new zealand electronic poetry centre

k a   m a t e   k a   o r a  

a new zealand journal of poetry and poetics
issue 9,  march 2010


Virginia Gow

In 1995

Don't think of it, just remember? Just then there was a gorgeous

light on the street there, where I was standing, waiting
for the #005 bus at the end of Queen Street, just there on Customs,

West – dazzling sun, through rain. “George is/gorgeous/
George is...” So it begins.
(The Dogs of Auckland)


How needs one say it? A tracking of the earth in time? A place? Olson loved John Smith’s curious phrase, ‘History is the memory of time.’ (Creeley, A Quick Graph 188)

Robert Creeley visits New Zealand as a Fulbright Fellow in 1995 and teaches May-July in the winter term at the University of Auckland.

During these months he will write The Dogs of Auckland, a long piece (or arrangement of several small pieces) that continues to articulate his interest in how to ‘be anywhere the body’s got to’ (The Dogs of Auckland), this time with an additional circumstance of re-arrival and return.

Curious, coming again here,
where I hadn’t known where I was ever,
(The Dogs of Auckland)


For Creeley, ‘being here’ at the same time as ‘having been here’ (whether minutes or twenty years ago) is an often uncanny, even gothic, experience.

The Dogs of Auckland is full of internal echo and rhyme, each repetition and variation a reminder that, in some basic and fundamental way, everything connects: here, or the street, or dogs, the bus, rain, a house, light, sun, a body, company, small, down, up, sky, pattern, ocean, edge.

At the same time there is an ongoing resonance of some original sound, reminding us of what it means ‘to rap’ and truly ‘build out of sound’ as Charles Olson once put it, ‘the wall of a city’ (Olson 19): ‘Forward disposition, a Christian […] I’d have listened […] into the dustbin. […] So it begins.’ (The Dogs of Auckland)

Even more interesting are the subtle intrusions from past presences – not distant, but simply here. Listening to Creeley read the zero zero five bus out loud, for example, brings an older American presence to Auckland’s ‘Queen Street, just there on Customs // West – dazzling sun, through rain.’ Behind Creeley I hear William Carlos Williams:

The Great Figure

Among the rain
and lights
I saw the figure 5
in gold
on a red
fire truck
to gong clangs
siren howls
and wheels rumbling
through the dark city
(Collected Earlier Poems 230)

Or again, in The Dogs of Auckland’s ‘dazzling sun, through rain’ comes Creeley’s balancing ‘foursquare’ rhythm (Collected Prose 494): ‘George is/gorgeous/ // George is…’ And behind it:

Da. Da. Da da.
       Where is the song.
What’s wrong
       with life


This is the opening of ‘So There,’ the final poem of Hello (in the New Zealand edition). It was written in Auckland ‘Almost twenty years ago.’ (The Dogs of Auckland) Russell Haley recorded his time with Creeley on that part of the 1976 tour:

We were playing Abbey Road on Wednesday afternoon, the first day at our house in Auckland, and we were playing it to give a sense of how we felt after Jean’s near-drowning accident years ago and how, in the weeks after this, we had almost worn the record out. You capture these memories with a sound or a scent and that is the impeccable logic, internal, personal, the only way it can have any meaning. (Haley)

‘George is/gorgeous’ references a local radio station, George FM. George is also Governor Sir George Grey, the statue (if you look) in Albert Park, en route from Queen Street to the University of Auckland campus:

                                                    There is Queen Victoria still,
and not far from her the statue of a man. Sit down, sit down.
(The Dogs of Auckland)

In ‘Nothing New,’ a note written for Alistair Paterson’s Poetry New Zealand during Creeley’s 1995 New Zealand visit, the poet alludes to the opening scene of Federico Fellini’s 1960 film La Dolce Vita, which begins with the camera following (and often sharing the vantage point of) a huge statue of Christ being airlifted across Rome to the Vatican.

Still from La Dolce Vita, Federico Fellini, 1960. Image source:

Down below, Creeley notes, people are ‘sunning on the roofs.’ They ‘look up, waving,’ ‘all becoming smaller and smaller as the helicopter lifts.’ (‘Nothing New’)

                                            – as in comes the crew of Black Magic

with the America’s Cup, in their yellow slickers, the cars moving down
Queen Street, the crowd there waiting some half million –

in the same dazzling light in which I see tiny, seemingly dancing figures
at the roof’s edge of the large building back of the square, looking down.
(The Dogs of Auckland)

Peter Blake during the America’s Cup Victory Parade, Queen Street, 1995.
Image source:

Is this how a life lived appears as one gets older and moves further along? A fading vision or gradual zoom out of an accumulated existence down on the ground, where we are (together) eking out ‘the city of the earth’ that is history? (Olson 19) 

If it is, I don’t think it’s where Robert Creeley wants it to be. Rather the question of how to remain ‘in body,’ acknowledged and acknowledging others in ‘a commonly experienced world’ remains key. (Clark and Creeley 84) ‘It’s a basic company we’ve come to’:

                  Not “The Dogs” but The Dog of Auckland –
Le Chien d'Auckland, c'est moi!
(The Dogs of Auckland)



Now I recognize
it was always me
like a camera
set to expose

itself to a picture
or a pipe
through which the water
might run

or a chicken
dead for dinner
or a plan
inside the head

of a dead man.
Nothing so wrong
when one considered
how it all began.

It was Zukofsky's
Born very young into a world
already very old...
The century was well along

when I came in
and now that it's ending,
I realize it won't
be long.

But couldn't it all have been
a little nicer,
as my mother'd say. Did it
have to kill everything in sight,

did right always have to be so wrong?
I know this body is impatient.
I know I constitute only a meager voice and mind.
Yet I loved, I love.

I want no sentimentality.
I want no more than home.
(Collected Poems II 494. First published in Poetry New Zealand 11 [1995])


Creeley read from The Dogs of Auckland at Café Alba in Lorne St, Auckland, mid-way through his return visit to New Zealand. Excerpts from a video of the occasion, shot by film student Dan Salmon, are on Creeley’s author page at nzepc.

As so often in conversation, Creeley opens his Alba reading with a story; a sketch of the different sounds the same words make when American voices say them, when New Zealand listeners hear them.

Eventually he arrives at an explanation of sorts for the title of the poem: ‘The Dogs of Auckland, just as a sound, is an immensely attractive phrase to my habits of speech.’

When the reading is completed, with its recursively open last line (‘Yours was the kind accommodation, / the unobtrusive company, or else the simple valediction of a look’), one of the echoes I hear is John Donne’s ‘A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning’:

Such wilt thou be to me, who must,
    Like th’ other foot, obliquely run;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,                                  
    And makes me end where I begun.
Somewhere between Creeley’s reading of the poem-in-progress at Café Alba and the words that appear in print, however, The Dogs of Auckland changes direction. From retrospection (nostalgia) to projection; another beginning.

Here is a transcription of Creeley in situ, reading from the manuscript score and giving measure to the words in the air (my emphasis):

                                                Just then there was a gorgeous

light on the street there where I was standing, waiting
for the #005 bus at the end of Queen Street, just there on Customs

West – dazzling sun, through rain. ‘George is/gorgeous/
George is…’ So it began

Here comes the sun (there came the sun, just then) and with it the rhythmic insistence of an encoded sound.

But here is the poem as it appears in print on the page, and on nzepc where we are reading now:

Don’t think of it, just remember? Just then there was a gorgeous

light on the street there, where I was standing, waiting
for the #005 bus at the end of Queen Street, just there on Customs

West – dazzling sun, through rain. ‘George is/gorgeous/
George is…’ So it begins


Works Cited

Last updated 10 September, 2010