Preferred Citation: Creeley, Robert. The Collected Essays of Robert Creeley. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1989 1989.

"An Intensely Singular Art"

"An Intensely Singular Art"

Here and Now , by Denise Levertov. The Pocket Poets Series, no. 6. San Francisco: City Lights Pocket Bookshop, 1957.

The Dutiful Son , by Joel Oppenheimer. Jargon Sixteen. Highlands, N.C.: Jonathan Williams, 1956.

Some Time , by Louis Zukofsky. Stuttgart: Jonathan Williams, 1956.

Poetry for the American has been an intensely singular art. Poe fights early for a separation from European attachments; and Whitman provides the example, basing himself on an ultimate personalism. We have, equally, Emily Dickinson, whose minutiae of personality and perception in effect pick out a world from the four walls of one small room. It is the me and you which have concerned us—the interstices of human relationships brought home, so to speak. It is there that we have most constantly begun.

This character of placement continues in contemporary verse. Sometimes the sound is belligerently self-assertive, revelatory and painful. The I is worn as a merit in itself; all forms break to it, and what hope of relationship to others there may once have been, is lost. This is, of course, the isolation which the American so often carries like a sore, marking him as lonely, lost, and a little pathetic.

The counter to this is the attempt to move into form, again, with others, with one's wife, husband, children—the sudden instances

New Mexico Quarterly , Spring–Summer 1957.


of relationship, the worn ones, all of it. How hard that seems. We cannot speak, now, of any very large aggregate of things to hold us together; and our sociality has become a business maneuver, or else (most hopefully) that the garageman does remember us, the postman smiles! We want so much to be liked.

All three of these books relate to this one center: how to live. It is not, how to stay alive, because that is something else again, almost now beyond our determination. But—in the time we have, what shall we do? Do you love me? Where are we? These are interesting questions.

The youngest of these poets, Joel Oppenheimer, came of age at the end of the second World War: a shocked time, with "love" a kind of down payment, it seemed, on a house, or perhaps a refrigerator. One didn't know. One tries, however:

The Couples

if i dont bring you
flowers. if i dont have any
flowers. delicate grubby violets.
chrysanthemums for your coat.
only children. what has that got
to do with it.

any child is isaac.
brushwood and sticks.
the burning bush in the hill's side.
jesus strung from a dogwood.

if it is not fair
where is fairness. if she is not
fair where is fairness. if flowers.
apples. peaches and pears
for the summer. an edible potato.

the stain of the dogwood
is in you. what now.
mushrooms. or underground
truffles. a pig with a ring
in his snout. he is hungry.
the stain of the dogwood.

who cries for another's
pain hasnt enough of his own.
where are my children they
leave me here knocking wood.

what is there i havent invented
contrived cut out of the


whole cloth. some day to
make it easier, with more
pleasure. that is a pleasure.

how else to be fecund if not
to put up with a man.

It is a sturdy defense, I think, written in like manner. But the women know too, what there is to know. God knows they feel it—no kindnesses, or expectancies, or money. It is different. Denise Levertov is English, but that doesn't matter. One says (grandly!) she knows:

The Bird

That crazy bird
always laughing—
he sits on the wall they are building,
the wall
which will hide the horizon,
and laughs like mad every time
we open our mouths to say
I love you I hate you etc.
He came only since
the green rain came and
softened everything, making
mud of the cracked
selfrespecting earth and rotting
the red flowers from their stems. Yes,
the rain, the trucks full
of pink bricks, that crazy
eavesdropping bird, came
together and finished
the days of burning,
and silence, and distance.

Thank God for the relief of it all. Personalism is of course only interesting insofar as it does contain "That crazy bird . . ." One begins with oneself perhaps, and to that entity one joins one other; and from that it may well be that a third is conceived. And so on—because this is what the world is all about. And the birds laugh. It is a good thing. Men and women grow whole in this image.

There is also wear, certainly, and the time that passes. But the determination, to live with others, holds true, once chosen. And a poet, like any other, thoughtfully enough arrives at the choice common to all. Louis Zukofsky is older than either Denise Levertov or


Joel Oppenheimer, and has been alive consistently. He has a family much in evidence in his poems, a wife and son. His book is, in fact, a complexly woven evidence of this basic relationship, so that I cannot, by quoting, make it all clear. But the substance of it can be made so, and the craftsmanship whereby it is given form—and, again, the world in which it obtains.

Sequence 1944–6 (4)

Having outlived self-offense
And that of my friends
I became brother to loneliness
And love the fact more than the word.

All that is human is
Alien and not alien.
All carefully chosen words
Are here—fairly shadows.

You have music to accord.
A child
At a remove from love
Holds leaves in my hand.

Where the world is headed
We do not say
As stars
Sun and surf

Flash in the sky. Were it said
Among twigs
"And then the world went
And then—"

Only our thoughts
Might seek it
In further woods.

It was never easy—but there was what there was to do. It may well be a simplification to posit ways at all, this or that. I don't know. Who is to say who is known? Each of these three poets knows the isolation of being alive, and of that counter will, to move to someone, to move with someone. They celebrate family —America's archaic institution, but America will not decide it this time. Let it be simple as Zukofsky:

Lights (8)

My nose feels better in the air.


"An Intensely Singular Art"

Preferred Citation: Creeley, Robert. The Collected Essays of Robert Creeley. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1989 1989.