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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Robert Creeley's most famous poem: I know a man

"I know a man" is no doubt Robert Creeley's best known and most-often quoted poem, which is not surprising - it's a great and mysterious poem, yet very simple in language, mood and theme - easy to grasp and actually quite easy to remember in its entirety (though I often muff the "shall we & why not" phrase - "shall we" seems wrong for this speaker). Strangely, it's atypical of Creeley, whose tortuous syntax is usually at odds with the simplicity of his meter, imagery, and word choice - the syntax in this poem is very simple; it could be a piece of found verse. I will quote it roughly from memory: As I sd (that's how he writes it) to my friend, because I am always talking, John, I said, which was not his name, this darkness surrounds us, what shall we do against it?, shall we, and why not, buy a goddamn big car and - drive, he sd, for christ sake look out where you're going." You may have heard the phrase "drive he said," which has been a movie title. So in this poem we get, among other things: opposition between to guys, one more extroverted, a little impulsive, the other focused on the task, or the road, ahead: a hipster version of The Road Not Taken. Also, the idea the individual against the darkness that surrounds him, all of us: not just night, but I think the darkness of everything outside of our life, that is, the darkness of death. What shall we do against it? In Creeley's case, it's : create art, live a full adventuresome life. In others, it's buy something, a bigger car - the clash here of materialism and spiritualism. The reference to a big car is interesting - it makes us think that the poet is driving a tiny crappy car, I always picture an old VW beetle. And what about the friend and his name? Does the poet call him the wrong name by mistake? Or does he give us the wrong name in this poem to protect the friend's identity? Why would he do that? The use of the wrong name adds a mystery to this poem - makes the speaker seem even stanger and more impulsive, he is "always talking" but what he says maybe makes no sense: he doesn't even know his friend's name, or he mis-states it. Yet Creeley calls the poem "I know a man." Which man? The speaker? Or the speaker's friend? In just a few tight lines, this poem gives us the sense of two men hurtling at night along a road - like all of us, traveling along the course of our lives, through darkness, always talking, and if lucky with a friend beside us keeping us on the road.

1 comment:

  1. Doing just what they are already in the process of--but not seeing it--as if in darkness, even to themselves. His friend brings him back to the immediate, the now; he "knows" a man, but does not know himself.