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Thursday, 1 April 2010

Robert Creeley: After Lorca


File:Malaguilla Countryside view2.jpg

for M. Marti

The church is a business, and the rich
are the business men.
........................................... When they pull on the bells, the
poor come piling in and when a poor man dies, he has a wooden
cross, and they rush through the ceremony.

But when a rich man dies, they
drag out the Sacrament
and a golden Cross, and go doucement, doucement
to the cemetery.

And the poor love it
and think it's crazy.


After Lorca: Robert Creeley, 1952, from For Love (1960)

Malaguilla, Provincia de Guadalajara, Castilla-La Mancha, Spain: photo by Häkan Svensson, 2004
Olivar en Alcalá la Real, Jaén, España: photo by Michelangelo-36, 2005


Curtis Faville said...

I don't know what Creeley thought of this poem in the decades after it was first written. It seems now as a sort of anthology piece, a nod to the popular charm of the Twenties, maybe--certainly very un-Lorca like, I think. A great, old-fashioned poem though; a guilty pleasure.

TC said...


Re. Bob Creeley and Lorca, here is RC talking about "image" in 1961, shortly after he had included "After Lorca" in the ms. of his 1960 Scribner's collection For Love.

"The Spanish writers such as Lorca.... whose poems are a fabric of images... Lorca was writing, as I understand it, in a very traditionally settled form -- either folk ballads or else other forms more developed in the Spanish tradition -- so his issue as he wrote was not to change those forms, as, say, an American poet might now take on that job in his tradition, but to learn how to use them to carry a content important to himself and finally and even consequently to others. Lorca's primary quality seems the lucidity in his line and this curiously moving image or lines which he can carry in his poems."

When speaking of this poem he recalled an event that had occurred one evening when he was living in the South of France in 1952. A neighbor, a Spanish labourer -- a stonemason's assistant named Marti -- had grown up with Lorca. This fellow had seen first hand the atrocities of the Spanish Civil War, and after the defeat of the Republican cause, had spent four years in a German concentration camp. Marti recited to Creeley a Lorca poem, reproducing it from memory in a mixture of languages, including Catalan, Provencal, French. Marti claimed to have heard Lorca declaim the poem at a public poetry competition. So this was an example of the so-called "oral tradition", with all these several stages of transmission. Bob said he then added to the tradition by attempting his own English version of it.

Bob gives a compressed account of this background to the poem in this late public reading of the poem: RC reading After Lorca. I think you can tell from this clip that at this point, toward the end of his life, Bob still felt the poem to be important in his work.

The idea that a poem might be able to "carry a content important to himself [i.e. the poet] and finally and even consequently to others" was one that, as Bob implies above, was problematic for his generation of "progressive" American poets. There is the story of Olson's visit to Larry Eigner, in which Larry had proposed to Olson, much to Olson's dismay, that Olson's poetry did not make people happy. As that anecdote shows, the "... even consequently to others" issue was a real one for these writers at that time, I believe.

But then there was later to be, with Bob, a major revision of thinking and of practice in this regard. His history with "After Lorca" is perhaps indicative. The fact that he found the poem "worked" so successfully, over the years, for audiences, proved to him, I think, that it projected a certain quality of what he called, in a book I did with him called Robert Creeley and the Genius of the American Common Place, "the common".

I do know that in his later years he regard this quality of "the common" no longer as "old fashioned" but a salient, even essential, in poetry.

Curtis Roberts said...

It’s funny where things lead you. First, this funny/grim (I thought) poem led me to find Robert Creeley reading it and describing its origins and background on youtube. Then the olive grove photo beckoned, so I enlarged it and it took me right back to a Spain I hadn't seen in some time and memories of olive trees, and particularly my decision to bite into an uncured olive that had just fallen from the tree to see if it really tasted as harsh and bitter as they said. (I felt the need to verify something I'd just read in a book about olives. No need ever to re-verify.) Then the La Mancha photo brought back a long ago train ride across that plain, a Cynar advertisement painted on a rock facing, the young Italian men in our compartment who assured us that the Italians and the Spanish were the best people in Europe, and the Paso a Paso La Mancha wine we drank last week. Then away from the page to the basement where Del Shannon was singing Break Up. And then on to Nabokov and an entirely different mental and physical geography.

TC said...


One of the things that fascinates me about ekphrasis is the way the visual imagination has of turning the words into the tail that tries to wag the dog while the dog insistently retains a plan of its own.

That top image brought back a specific voyage for me, hitchhiking through that country in 1964, and that in turn reminded me of the Creeley poem.

