Early Robert Creeley Poems

I’m not sure whether I like Creeley’s “I Know a Man” because Mike has quoted it to me a couple of times or just because it appealed to me. Turns out, though, that it’s one of Creeley’s most famous poems, as discussed in great detail here:


As I sd to my
friend, because I am
always talking,—John, I

sd, which was not his
name, the darkness sur-
rounds us, what

can we do against
it, or else, shall we &
why not, buy a goddamn big car,

drive, he sd, for
christ’s sake, look
out where yr going.

The casual, conversational style of the poem is typical of the early poems I’ve read so far. Considering Creeley became friends with a number of the Beat Poets, perhaps it’s not entirely coincidental that the poem sounds like an advertisement for Kerouac’s On the Road, managing to convey both the sense of darkness in that work as well as the central metaphor of driving, and, aptly enough, the need to watch out while driving.

Somehow it seems typically American (Or is just that we’re so damned good at it?) to try to chase away the dark side of life by buying big, expensive cars and driving fast as hell. Isn’t that why almost all male, mid-life crises are accompanied by a sports car, with or without beautiful young babes?

Thematically, “Mind’s Heart” is perhaps even more typical of Creeley’s early poems:


Mind’s heart, it must
be that some
truth lies locked
in you.

Or else, lies, all
lies, and no man
true enough to know
the difference.

For someone who seemed rather unlucky in love, Creeley certainly wrote about it a lot. And while this poem’s not about romantic love, per se, that may be precisely why it appeals to me more than some of the poems that are clearly about romantic love.

While there’s certainly no earth-shattering revelations here, it does fit quite well with Creeley’s opening statement that, “With Robert Duncan I’m committed to the hearth, and love the echoes of that word. The fire is the center.”

Sometimes the simplest statement, gnomic wisdom, as it were, is the best reminder of our deepest truths.

6 thoughts on “Early Robert Creeley Poems”

  1. I’m not familiar with Robert Creeley but wonder if “I Know A Man” is related to the book and movie, “Drive, He Said”? I never knew there was a book, just saw the movie and recall some lines like, “Why don’t we just buy a big goddamn car and drive, he said” from one of the characters. Otherwise, I barely remember a thing about that movie directed by Jack Nicholson. I don’t know if the book credited the poem or not. The lines were the most powerful part of the movie, that’s all I remember!

    1. From elsewhere: “A phrase of it has served as the title of Jeremy Lamer’s novel Drive, He Said and of the movie made from it. More recently the poem has served as the epigraph of the final chapter of Stephen King’s fantasy about American automobile culture, Christine.”

  2. A favorite Creeley poem follows. Jazz legend Steve Lacy and his wife Irene Aebi put out an album called “Futurities” which I believe is completely Creely poems set to jazz, but you may want to hear before you buy for the style of the Steve Lacy sextet is not your average “jazz” but rather alive and unencumbered by having to sound like “Jazz”, it simply is. In the future people will be trying to sound like these fine folks.
    If it isn’t fun
    Don’t do it
    You’ll have to do enough
    That isn’t
    Such is life
    As they say
    No one gets away
    Without paying
    And since you don’t
    Get to keep it anyhow
    Who needs it
    Who needs it

    -Robert Creeley

  3. “What a pleasure!” That is what Robert Creeley wrote on my copy or Steve Lacy’s Hat Art record “Futurities,” when I asked him to sign it after a reading in Cambridge, MA… We later did a live radio interview…. Creeley was a lot like his poems, very conversational, laid back, friendly, yet brilliant. My meeting with Creeley was very important, powerful and very laid back … He seemed so incabable of any pretentiousness… What a pleasrure for me to find this blog when I was looking for Creeley’s “If it isn’t fun” for my students… Loren, you are right. Love, the hearth, fire are at the center of Robert Creeley’s poetry. Lacy understood this and when “Futurities,” (all Creeley poems) was performed live, it was presented as a jazz wedding, a celebration of love with an altar set piece on stage — a sculpture by Kenneth Nolan, see the cover of the record:
    Steve Lacy Nine – Futurities
    Although Lacy and I remained close friends for almost a quarter century from the early 80’s until his death 9 years ago, I never got to see the Futurities show live. Lacy’s widow and “his (and Creeley’s) voice” for the recordings is the brilliant singer, Irène Aebi. She is living in Brussels and I will pass along to her masa’s post from 2005, if that’s ok.
    You may also wish to check out great photographer and friend of the Beats, Elsa Dorfman for her blog http://elsadorfman.com/housebook/flagg_streete.html
    and her book with Creeley: En Famille: Poetry by Robert Creeley & Photographs by Elsa Dorfman http://www.amazon.com/En-Famille-Creeley-Photographs-Dorfman/dp/1887123261/ref=pd_sim_sbs_b_1

    1. I often used Creeley’s ” I Know A Man” in teaching THE GREAT GATSBY, a novel about careless drivers and the American Dream.

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