Tuesday, November 20, 2012

So There by Robert Creeley

for Penelope Highton

 Da. Da. Da da. 
       Where is the song. 

from Hello by Robert Creeley (1926 - 2005) . Hawk Press: Taylors Mistake, 1976

Click here to hear it read by Robert Creeley at the NZ Electronic Poetry Centre and read it yourself here

Editor: Madeleine Slavick 

I found Hello on my third visit to New Zealand. A small, worn book, at 28 pages, beautifully handset and with handsewn bindings, part of me never wanted to return it to the public library. I did.

Hello can read like a single poem that begins again and again, at various points across the country: Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin, Hamilton, Palmerston North, Wellington.  Several words repeat. If.  World.  Born.  River.  Lovely.  People also reappear.  The mind is not a single place. 

One of the most influential poets in the United States, Robert Creeley was almost fifty years old when he wrote Hello, and he says, “I knew, intuitively, a time in myself had come for change. I don’t mean simply clothes, or houses, or even cities or countries or habits. I mean, all of it – what it ever is or can be.” [Creeley’s emphasis]

The year was 1976, and the transitions were many in his life: the publication of five books, his first visit to this country, the end of a long relationship, and the beginning of an even longer one, with Penelope Highton of New Zealand. 

They would live together until Creeley’s death in 2005, and the last pages of Hello are dedicated to her: “So There”.

In the introductory note to Hello, Creeley writes of New Zealand poets, clouds, wind, light, islands, water, mountains, people, and a certain pub – in that sequence – and what stays with me is the word “particularizing” which I had not yet seen in my reading, and I have not yet used in my writing. I want to.

 “Then there’s New Zealand light – intense, clear, particularizing, ruthless.”

I hear fact, clarity, change, and Creeley continues, “Coming from a mainland, with three thousand miles between its eastern and western coasts, your two islands seemed fragile and vulnerable… Thus you are out there, humanly, in the vastness...”

In 2002, Creeley called the poem “that place we are finally safe in”.


The NZEPC has more on Robert Creeley (1926-2005) and New Zealand. 

After you've read up on Creeley and enjoyed hearing his poem, check out the sidebar for a whole host of other Tuesday Poems posted by 30 poets. 

This week's editor and author of several books of poetry, non-fiction and photography, Madeleine Slavick also says ‘Hello’ to New Zealand. A resident of Hong Kong for almost 25 years after a childhood in New England, she now works as a freelance writer/editor in the Wairarapa. For more go to her blog Touching What I Love


Jennifer Compton said...

fascinating - i would love to read that book - i went with alistair paterson to meet robert creeley at wgton airport - oh it was a long time ago

Madeleine Marie Slavick said...

hi jennifer, the book had a small print run, so it's hard to find -- but the main wellington library has it!

Michelle Elvy said...

Marvellous! I love the honky tonk music that kicks in halfway through this reading. Would love to find this book -- thanks for posting this here!

"watching the world go by... happiness... happiness... so simple..."

This has such great rhythm and groove and movement. The way poetry can be made so wonderfully alive.

"Moving on... ocean, skies...while we can... let's do it let's have fun..."

Loved hearing tonight!

Madeleine Marie Slavick said...

I post this on behalf of poet Alistair Paterson, who made Robert Creeley's 1976 visit happen:

"You might be interested to know that this little book was started at about 1.15 am in my car while I was driving Bob from Wellington out towards Silverstream north of the capital so that he could spend what was left of the night at my house. As we drove north (it was immediately after his Welllington reading at Downstage Theatre) we could see the brightness of a full moon illuminating a flow of white clouds along the hills to the east of us and Bob started talking the poem he was beginning to compose, took out a little note book and began to write about the clouds and the light as we drove on.

I guess you know also that it was I who invited Bob to NZ, planned his tour and itinerary and persuaded the Arts Council into funding it. It was the best and most successful tour any poet ever made here and I still look back on it with pride and delight. As Bob told me later in Albuquerque when I was touring in the USA myself, his New Zealand visit changed his life and lifted his reputation in the USA to an even higher degree than it had previously - not to mention his meeting and marrying a New Zealand woman who I think you may have met."

(excerpt of an email, 20 Nov 2012)

Madeleine Marie Slavick said...

Note that the excerpt above is reprinted with the kind permission of Alistair Paterson, who edits Poetry New Zealand http://www.poetrynz.net/about/

Unknown said...

Thanks for posting this poem, Robert’s story & Alistair account. I like Robert’s style here. It feels like he’s taking us on a road trip. We’re in a car with him & Penelope, overhearing car radio song lyrics and a conversation with all the pauses, non sequiturs, self-disclosures, mimicry & accent, confessions, questions, half formed thoughts, hopes and resolutions that road trip conversations have. I like the way he weaves together at least 4 or 5 strands of life: falling in love with Penelope “the beauty, beside me”, past & present, old & new attitudes, America & New Zealand , everyday things to be savor like “sitting here eating bread, cheese, butter, white wine “, ageing & the “old time weird Odysseus trip” and choosing happiness:
“here comes the sun!
While we can,
let's do it, let's
have fun.”
This playful decisive ending echoes George Harrison’s ‘Here Comes the Sun’ song , Andrew Marvell’s’ To His Coy Mistress’ poem, and even a little Noel Coward ‘Let’s do It, Let’s fall in Love.’ Neat gear shift from the poems earlier references to Hank Williams’s ‘lonesome whistle’ railroad blues. For all these reasons – and because I love poems about falling in love and other adventures, later in life, this poem cracked open a shell around my heart….and suddenly I’m recalling all kinds of road trips & love stories that I’ve enjoyed in New Zealand.

Mary McCallum said...

Great stuff from Alistair Patterson, Madeleine, and for your comments, Jeanne, too. Such riches from one poem - or part of a poem. So much to think about.

Madeleine Marie Slavick said...

Here's a great dialogue between Creeley and Paterson on poetry/language in NZ, USA and Canada, about Curnow, Olson, Zukovsky...


See Preface by Broadsheet editor Mark Pirie on page 5, and the conversation (transcription) on pages 31-39.

Published in Broadsheet