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

The story has no time finally. Its shape, if form can so be thought of, is a sphere, an egg of obdurate kind. The only possible reason for its existence is that it has, in itself, the fact of reality and the pressure. There, in short, is its form – no matter how random and broken that will seem. The old assumptions of beginning and end – those very neat assertions – have fallen away completely in a place where the only actuality is life, the only end (never realized) death, and the only value, what love can manage. It is impossible to think otherwise, or at least I have found it so. I begin where I can, and end when I see the whole thing returning. (Creeley, Preface to The Gold Diggers, first published on Mallorca in 1954. Collected Prose 11)


During his first visit to New Zealand in 1976, the American poet Robert Creeley writes in Wellington:

I want to be a dog,
when I die –

a dog, a dog.
(Hello: A Journal 13)

I like this poem.

For one thing, ‘I want to be a dog’ is a constant reminder to me that words are carriers of sound and memory – largely because when I read ‘I want to be a dog’ I can’t help but recall the time I misheard the lyrics for the Stone Roses song I wanna be adored.

‘I want to be a dog’ is also a bridge of sorts to Creeley’s return visit to New Zealand almost twenty years later in 1995, where he sets a loop track going on his experience of being (again) in this location: 

                                                                            Hence the dogs,

‘The Dogs of Auckland,’ who were there first walking along with their company,
seemed specific to given streets, led the way, accustomed.

Nothing to do with sheep or herding, no presence other than one uncannily human,
a scale kept the city particular and usefully in proportion.
(The Dogs of Auckland)

Or, in that same poem, narrowing in on the self in language:

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

Perhaps coincidentally (though Creeley was aware of it), the poet William Carlos Williams also once wrote: ‘I would rather sneak off and die like a sick dog than be a well known literary person in America – and no doubt I’ll do it in the end.’ (In the American Grain 217)

Which seems as good a place as any for me to begin.



When a man walks down a street he walks it only now, whether the date be 1860, 1960, or so-called centuries ago. History is a literal story, the activity of evidence. (Creeley, A Quick Graph 128)

This essay tells a story of how Robert Creeley is involved with New Zealand, drawing particularly from archives and his own writing to uncover how he is involved with this place.

Before going there, however, I want to set the scene a little by briefly introducing Creeley’s approach to poetry and the impact he had on New Zealand writers. Poet and artist Tony Green summarises this in his 2005 obituary for Creeley:

The importance of Bob Creeley for writers in New Zealand is inestimable – many who had their sense of writing changed forever by his poems in the 60s, by his readings in 1976, his teaching at Auckland University in 1995, and by many acts of generosity and friendship. (Green)

As is often the case when writers talk about the work of those they admire, when Robert Creeley introduces fellow poet and friend Charles Olson's Selected Writings I, his commentary lends equal understanding to his own poetic terms.

The poems themselves are, then, the issue of an engagement, of an impingement, a location that is constantly occurring. They are not a decision of forms more than such forms may be apprehended, literally gained, as possible in the actual writing. (A Quick Graph 177)

Here is one of Creeley’s poems from 1969, for example, where the form literally comes into being through the activity of writing (and indeed, reading):

As real as thinking
wonders created
by the possibility –

forms. A period
at the end of a sentence

began it was
into a present,
a presence

as it goes.
(Collected Poems I 379)

‘A Song’ (1952) is another poem where sounds in motion enact meaning (a flat rhyme produces monotony, repetition is the insistence of wanting), and lines open without end:

I had wanted a quiet testament
and I had wanted, among other things,
a song.
               That was to be
of a like monotony.
                                    (A grace
Simply. Very very quiet. 
(Collected Poems I 112)

Putting it very generally, Robert Creeley’s writing is characterised by a distinct musicality, a conversational directness and an ear for everyday language; and a willingness and desire to be open to the possibilities of a given situation or stimulus, rather than being shut down by pre-determined forms or particular subject matter.

In New Zealand, writers who read Creeley and other American poets in the 1960s and early 1970s will respond strongly to such aesthetics of presence and openness.

