A Letter to the Editor from Robert Creeley

In Sagetrieb 9.1-2 (Spring-Fall 1990), in response to an interview with Denise Levertov, Robert Creeley corrected some misstatements on Levertov’s part regarding his early response to William Carlos Williams, The interview was conducted by Terry Crouch, my colleague at the University of Maine, and was published in the previous number. Here is the passage at issue:

Crouch: Creeley said that he . . . based much of his early style on Williams, and then was amazed when he heard Williams read and found that he didn’t pause at the line-breaks.

Levertov: I have something to say about that. I don’t know when Creeley first heard Williams read, but the recordings, I think, all post-date his first stroke. And that must be taken into account because he no longer had complete control. I don’t think that Creeley heard Williams read much before I first met Williams, because he hadn’t met Williams more than a year or some months before I first met him, I’m pretty certain. And at that time Williams didn’t have much control of his voice. He paused involuntarily, and had difficulty getting to some words. The other thing is, and you can only take my word for it, because there aren’t any living witnesses, but when I would read, at his place, poems of his own to him, Williams fully approved of the way in which I read them, and I always read them paying strict attention to line-breaks. And so I would really take issue with Bob about that.

The involuntary pausing that Levertov mentions would seem to indicate, if anything, an increased attention to the line break. But whatever; his style of reading can be discovered on one’s own from the recordings at PennSound. Williams suffered his first stroke in 1951; there are recordings of “To Elsie” from 1942, 1945, 1950, 1950, 1952, 1952, 1954, and 1955 (follow along with the text). PennSound has also collated before and after readings of “This Is Just to Say” and “The Red Wheelbarrow.

Creeley’s letter to the editor identifies the 1942 reading as the crucial one for his reception of Williams, and he singles out the performance of “The Wind Increases” as the formative one for his poetics. The full response is reproduced below.

Page One:

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Page Two:

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