his importance to American cultural history, was muted, traveling mostly by short newspaper obituaries, e-mails, and telephone calls. For poets of my generation the news was like a switchblade slicing across the chest. It wasn’t supposed to happen, but it did. There was something about the timing of these two deaths that reminded me of a poem by Paul Blackburn. In “Obit Page,” Paul bemoans the death of Roger Hornsby, the greatest right-handed hitter of all time. And then in the next two lines of the four-line poem, the great American poet William Carlos Williams follows Hornsby into the void. Blackburn’s short eulogy was a celebration of pure Americana and the American idiom. WCW had entered the Hall of Fame where he belonged. But Creeley and the Pope within a few days of each other? Creeley was an existential ist poet, a romantic, a believer of words as he wrote them on a blank white page or on a computer screen when that time camenouns and verbs transforming into a poem, content and life always in a state of change and becoming. Here he was riding in a rickety boat crossing the River Styx with El Papa, the last great Sun King, the man who had been perched atop the monolithic throne where truth and answers were packaged neatly in a book. The image is the antithesis of Blackburn’s elegiac celebration. It’s more like a good lucha libre bout on Mexican television. Creeley was 78 when he died, a member of the remarkable generation of poets who Donald Allen immortalized in the Grove Press anthology The New American Poetry, 1945-1960. In the six ties, I was a young man at the University of Arizona BCW \(Before “Creative ing of poems. Creeley and a host of his peers came through to read, thanks to the largesse of the Ruth Stephan Poetry Center and its board of teachers and writers who were plugged into the Allen anthology. We heard folks like Creeley, Robert Duncan, and Gary Snyder, among others. And Creeley became my hero. His poems were intense personal revelations that seemed so accessible at first reading, but the closer I got to them, the more mysterious and deep they became. His poemsand this is still what I find so extraordinary about Creeley and his generationreflected exactly the poet who was writing them. Form was the constant subtext, his poems seemed to say, the place where a true revolution was being waged. The “new American poem” was an organic mechanism, a reflection of the poet in constant flux, 22 THE TEXAS OBSERVER APRIL 29, 2005
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