Archive for November, 2015

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Robert Creeley

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”:

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.


to be jolly


You’re Going to Love How You Look

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.”

No Loss


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.

Edifying Irritation

The first thing I read most every morning is Clarissa’s Blog. It is a whirlwind of commentary on culture and literature and history. The folk who follow her blog chip in with animated and sometimes antagonistic discussion. It’s really really wonderful. The last couple of days Clarissa has been providing spirited critiques of the way people typically understand The Holocaust, and how they use it in public and private debates. Today she hammers those lamebrains among us who, as a rhetorical device, compare such-and-such an event to The Shoah. I am going to quote the whole post, because every sentence matters.

Middle schoolers who join debate teams are warned to avoid the “that’s just like Hitler” argument because it’s intellectually vacuous and morally unsustainable. Reaching out for an easy, tear-jerking analogy is a sign of an impotent mind.

Lazy, primitive brains love nothing as much as they do analogy. They dismiss any new information that reaches them with an, “Oh, it’s just like X” because absorbing anything new is work, and it’s much easier to sift through a limited stock of trivia tidbits than try to learn. The Hitler Analogy is the easiest one because every ignoramus on the planet feels hugely knowledgeable about the Holocaust on the basis of having heard that something vaguely bad might have happened and can be used to shame people you don’t like.

This morning, I tried scrolling through my news feed but all I saw, in about 30 articles in a row, was the comparison of Syrian refugees with European Jews in 1938. The analogy is both unsustainable and offensive. It’s also been done to death, it sheds no light on the understanding of anything, yet people repeat it with the insistence of robots who’ve had no other function programmed into them.

Have you noticed, though, that for just-like-Holocausters everything is as bad as the Holocaust except for the Holocaust? They have no sympathy for Jews but every sympathy for just-like-Jews. (One of the just-like-Holocausters in my blogroll, for instance, was the “tender-hearted Nazis” fellow I quoted yesterday.)

The reason is that their attachment to just-like-Holocausting does not only serve the purpose of faking an understanding where there is none. It also helps them trivialize the Holocaust and turn it into an ordinary, mundane occurrence which is “just like” everything else in the world.

Get thee to Clarissa’s Blog, go!