Thursday, May 5, 2011

'The Long Road' by Robert Creeley (1996)

                  The Long Road…
                  The long road of it all
                        is an echo
                        a sound like an image
                        expanding, frames growing
                        one after another in ascending
                        or descending order, all
                        of us a rising, falling
                        thought, an explosion
                        of emptiness soon forgotten


                        As a kid I wondered
                        where do they go,
                        my father dead. The place
                        had a faded dustiness
                        despite the woods and all.
                        We grew up.
                        I see our faces
                        in old school pictures.
                        Where are we now?

Creeley is perhaps one of the few poets who has taken the best (and most experimental) elements of modernist poets such as E.E. Cummins’ and made them his own. The influence is quite concealed here but the metaphor “is an echo/ a sound like an image/ expanding” has shades of Cummings’ confusion of the senses technique. Although Cummings was one of the first poets who I felt genuine excitement reading, the difficulty of his work (particularly the later work) is that the methodology tends to confuse rather than illuminate, and his poems often become a cryptic language puzzle that only the author knows the answers to. While Creeley's work is often fragmentary, it doesn’t make this mistake. The opening stanza is certainly abstract and tricksy, but it does make sense.

Again, the poem offers solutions to the problem of containing both abstract thought and the image in a poem. Creeley starts here with the concrete “the long road…” but immediately suggests that this as a metaphor “…of it all”. The poem then dives into a series of shifting images/metaphors till we reach “thought, an explosion/ of emptiness soon forgotten”. The language has a strange poetic quality but the deciding impression is of a philosophical kind.

Then the sudden break as the second section begins: “As a kid I wondered…” The poem is now concrete, personal, memoried. This section, in contrast, dramatizes the first through a series of questions: the human aspect and response to the opening philosophical considerations.

What is remarkable, though, is how much he says in this short stanza. There are two clear “beats” to borrow a cinematic term. The first comes with “… my father dead”. The line is simple yet it evokes the world of a child emptied of the secure presence of his father. Even the woods offer no consolation against “the faded dustiness”. The child is alone, and realises he will always be alone. Then the second beat comes with the line “We all grew up”. The discontinuity suggested by death is echoed in the sudden leap in time with the implication that the loss continues, goes on. Then the two times are encapsulated in the image of the man looking at his own past in the monochrome of old photographs. “Where are they now?” a question containing more than an explanation can manage.

You can download Robert Creeley reading 'The Long Road' (and four other pieces) at the University of Pennsylvania poetry microsite:

Here's an interesting video clip of Creeley reading a reinterpretation of a poem by Lorca.

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