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Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Robert Creeley’s “The Rain”

The second poem we examined also concerns the weather that is whether, and was also written by a member of the “Black Mountain” school of poets: “The Rain” by Robert Creeley. Here is the poem in its entirety:
All night the sound had
come back again,
and again falls
this quiet, persistent rain.

What am I to myself
that must be remembered,
insisted upon
so often? Is it

that never the ease,
even the hardness,
of rain falling
will have for me

something other than this,
something not so insistent—
am I to be locked in this
final uneasiness.

Love, if you love me,
lie next to me.
Be for me, like rain,
the getting out

of the tiredness, the fatuousness, the semi-
lust of intentional indifference.
Be wet
with a decent happiness.
This poem was first published in one of the chapbooks Creeley drew upon to create the collection For Love: Poems 1950 – 1960 (which was published by Charles Scribners’ sons in 1962), and can be found in the Collected Poems, 1945 – 1975 (University of California Press); it receives an important critical treatment from Marjorie Perloff (whose introduction to Gunslinger is also a valuable introduction to that work), which some of the week’s workshop members also read.

Whereas Dorn’s poem puts grand vistas upon either side of the ego, Creeley’s world is interior, intimate, claustrophobic. Stuck indoors because of bad weather, the poet occupies himself with the dreary thoughts of an equally dismal whether. When a steady rain falls we hear it for a time, then forget it, its patter becoming a background noise—forgotten by virtue of its very persistence. The mind, Creeley suggests, is quite the opposite—it exists only by returning to itself, again and again. The relation of the “I” to the “myself” is one of continually enacted returns—self-consciousness as the mind’s nagging “insistence” that it be known to itself. One thinks of Beckett’s line, delivered (if memory serves) by Hamm in Endgame: “a dripping in my head.” The poet wishes for “something other than this, / something not so insistent,” but finds no satisfaction. Neither “ease” nor “hardness” emerges to provide relief from the dull patter of the mind’s self-perpetuating “uneasiness.”

There is a parallel here to the critique of western values we find in Dorn’s poem. Like many poets of his generation—John Cage, Allan Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen—Creeley expresses uneasiness with Cartesian rationality. The zen Buddhism being promoted in artistic circles by D. T. Suzuki and others offers a position from which to criticize the Cartesian subject as suffering from “mind over mind.”

Help to escape this self’s haunting of the self—if help it is—arrives in the penultimate stanza, which introduces a second (third?) presence into the poem—the lover to whom the poem’s final three sentences are addressed. As in William’s poem, in which the wife to whom the poem is addressed primarily exists as a back-formation of the poet’s (or even, the poem’s) need to address ‘someone’, in “The Rain” the lover emerges as a subject projection, rather than as a being in the material world. It is possible to ‘flesh out’ this lover, as Perloff does, by imagining a domestic scene, just as such scene is built up by indirect reference in “This is Just to Say.”

In Creeley’s poem, we can imagine that a quarrel has taken place, and that the “final uneasiness” is the momentary conclusion of the argument—not an end to the anger, but only to its overt verbal expression. In this reading, the “semi- / lust of intentional indifference” is an ‘adult’ version of “the silent treatment.” All the libidinal energy is focused around pretending to ignore the other person.

Do the last three sentences of Creeley’s poem signal an end to this game? Are we to read them as in quotation marks—as a direct address to the lover, one that ends the silence? Or do they exist only in the silence of the poet’s mind, the silence of the page? Does the poet write the poem rather than say the words? The profundity of Creeley’s poem—its point of greatest logopoetic density, where the wit is transformative—lies in the emphasis it places on the single, ordinary word, “wet.” Sandwiched between lust and “decent happiness,” “wet” (as Perloff points out) takes on an explicit sexual connotation, one that is essentially pornographic in its effort to find evidence of desire on the lover’s body. This connotation, however, is immediately (although not completely) overwhelmed by the wetness of the rain. At the very moment of this inward-looking intimacy, we are overwhelmed by the outside ‘reality’ of water falling on the house—“wetness” was on the brain because of the rain. Or perhaps we should write “underwhelmed,” because what’s most remarkable is not the intrusion of a physically oriented vulgarity into the lyric, but the charge produced by the word’s verbal vulgarity. “Wet” is such a meager, common term. It’s hardly sufficient. As a word, it’s all washed up. If that’s not the case, its because Creeley has learned, from Williams and the Objectivsts and writers like Cage and Beckett, that it’s the ordinary words that do the most work.

Given the importance of double (or triple?) meanings—the importance of the display of verbal wit—we must ask, has the poet found a way out of the Cartesian anxiety? Is any solace from the uneasiness of ‘mind over mind’ to be found in the virtuosity of this duplicity? The answer must be no, in that the only ‘solution’ presented by the discovery of verbal density in the commonplace word is that of the poem itself. The poem gets written, the poet finds his satisfaction. The other, in as much as she exists at all, must cease to operate as a presence in the world in order for the poem to generate its aesthetic virtuosity. There’s something savage, if not brutal, in this displacement—more so in Creeley’s work than in Williams’ I think, because Creeley’s working in poetic form that Williams is inventing.

The major difference between Dorn’s immensely ‘outside’ approach and Creeley’s intensely ‘inside’ one helps us to better understand the politics of poetic style. Dorn’s parody creates a site of contestation—literally a battle over land and language—that Creeley’s poem denies. In Dorn’s poem, there is a utopia of virgin possibilities—the moon & the stars & the “perfect night” have been folded into western man’s empirical and empire-driven imagination, but in the vastness of their physicality they persist beyond all human imagination. Creeley’s more cynical and satirical verse presumes an impossibility of escape from the self. The subject is everything; the poem is everything; and all remains within the lyric tradition. By not taking seriously this tradition, Dorn risks a utopian frivolity. By taking it very seriously, Creeley condemns himself, as poet, to remaining within the uneasiness of the I-self.

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