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Paul Karner

This past January, the Lawrence community was visited by one of the most illustrious poets of the 20th century. Students and faculty filled Harper Hall, some seated in the aisles or in the back corners of the room, as Robert Creeley read his poems and indulged the audience on his personal thoughts and experiences. As the audience listened intently to the soft-spoken old man, expelling upon the simple and majestic facets of life as he saw them, there was a certain reverence that filled the humble auditorium and duly so.
Unbeknownst to those in attendance, the reading would prove to be one of Creeley’s last. This past week on the morning of March 30, Robert Creeley died at the age of 78 while fulfilling a residency at the Lannan Foundation in Odessa, Texas.
“Robert Creeley’s death is a great loss to the poetry community,” said Professor Faith Barrett, who was responsible for bringing Creeley to Lawrence three months ago. “His passing marks the end of an era in American poetry since he was our last living link to the poets of the Black Mountain school. I’m so glad we had the chance to bring him to Lawrence earlier this year. He was extraordinarily vibrant, warm, and generous with his time and energies during his visit here.”
Born in Arlington, Mass., in 1926, Creeley attended Harvard University as an undergrad, but left before graduating, though it was there that he published his first poems. He later went on to receive a master’s degree at the University of New Mexico in 1960.
Throughout his life Creeley published over sixty books of poetry worldwide, and is widely recognized as a major purveyor of the counter-traditional poetry of the ’60s. After he had been invited to the experimental Black Mountain College, located in rural North Carolina, Creeley was hired as a teacher and as editor of the ********Black Mountain Review********* in 1954. Among his colleagues were other experimental poets such as Robert Duncan, Denise Levertov, and Charles Olson.
Within the walls of the old church buildings of which the campus consisted, the Black Mountain Poets, as they have become known, counteracted the preconceptions of poetry held by previous writers in that they gave extreme importance to the process of poetry. The idea of superseding subjectivity with the “act” of the poem was central to this new movement. Creeley especially stood out in the way that he was able to communicate these same ideals in a much simpler and concise manner than many of his colleagues. His avant-garde yet extremely evocative poems revolutionized the literary world’s conception of how one can experience poetry.
Creeley is also credited for bringing the ideals of the Black Mountain poets out into the literary community through his connections with the beat poets of the San Francisco Renaissance, such as Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, as well as his collaborations with composers and painters.
Robert Creeley has been recognized countless times for his contributions to the literary world. His influence on contemporary poetry will only become more apparent in the decades to come.