20 Questions with Robert CREELEY
photo by Indra TAMANG
1. If you could characterize the twentieth century as a film actor, who would it be?
Marlon Brando – just that that’s where I came in and he was the one whose presence most defined the world I took us both to be fact of.
2. Do you have a writing ritual, or is the process different each time?
I have places I feel at ease, and that matters. I think it was Leger who used to put on white coveralls to paint – and the Goncourt brothers reputedly contrived to have early morning sex, so as to free themselves from distraction. I like working on a computer or else paper, if that’s all that’s handy. Simple needs!
3. Are the spaces between notes, or words, as important as the words themselves?
Whatever locates the phrasing, or phasing, is part of the action and those “spaces” are certainly a crucial component.
4. How has jazz music shaped your aesthetic?
I think it’s most had to do with my sense of phrasing, or how a serial pattern, call it, might be sounded or heard. Too, it’s made me aware of how much can go into such a pattern without losing the coherence.
5. Favorite memory of an experience in a car?
Actually it’s the memory of a story about an experience in a car. Years ago someone told me the story of William Faulkner and his terrific friends driving drunkenly along some river near Oxford, Mississippi. Apparently the one driving wasn’t able to make a left turn in time, whereupon Faulkner said matter of factly, “I believe the son of a bitch is going into the river.” And they did.
6. America characterized as a song? What song?
How about “Farther Along” – secularized?
7. What are you working on currently?
Staying with it. I know I do work on things but too often that frame feels like painting the house or going to the dentist.
8. Gaugin or Van Gogh? Why?
I couldn’t choose between them – each is terrific, albeit they are very different. Both seem primarily painters, come hell or high water.
9. World poet or American? Both?
Whatever the question implies, the local is always it. There is no “world” otherwise, even “American.”
10. What would you say to the president if you met him on the street tomorrow morning?
Get a life!
11. Most influential poet of Latin America?
Cabral was certainly solid – and I always was moved by Parra and Neruda, that active sense of a real person being there. Do you know Samuel Beckett’s great translations of Mexican poetry? Octavio Paz did the selection.
I feel very dumb trying to answer because what do I know about Latin American poetry? My own generation with few exceptions had little relation to it and when we did, it seemed still faint and too late. In some ways I’d be persuaded to go back to Ed Dorn’s telling me about Euclides da Cunha’s Rebellion in the Backlands (1902) because that book is probably still the best sense of South America I’d know. It was translated by Samuel Putnam. Two years teaching the patrone’s kids on a coffee plantation (1959–61) did nothing finally to inform me. It was like living in a bubble.
13. Is a poem like a field or an ascent into the void?
“A poem is a small (or large) machine made of words” – or perhaps it’s the tree one will never see a poem as lovely as. Both propositions come from New Jersey as it happens.
14. Is the Internet our friend, or adversary?
For me it’s been a great resource in every sense – as looking up just now both the date and exact title for da Cunha’s book, and then making sure I had the Williams’ quote correctly. Our very means here of doing this exchange (e-mail) has been an invaluable resource, traveling about or just staying home. Too, there has never been a more efficient and unobtrusive support for writing itself than that which a computer provides.
15. What was the first rock 'n roll song you remember hearing?
Fats Domino singing “Ain’t That a Shame” and other classics of the moment in Ma Peak’s tavern on the way to the town of Black Mountain from the college. Some nights the whole physical floor used to rock with the dancing.
16. What was the most influential little mag.?
Cid Corman’s Origin – that’s where I found my company.
17. Would you say that poetry smells of wood smoke or exhaust?
You got me!
18. What essential book would you take on a long journey alone?
Weirdly, I haven’t a clue.
19. What time is it where you are now?
One twenty-one pm.
20. What word of advice to the world?
Stop killing people as a means of solution.