It will be difficult for a biographer to do a better job of revealing Creeley and his life than the editors – and of course Creeley himself – have done in this selection. Whether in letters to other writers, his wives or his children, Creeley wrote openly about his often changing views, responses, feelings, hopes and plans. He is often so ingenuously open and self-focused that he discloses even more than he may be aware of – i.e. reading a Creeley letter can be a lot like reading Browning monologue.
The context and tenor of the early letters during which Creeley farmed in New Hampshire, lived in Aix-en-Provence, Mallorca and Black Mountain, NC, will be familiar to those who have read volumes of George Butterick’s ambitious but uncompleted Charles Olson & Robert Creeley: The Complete Correspondence. It’s a period in which Creeley is aggressively seeking his place in postwar American poetry, searching for mentors and exploring possible connections with his younger contemporaries. Before he has any significant publications he is confidently introducing himself to Williams and Pound, asking for their help, and exchanging views on poetics. He soon discovers more fruitful connections with Cid Corman, Denise Levertov and Olson. These letters mostly concerned with questions of how to write, literary politics and publishing possibilities but are also punctuated with reflections on his poverty, his unhappiness with the places in which he is living, and his embarrassment at not being able to support his young family in a ‘manly’ fashion. What is especially interesting is how he wrestles with himself in these letters, posing various possibilities against one another in both his writing and domestic lives. There’s an obsessive sense of irresolution similar to the one which gives the first decade of his poetry such power.
Throughout he tends to be excited about new poems he has written. But often within a few months he re-reads them and thinks they are weak, facile, slight, too “easy” because they are so similar to ones he has written before. He finds them again a year later – if he hasn’t destroyed them – and is impressed with them. Later when they are published and well received by some of his writer friends his estimation of them rises again. The excitements, self-doubts, conflicted feelings, moments of despair – often caused by the same things that have excited him – tumble one after