because I am always talking (PoemTalk #16)


Robert Creeley's "I Know a Man" is in many ways a signature poem. Few poems we choose to discuss on PoemTalk are such. Many are downright unrepresentative. This one might indeed be unrepresentative but if a person knows just one Creeley poem this is probably it.

It's been much written about. In The San Francisco Renaissance Michael Davidson explores the "Beat ethos" with a detailed reading of "I Know a Man." Similarly, PoemTalkers Randall Couch, Jessica Lowenthal and Bob Perelman find beat here--but also its counterargument, and/or a rejoinder to its dark depth and to the beat propensity for driving nowhere (or somewhere) fast. Robert Kern in boundary 2--a 1978 essay--finds postmodern poetics in the Creeleyite anthem: in a nutshell, composition as recognition. Cid Corman (himself the topic of an upcoming PoemTalk) finds and commends the "basic English" of the poem, comparing it with a "more refined" and less effective poem on a similar topic by Louis MacNeice. Walter Sutton back in '73 drew a line of influence from Charles Olson's poetics to Creeley's "laconic" and "spasmodic" lineation and rhetoric.

The PoemTalkers talk about this remarkable instance of eloquent stammering. The stammer is perhaps the apt way--since form is never more than an extension of content, and vice versa, after all!--of heading into the surrounding mid-1950s darkness, only to be brought up short by the actual needs of the actual American road. It is not a resolution and not a capitulation, but an assertive and possibly ironic (funny, anyway) means of bringing up short. Or, in short: more stammering.

I Know a Man

As I sd to my
friend, because I am
always talking,—John, I

sd, which was not his
name, the darkness sur-
rounds us, what

can we do against
it, or else, shall we &
why not, buy a goddamn big car,

drive, he sd, for
christ’s sake, look
out where yr going.

Our friends at the Poetry Foundation have listed and linked all episodes of PoemTalk here. And, as always, one can subscribe to PoemTalk through the iTunes music store; simply type "PoemTalk" in the Music Store search box.

There are, at last count, eight different recordings of Creeley reading this poem - all to be found, along with much more, on PennSound's Creeley author page. Not long after his father's death, Will Creeley brought to us boxes of reel-to-reel tapes, which we have gone through carefully, digitizing, segmenting, identifying poem by poem.


Unknown said...

I saw word of this latest episode via PennSound's excellent & useful Twitter feed, and figured it was a good opportunity to say thank you again to Al, Charles and everyone at PennSound & Kelly Writers House for taking in our big cardboard boxes and digitizing the reel-to-reel recordings inside with such care and precision.

Being relatively handy with capturing digital audio, I figured I could convert the reels myself with Dad's trusty old Sony reel-to-reel player. It was not to be: When I first plugged in the player and turned on the power, thick gray Hollywood-style smoke started escaping from the set! Dramatic and slapstick, but disappointing. Once the smoke cleared, I knew I needed help - and graciously, that's where you guys came in.

It's a real pleasure for me, Hannah, and our mother to know that Dad's recordings are where he would have wanted them to be: online! As his many e-mail correspondents knew well, Dad was thrilled by the possibilities presented by the internet's ability to facilitate access and discussion - the power of inclusion! - and podcasts like PoemTalk demonstrate exactly the reasons for his excitement. Thanks again.

-Will Creeley

Steven Fama said...

I didn't realize one could post about the PoemTalk episode.

This discussion of the Creeley's "I Know a Man" is well worth a listen, with a number of intresting observations of the kind that made me want to read the poem again, again.

But there's a remarkable omission, particularly given that it's an oral discussion of the recited version (actually, two recited versions) of the poem:

Nobdoy mentions that the poem's a kind of jazz riff, in addition to everything else (the panelist's here focus on the words). The syncopation of the first version of the poem that's heard is mentioned, but briefly, and nobody remarks on the comment Creeley made in the preface to the mid-1950s chapbook in which his poem first appeared, wherein he remarked

"line-wise, the most complementary sense I have found is that of musicians like Charlie Parker, and Miles Davis. I am interested in how that is done, how 'time' there is held to a measure peculiarly an evidence (a hand) of the emotion which prompts (drives) the poem in the first place."

Steven Fama said...

Jus so I'm perfectly clear: the "preface" Creeley wrote for his mid-1950s chapbook in which his poem first appeared is text on the book's front flap, not labelled as a "preface" as such but acting as one.

Bo said...

Thank you for an excellent program, I tremendously enjoy every installment.