Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Robert Creeley this week on Wordplay

It's no secret that I see Robert Creeley one of the essential poets of the last fifty years. From early to late, his work opened new territories of mind and heart for poetry; I believe his fine ear and remarkable articulation of the rhythms of American speech insure that folks will still be reading his poems centuries from now.

In the 70s and 80s I recorded several Creeley readings on my trusty Uher 4400, but it recorded in a unique four track monaural format that makes the tapes playable only on a like machine, and mine needs repair. For the Fathers' Day show now up on the WPVM Archive page, then, I selected readings from among the many recordings at the ever-expanding Creeley collection at PennSound. The show begins with poems recorded at Black Mountain College in 1954 and poems from the same period (a few the very same poems) recorded at readings at Chicago's The Second City in 1961 and at Harvard in 1966. These were all clearly recorded on analogue tape, and transferred after the tapes had become somewhat degraded. I cleaned them up as best as I could for the show, but there's still some audible hiss; I also had to edit out the "fuck" in "Ballad of the Despairing Husband," since the FCC still considers that a word you can't say on the radio.

Most of the show, though, focuses on Creeley's middle and later work, from Pieces on. Perhaps that's just because I met him in 1968, the year Scribners brought out that collection, and so simply find in this work the voice I knew. From then till the end of his life he often worked in what became his long form, the serial suite. I've included "The Finger" and "Follow the Drinking Gourd" from a 1974 reading at Vermont's Goddard College; the complete "Histoire de Florida," from a 1995 Buffalo reading; "En Famille" from a 2000 reading at his Maine home, and "Wild Nights" from the same occasion; and two poems from a 2000 reading at the University of Pennsylvania, "Myself" and "Where Late the Sweet Bird Sang".

Did Bob ever write about music? He sometimes worked with musicians, of course, but I don't remember ever talking with him about music, and have no idea what he listened to day in and day out; I had to wing the soundscape. The show kicks off with a version of Miles Davis' "So What?" recorded at the Blackhawk in San Francisco (Miles was a big favorite at Black Mountain), and the other music featured in the program includes bits of "Stating Intention" from Peter Kater and R. Carlos Nakai's Migration; "So Long Michael" from Pierre Bensusan's Intuite; and Debussy's La Mer, performed by the Orcestra of Radio Luxembourg, Rolf Reinhardt conductor.

Head on over to WPVM and check it out.


The photo was taken by Joel Kuzai at Creeley's home in Providence, RI, in 2004.


Update 6/27/2008: Having just listened to the show, I feel I should apologize for the rough cross-fades between the music and Bob's readings. They're one of the hazards of doing the show live with balky equipment.

I'll do another show on Bob's work when my tapes are digitized, and try to make the transitions in that one less abrupt. Hopefully the station will have a couple of new CD players by then.

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Blogger Ron said...

You might look into donating those tapes to PENNsound (as I recently did a box of tapes I'd made with a cassette recorder some 20 years ago) to see if they can convert them & get them up. They're already working with Bob's family so permissions should not be a problem,


4:59 PM  
Blogger jeff said...

Thanks for that suggestion. I've actually corresponded a bit with the PennSound folks, and might eventually donate the tapes. One issue for me is what to do with the tapes of readings and interviews they'd not be interested in - a 1980 interview with Harry Callahan, for instance.

Whatever solution I come up with, I'll certainly make the Creeley readings available to PennSound.

8:36 PM  

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