I have thought many times of the evening with Marti as Bob later described it, the two of them drinking some local wine and Marti trying to get the poem, which he only half-remembered yet deeply loved, across to Bob, who very much wanted to tune into it. The moment of the mediation of French between the two men, one Catalan, one American, resulting in the decisive word choice of "doucement, doucement", indicating the middle ground they had achieved together, has always been -- again in my visual imagination -- the decisive moment for the composition of the poem.

When in the course of sorting through several thousand images one night, I found that picture, and within an instant had been summoned back into that hitchhiking trip, and thence into the poem, I was I suppose doing the only sort of traveling to which I am limited these days.

It has been said to me of late, probably mostly by myself, that I should get a life, to which I could only reply, in any honesty, Well, this is it, such as it is.

ACravan said...

I find myself saying and writing "amazing" too often these days, but I guess I have to say (regarding what you recounted about ekphrasis and After Lorca), "amazing". All of it: your Spain trip (it seems so odd today not to think of hitchhiking as being unreasonably dangerous, but so natural if you forget the last 25 years or so), Creeley, Marti , the local wine and the “mediation of French”, but particularly how "doucement, doucement" was achieved and recorded in the translation. As for "getting a life", that's also a daily, many-sided meditation and argument for me. “This is it” comes to my mind often and it's something I've actually said to people. For my part, I don’t regard saying it as either a sword or a shield (I mention this because I have a tendency to become defensive), but as an imperfect, sincere (if semi-temporizing) explanation of a person trying to live as lucidly as he can, all things considered. Seeing that Cynar sign displayed across part of La Mancha has stayed with both Caroline and me forever. We were traveling from Alicante to Madrid. Oddly, I’ve still never tried Cynar. I like bitter drinks and I like artichokes and I know it’s considered a perfectly normal thing to drink, but still an artichoke liqueur seems weird. The Cynar Facebook page shows that it has 2619 fans.

TC said...


As to getting or having a life, I suppose it must be true that when we are in fact living, it can hardly be said we do not have a life.

Perhaps the problematic term implied in the sort of "life" we are ordered to "get" is that one that was in the air so much until just lately, "quality of life", which seemed to be so much more au courant in the (actually not so long ago) days when there was also more of what was called "disposable income".

(I realize that for some people those two things -- QOL and DI -- probably still exist. It may just be that as they dwindle for others, those who still do possess them are becoming a bit more guarded about admitting it, or publicly claiming them as some sort of birthright.)

And about hitchhiking, yes, I suppose the practice now has a reputation only a cut or two above that of, oh, say, serial homicide.

But there was once a time when things were otherwise, at least on other continents. Through the early and middle 1960s I managed to hitchhike not only all over the British Isles and Europe (where of course the practice was called "auto-stop", realistically enough), but also across much of the Middle East and North Africa... I won't say "without incident" because naturally there were incidents galore, some alarming, some quite wonderful. But at that time being an American abroad was not the stigma it now is, and, as hard as it may be to believe today, I found that being an American, back then, actually helped improve one's "welcome" virtually everywhere.

Of course all that good will has pretty much evaporated since then. To appear to be an American and stick out your thumb on a highway in many places, now, would, I imagine, be an excellent way to invite all sorts of trouble.

From what I gauge to be the general reception nowadays, it appears "we" have not proven to be such great ambassadors of international blessing as we may have thought ourselves in those golden days of yore.

Finally, like you, I have always preferred the bitter to the sweet. But latterly anyway the sweet has pretty much turned into the bittersweet, which I suppose for us bitter types qualifies as acceptable.

(But here as always I would probably do better to speak for myself!)

TC said...

(And by the way, Curtis, as we are currently fortunate enough to have no one present on these April posts but Curtises -- this is what might be well be described as highly elite company -- I ought to have been more discriminating, and courteous, by addressing you, my dear Curtis, as Monsieur Cravan... Pardon!)

Curtis Roberts said...

I knew about “quality of life”, but not “QOL” until you used the abbreviation in your post. For the last year or so, I’ve been giving business and legal advice to a nascent company dedicated to producing and distributing “iQOL” (means “integrated quality of life”) television programming to (it is hoped) a large, broad and affluent audience, which programming will inspire and guide them in the achievement of “LOHAS” (aka “lifestyles of health and sustainability”). Because our company is “pre-funding”, it so far yields very little “DI” or even “I”, which makes it difficult, among other things, to produce or acquire said programming. All of this brings to mind a number of songs from The Kinks' ”Low Budget” album, including particularly the funny/grim lyric to “Low Budget” itself: “Art takes time/time is money/money’s scarce/and that ain’t funny”. As you may recall, the band was on a commercial upswing at the time and the album was a big hit. I hope you and any Beyond The Pale readers who might read this have a lovely Easter.

