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Stanford Report, December 13, 2000
Exhibition offers glimpse of poet Robert Creeley's collaborative work over four decades

BY JOHN SANFORD

Poets have long been inspired by work in other artistic mediums. In Bright Fictions: Poems on Works of Art (1994), Helen Pinkerton, a former Stanford lecturer in English and general studies, writes 27 poems based on 27 works of art. In his poem, "Musée des Beaux Arts," W. H. Auden considers Pieter Bruegel's famous painting, Landscape with the Fall of Icarus.

Artistic collaboration simply takes the next step; it bridges art forms by synthesizing them. Poets read their lyrics to jazz, painters illustrate books, and so on. Robert Creeley, the celebrated American poet, fiction writer and critic, is an expert collaborator. Over a period of more than four decades, he has teamed up with artists on dozens of projects, a broad sampling of which are on view through Jan. 6 in the Peterson Gallery of Green Library's Bing Wing.

The traveling exhibit, "In Company: Robert Creeley's Collaborations," includes poems, paintings, photographs and letters drawn from a larger exhibition organized by Elizabeth Licata, exhibitions curator for the Castellani Art Museum of Niagara University.

Underneath the glass of the library's display cases, these various materials, arranged chronologically, provide an extensive view of the poet's work with other artists, as well a sense of the direction these collaborations took from the 1950s through the 1990s.

"Creeley's engagement with visual art has resulted in a body of work which almost stands on its own; it is simultaneously integral to the art for which it was written and independent from it," John Yau, a poet, writer and art critic, writes in a catalog that accompanies the exhibit.

Samples from one of his most famous collaborations, "Numbers," are on display at the library. For this project, Creeley wrote 10 poems to accompany a series of silk-screened numbers -- 0 through 9 -- by artist Robert Indiana. For example, beside a red number "1," on a blue and green background, is Creeley's poem One:

 

What
singular upright flourishing
condition ...
it enters here,
it returns here.

Who was I that
thought it was
another one by
itself divided or multiplied
produces one.

This time, this
place, this
one.  

You are not
me, nor I you.

All ways.

As of a stick,
stone, some-


thing so
fixed it has

a head, walks,
talks, leads
a life.

A section from the poem Five reads, "A way to draw stars."

Becky Fischbach, an exhibits designer for Stanford University Libraries' Department of Special Collections, designed the exhibition for its installation at the library. The department also is home to the Creeley papers, some of which Licata has included in the exhibition.

"The show traces an important and persistent strain in Creeley's work, one that stretches from the very beginning of his literary career and continues into the present," said Bill McPheron, curator of American and British literature at Stanford University Libraries.

Creeley began his earliest collaborations during the years he was connected with the experimental Black Mountain College in North Carolina, McPheron said. German architect Walter Gropius, who pioneered the Bauhaus School; painter Willem de Kooning; and choreographer Merce Cunningham were all, at one time, faculty members at the college. The school's curriculum deliberately brought together different art forms with the aim of creating a "dialogue" between them, McPheron said.

"As a poet, Creeley is virtually unique in bridging the divide in American letters between experimentalists and traditionalists," McPheron said. "This quality is especially evident in his collaborations with such a wide range of artists, whose styles vary from innovative abstraction to conventional representation. But what both Creeley and his collaborators always share is an exacting attention to the formal qualities of their respective mediums.

"There is a constant conversation between the verbal dimension of Creeley's art and the visual dimension of the artists' work," McPheron continued. "They meet on the field of formal experimentation, each responding to the other."

Currently the Samuel P. Capen Professor of Poetry and the Humanities at the State University of New York-Buffalo, Creeley was born in Massachusetts in 1926. He entered Harvard University in 1943 but dropped out the last semester of his senior year. Creeley has lived in Finland, Guatemala, France and Spain. He served with the American Field Service in India and Burma in the mid-1940s. He has published more than 60 books of poetry, prose and criticism and won a number of prizes and fellowships, including the 1999 Bollingen Prize.

An exhibit catalog that includes a CD-ROM can be purchased by calling the University of North Carolina Press at (800) 272-6817. The cost is $24.95 plus shipping. The catalog also is available by contacting Lucretia Cerny at the Stanford University Libraries' Department of Special Collections: (650) 725-1021 or lucretia.cerny@stanford.edu .