Robert Creeley

A member of the "Black Mountain" circle, Robert Creeley influenced a generation of poets for his ideas about "projective verse," poetry that develops in a free and personal manner rather than in a poetic and formulaic way. His poetry is very concise and emotional, with few words but intense meaning.

Photo: Robert Creeley, taken by Else Dorfman in 1972, public domain

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Born in Massachusetts, Creeley studied at Harvard from 1943 to 1946, taking a leave of absence to serve in American Field Service in Burma and India from 1944 to 1945. He did not finish his degree at Harvard, but he did publish his first poem in the Harvard Magazine Wake.

Through his friend William Carlos Williams, Creeley met poet Charles Olson and came to be associated with the “Black Mountain” writers. Black Mountain College was an experimental arts school in North Carolina, and his poet friend Charles Olson invited him to be part of the faculty in 1954. Olson was the rector at the school. Together, Creeley and Olson developed the concept of “projective verse,” a poetry in which the form of the poem develops freely because of the content. Tradition and history are not part of “projective verse.” This idea was highly influential to other poets and remains important today.

Creeley’s personal life was emotionally chaotic and he had three wives (the first two marriages ending in divorce).

According to reviewer Stephen Burt, “We recognise Creeley’s poems first by what they leave out: he uses few long or rare words, no regular metres and almost no metaphors.” His poetry remains this way for his entire life, and his poetry first garnered national attention in 1962, with the publication of For Love: Poems 1950-1960.

Creeley’s poetry remains important to poets today.

–Christie Finn

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