TC said...


Oh those mantras!

My own experience with The Mantras still makes me wince.

After several decades as a fugitive from the academic career for which, once upon a time, I had been fairly rigorously trained, I returned to a chintzy outlying suburb of the profession ("alternative higher education"), where I put in twenty-one consecutive years of high-intensity, low-pay, full-attention, "part-time" (as in microscopic) wage labour for a "meta-academic" (is that a word?) institution that had as its mantra "Just, Sacred and Sustainable".

And oh, did that Mantra ever get a workout!

Nowhere in my too long life have I observed, much less been entrapped in, an environment where justice was worse served, sacredness more baldly flouted, sustainability less credibly pursued.

It was an experience of mass delusion, purposive deception, prevailing darkness and lite Terror from start to finish.

And of course the finish inevitably did come, in a rapid downward slide that ended with a muted whimpering splash. Once the administrators had been caught draining student aid funds, accreditation had been withdrawn, salaries were no longer anything but memories and empty unkept promises, carpet-bagging "consultants" had arrived in masses, like flies on dead meat, to drain away the last of the remaining funds, and the ranks of those upon whom fake degrees had been proffered had swelled to include not merely the greedy and the gullible but alleged confidence artists and murderers, the place closed down.

I lost back wages, insurance, and a contractually-stipulated severance package -- in short, everything. Redress of grievances pursued at length of much expenditure in time and agony of paperwork and letterwriting and state labour board arbitration hearings & c. yielded in the end not one penny in compensation. All this took place some years ago, at the dark terminus of it my health was broken, I was too old to any longer be considered employable (not that I did not apply, indeed to thirty-eight other institutions, a process that brought home to me quite painfully the fact that I was now branded for life with the black mark of having been "professionally" associated with a tacky gang of grifters and phonies who had finally come to be publicly known for exactly what they were).

"Sacred, Just, Sustainable", then? "Integrated Quality of Life"? What's in a word, really? Some air? Concealing some devious intent to manipulate and exploit for profit?

But hey, "it's a free country".

This is how I have come to regard business slogans as employed within our wonderful American capitalist free-enterprise "structure": hot air, pure and simple.

There comes to mind the title of a great book of selected poems published in the 1980s by our good friend the marvelous British poet and artist Tom Raworth:

"Tottering States".

For the past few years I've been feeling the ground wobbling under my feet constantly, even when there's NOT an earth tremor.

(Perhaps it's just neurological. Surely there can't be something wrong with The System, right?)

My remaining aim in life is to go "doucement, doucement" to the cemetery, clutching my infinitely tiny social security check, in pain, trembling, hobbling, overcome with regret and trying with never more than variable success to fight back the rancour, since... quite obviously... what's the use?

Curtis Roberts said...

Reading this stings in so many ways and I recognize the accuracy in your descriptions of the things that happened to you and the various terms you’ve employed, including, but not limited to, “hot air”, “carpetbagging consultants”, and “tacky gang of grafters and phonies”. When I decided to become a lawyer after originally attending graduate school in art history, which I loved but came to realize was a highly impractical career choice, the thing that pleased me most (I had to find at least one thing that pleased me) were the high ethical precepts of the profession, which generally, but not always, obviously, obtain in practice. My first “real” law job was as an Assistant D.A. in the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office. Every single day I met self-identified professional criminals of all types, which was eye-opening and often horrifying. It paled, however, in comparison with later encounters in corporate business/legal life with crooks and swindlers who don’t identify themselves as such. Dealing with isolated individual felons and creeps (if you’re able to recognize them) is difficult and dangerous enough. But when they come in groups, with accomplices, and as part of a “system” or organization, things obviously become impossible. All of this makes your blood boil, and like you, I try not to live in rancor, but in my mind I often return to my own and my friends’ hideous experiences with carpetbagging consultants. I think this is a widely shared loathing. I always hoped that “Blackadder” could tackle modern corporate life in a series and focus their lens on the carpetbagging consultant. I guess that isn’t going to happen at this point. I could go on and on – the consultant stories are endless -- but won’t.

TC said...


Blackadder as a fly on the wall at a corporate board meeting... indeed it is a shame the series ended before time came round for that.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Fine short Creeley poem, thanks Tom.

TC said...

Thanks Don, appreciate the good word.