A Note on Robert Creeley’s 1976 New Zealand Tour
Robert Creeley's contribution to poetry in New Zealand began inauspiciously and unexpectedly when I attended a dinner party for Jon Silkin in 1975 hosted by Frank McKay. McKay was a poet, editor, biographer and academic then teaching at Victoria University and Silkin was the founding editor of London's Stand magazine. He had earlier attended a literary festival in Australia and had stopped off for a few days in Wellington on his way back to the UK.
At the time and due in part to the agency of Roger Horrocks and Wystan Curnow at the University of Auckland, New Zealand poetry was undergoing rapid change. Most of this country's university English departments however, still gave primacy to British poetry and it seemed to me that in contrast to what Silkin was saying, it was American rather than British poetry that was having the greatest influence on New Zealand poetry. In consequence, I thought a New Zealand tour by a major American poet would not only consolidate and enhance the legitimacy of what was happening in New Zealand writing but also bring American and New Zealand poetry and poets into closer association with each other.
I checked out which of the American poets might be the most appropriate, settled on Robert Creeley as a good speaker, the youngest of the Black Mountain group and a close associate of Charles Olson, and wrote asking if he'd like to tour New Zealand. Creeley replied accepting the invitation and I drew up an itinerary and tour plan. I then wrote to people I knew in Auckland, Christchurch and Dunedin requesting them to arrange readings and lectures for Creeley at each of these centres. All of them agreed and I organised Creeley's Wellington functions myself as I was living there at the time. I costed out the tour and then presented the proposal and itinerary to the then Arts Council which approved the project and arranged for the New Zealand University Students Association to assist and issue a formal invitation to Creeley. The tour went ahead and became what The Penguin History of New Zealand Literature describes as 'something of a royal progress'. During the tour Robin Dudding, editor of Islands, sought my permission to interview Creeley for the magazine. I agreed and personally escorted Creeley up to Victoria University where he was interviewed by Bill Manhire.
Subsequently (initially as a Fulbright Fellow) I visited the United States several times and during these visits spent time with Creeley and undertook a wide variety of readings, two of which (at SUNY Buffalo and the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque) were arranged for me by Creeley. Continuing to encourage American and New Zealand literary connections, I also initiated Robert Duncan's Auckland visit in 1976, and in the 1980s a visit by Galway Kinnell.
April 2005 / September 2008