This morning I came upon a sound file of Bob Creeley reading a long (for him) poem called “En Famille.” I hadn’t read or heard that poem before. It moved me very much, hearing his voice, hearing his words. I am stunned to realize that my teacher has been gone for more than 10 years. Below is what I wrote at the time.
4 April 05: Corresponding with friends about Robert Creeley, who passed away the other day, has been a solace. Creeley was a good guy, and he was certainly good to me. When I was his student, he saw beyond my ruthless go-getter attitude, he tried (without great success) to teach me to go for singles and not home runs when writing about poetry, and he talked to me like a guy he’d invited to his house. Creeley was somewhat reticent and curt in a New England way back then, and he wasn’t very comfortable in class – a point I made very clear in a memoir I wrote called “Creeley Teaches in Buffalo” that was published in the essay collection “Robert Creeley: The Poet’s Workshop.” It wasn’t that Bob didn’t try at times to get some dialogue going – just that, when he did try, it was so surprising that his students, at least the ones in my class, literally couldn’t speak. A couple of years after I published the piece, I moved back to Buffalo from Stanford and visited Bob, and he said of it, “That was probably the best I could have hoped for.” I took this as a compliment – him saying that he was grateful someone had recorded faithfully what being a student in his class was like. About a week later, though, playing with that sentence in my mind, I saw another, clever, very Creeley-like, and quite probable meaning: “It was the best I could have hoped for FROM YOU, Basil.” *laughs* Both assessments were probably right.
The Times of London has a good precis of Bob’s career. It notes that “as a character [Creeley] transformed himself from an originally quite angry personality into an increasingly genial one, and his public readings of his work had a large following. Indeed, the celebration of his 70th birthday at the State University of New York at Buffalo, in October 1996, devoted to readings and lectures by him and others, lasted for three days.”
My favourite Creeley poem is called “The Whip”:
I spent a night turning in bed,/my love was a feather, a flat
sleeping thing. She was/very white
and quiet, and above us on/
the roof, there was another woman I
also loved, had/addressed myself to in
a fit she/returned. That
encompasses it. But now I was/lonely, I yelled.
but what is that? Ugh,/she said, beside me, she put
her hand on/my back, for which act
I think to say this/wrongly.
“Hedge funds may force companies to be more efficient, but that’s not always the best thing for every stakeholder group, like employees. It’s curious we’ve allowed capitalism to become all about shareholders.”
As a young man, running was right up there with hitch-hiking as one of my favourite things to do. By the time I was in my mid-twenties several of my running partners could no longer run; their knees or feet or back had finally buckled; road-running’s no good on the joints. I knew that my time could be up in a day or a year or in ten years.
One day while visiting my parents in Fairport, NY, I went out for a long run down by the Erie Canal, then along some paths dividing farmers’ fields, then out to my old high school. It was a hot hot HOT; and no wind; it was *lovely*. Heading home on Ayrault Road I was running up a hill and felt the sun just burning the back of my calves; this elated me. I knew how lucky I was to be able to run. I knew that I had enjoyed every step of every run in my life.
Then I realized something. I saw into my future, to a time when I would no longer be able to run: I would have no regrets, because I had never taken my gift, such as it was, for granted. I had always thanked my lucky stars.
Sometimes I find myself running in my dreams – and when I do, I *know* that I am dreaming; I am having a lucid dream, and I can run anywhere I want. And *do* – having been given a gift from my younger self and from the magic of life.
Thinking about it over at my iPhone blog:
As one gets older, mental hygiene becomes more important than ability or intelligence. Laziness is the chief vice of high aptitude.
I was at Burger King the other day, and grew irritated by how long it took to receive my cheeseburger. I had to walk away from the counter because I did not want the cashier to see my twisted face. Then I remembered that I got fired from Burger King 40 years ago. It was my first real job. I kept forgetting to put the fish in the fish fillet sandwiches.