Poet and editor Alistair Paterson observes, for example, that New Zealand writers have gained an acceptance that:

the only way in which their writing can be ‘new’ is in the exploitation of the one and only world that they know intimately and have full intellectual and emotional contact with – the world they live in, the here and the now. (The New Poetry 36)

Paterson also notes, on the brink of bringing Robert Creeley to New Zealand in 1976, that Creeley’s ‘open form’ poetics has been extensively imitated:

and in a few cases such as that of [Ian] Wedde, [Arthur] Baysting himself, Jan Kemp and occasionally Alan Brunton, [has] produced NZ poems which are an effective amalgam of traditional NZ poetry and the American. (Letter to Bruce Kirkland)

Younger than Paterson, Ian Wedde, Alan Brunton and Jan Kemp stand among the so-called ‘young New Zealand poets’ brought together in Arthur Baysting’s 1973 anthology of the same name. According to Bill Manhire, this generation (mostly born after 1945) experienced an ‘absolute transforming effect’ from reading American poetry, ‘partly because it made sense in the context of all those other American influences to which we were being exposed as a matter of course.’ (‘Breaking the Line’)

Robert Creeley’s attentive and often jazz-like measure, for example, is something that the young Manhire found specifically useful:

What I particularly liked […] was the way he could get syncopated, musical effects by playing the pauses of his line endings against the more conventional cadences declared by the poems’ syntax. I found the hesitant, delicate rhythmic system of his poems very attractive. (‘Breaking the Line’)

Other poets will find different points of connection in American verse.

As Manhire summarised it, American poetry made ‘diversity and possibility available, and, in so doing, it freed poetry from the single line represented by the English tradition.’ (‘Breaking the Line’)


It is in this sense that Olson has been given Gloucester, which I may note briefly is a city in Massachusetts, a seaport up the coast from Boston. But that is merely what it is for me, which is not the point – nor is it even interesting to think of what it is for Olson. It is how Olson is involved with this place, that is interesting, how it is that he is ‘caught in Gloucester,’ in ‘The Librarian,’ or in another context, quite otherwise. (Creeley, A Quick Graph 128)

Rather than re-tell the story of how New Zealand literature shifted direction in response to American poetics, my primary concern here is with Robert Creeley’s New Zealand.

Few people are aware, for example, that the possibility of a New Zealand connection with Creeley first occurs in 1954, long before the poet is physically present in this country or more widely read by New Zealand poets and writers.

Throughout much of his writing life, Creeley’s preoccupation is with relationships – the ‘howness’ of how we relate to other people or to a locale, how we give recognition to the effect of that connection in language.

Typically, Creeley’s response is an immediate one. ‘I’ve always felt very, very edgy those few times when I have tried to gain a larger view,’ he comments in the 1960s. ‘I am given as a man to work with what is most intimate to me – these senses of relationship among people.’ (Contexts of Poetry 97)

In Creeley’s later writing, however, including the poems he writes in New Zealand in 1976, he begins to double back on places that he has once experienced (France, Auckland, California), constantly drawing the past into the present.

The sea here's out
the window, old
switcher's house, vertical,
railroad blues, lonesome

whistle, etc. Can you
think of Yee's Cafe
in Needles, California
opposite the train

station – can you keep
it ever
together, old buddy, talking
to yourself again?
(Hello: A Journal 19)

This sense of history, or the past’s place in the present, will continue into The Dogs of Auckland in 1995 (Gander), where New Zealand and its poets in 1976 become an additional locale and company to ‘be’ in – not distant but actively here, where the writer is now, asking:

How to stay real in such echoes? How be, finally, anywhere the body’s got to?
You were with friends, sir? Do you know their address…
(The Dogs of Auckland)


Or just keep on walking. Viz, click click clicking along. (Creeley, Day Book of a Virtual Poet 24)

Written specifically for reading in a hypermedia environment (that is, an environment which allows nonlinear access to related texts or images or sounds from a single reading), this essay arguably behaves similarly to Robert Creeley’s poetry.

These hyperlinks:
in 1954, or
in 1976
and in 1995,
for example, like the dogs/words/places/echoes/openings that haunt Creeley’s New Zealand works, help to tell a story of how he is involved with this country – one that requires a reader’s interaction and activity to come into being.

With them, as electronic fiction writer Michael Joyce suggests, ‘the text becomes a present tense palimpsest where what shines through are not past versions but potential, alternate views’ (Joyce 3), as also in an early Creeley poem such as ‘The Sea’:

the wash, the plunge
we will not become you, we
are the impenitents
                                    (the tears
We declare
(Collected Poems I 30)

While Robert Creeley may not have drawn any correspondence between the electronic medium and his own poetics, he loved the ‘openness and “democracy” of the possibility’ (Spalding) that is the Internet’s reach and boundlessness.

Websites such as the State University of Buffalo’s Electronic Poetry Center (EPC) which Creeley founded with Charles Bernstein and Loss Glazier, and the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre (nzepc) which he was in active and generous support of, were the complete opposite of the ‘constricted and meager’ possibilities he had experienced in the mid-twentieth century. (Spalding)

Robert Creeley’s New Zealand, a comprehensive author page concerning Creeley’s connections with the country, was added to nzepc in 2002. Its resources are central to my essay but it is at the meagre mid-century that I wish to begin, in 1954

Last updated 13 September, 2010