Creeley’s father was the head of the medical staff of Symmes Hospital in Arlington, Massachusetts, where Roberty was born. An auto accident when he was two required that his left eye be removed. Upon the death of his father when he was four, Creeley’s mother moved to more rural West Acton and supported them by nursing. Before entering Harvard, he decided to become a writer. Midway through college he became a World War II ambulance driver in the Indo-Burma theater. When back home, he married Ann Mackinnon, the first of three wives. When he returned to college, he published his first poem, but he drank too much and left without a degree.
Correspondence with Charles Olson, proponent of a form called Projective Verse, began when Creeley and his family lived on the Spanish island of Mallorca, where he wrote a novel, The Island, and initiated The Divers Press, which published his first book of poetry, Le Fou, in 1952. Olson invited him to innovative Black Mountain College in North Carolina to be the first editor of The Black Mountain Review. Allen Ginsberg and other beat poets were featured in the last issue of the Review. After Creeley’s divorce from Ann, he met and married Bobbie Hawkins in 1957. They had two daughters. His volume, For Love: Poems 1950-1960, was dedicated to her. It includes “The Ballad of the Despairing Husband.”
In 1960 he received his M.A. degree from the University of New Mexico. He taught for thirty years as his primary means of living, becoming tenured at SUNY Buffalo in 1967 and advanced later to named professorships there. In 1976 his marriage to Penelope Highton followed his second divorce and fostered two more children.
In 1987 he became a member of the American Academy, and in 1989 Governor Cuomo appointed him State Poet of New York. In spite of his many honors, none of his work is included in the American Poetry volumes of the Library of America. Many of his poems are unintelligible to the public. Some readers wonder if he sometimes wrote while under the influence of psychedelic drugs or under alcohol or mental illness.
His last work, Life and Death, 1993, was enlarged in 1998 before his death in 2005.
The Poetry of Robert Creeley
THE DISHONEST MAILMEN
They are taking all my letters, and they put them into a fire.
I see the flames, etc.
But do not care, etc.
They burn everything I have, or what little
I have. I don’t care, etc.
The poem supreme, addressed to
emptiness – this is the courage
necessary. This is something
BALLAD OF THE DESPAIRING HUSBAND
My wife and I lived all alone,
contention was our only bone.
I fought with her, she fought with me,
and things went on right merrily.
But now I live here by myself
with hardly a damn thing on the shelf,
and pass my days with little cheer
since I have parted from my dear.
Oh come home soon, I write to her.
Go fuck yourself, is her answer.
Now what is that, for Christian word?
I hope she feeds on dried goose turd.
But still I love her, yes I do.
I love her and the children too.
I only think it fit that she
should quickly come right back to me.
Ah no, she says, and she is tough,
and smacks me down with her rebuff.
Ah no, she says, I will not come
after the bloody things you’ve done.
Oh wife, oh wife-I tell you true,
I never loved no one but you.
I never will, it cannot be
another woman is for me.
That may be right, she will say then,
but as for me, there’s other men.
And I will tell you I propose
to catch them firmly by the nose.
And I will wear what dresses I choose!
And I will dance, and what’s to lose!
I’m free of you, you little prick,
and I’m the one to make it stick.
Was this the darling I did love?
Was this that mercy from above
did open violets in the spring-
and made my own worn self to sing?
She was. I know. And she is still,
and if I love her? then so I will.
And I will tell her, and tell her right . . .
Oh lovely lady, morning or evening or afternoon.
Oh lovely lady, eating with or without a spoon.
Oh most lovely lady, whether dressed or undressed or partly.
Oh most lovely lady, getting up or going to bed or sitting only.
Oh loveliest of ladies, than whom none is more fair, more
gracious, more beautiful.
Oh loveliest of ladies, whether you are just or unjust,
merciful, indifferent, or cruel.
Oh most loveliest of ladies, doing whatever, seeing whatever,
Oh most loveliest of ladies, in rain, in shine, in any weather.
Oh lady, grant me time,
please, to finish my rhyme.