Saturday, October 6, 2007

I look to words, and nothing else

Robert Creeley in "A Note" published in the winter/spring 1960 issue of the magazine Nomad (p. 13) rejected, in manifesto-like language, the poem as a "sign-board." Here are a few sentences:

I believe in poetry determined by the language of which it is made. (Wiliams: 'Therefore each speech having its own character the poetry it engenders will be pecular to that speech also in its own intrinsic form.') I look to words, and nothing else, for my own redemption either as man or poet.... The poet, of all men, has least cause and least excuse to pervert his language, since what he markets is so little in demand.... I mean then words - as opposed to content. I care what the poem says, only as a poem - I am no longer interested in the exterior attitude to which the poem may well point, as sign-board. That concern I have found it best to settle elsewhere.... Only craft determines the morality of the poem.

He is not saying he's not social or political; nor is he quite saying that his poetry doesn't have social or political resonances or concerns. He's saying that such concerns for him are better manifested and dealt with elsewhere (in forms of expression and activities of life exterior to poetry). He's saying that if the poems take ethical positions they do so only through the words and the very way the words are arranged, assembled, put in, left out. (This Cagean position is generally associated later with the "poethics" of Joan Retallack and others.)