Lannan Award Goes to UB Poetry Professor

UB professor Robert Creeley, a central figure in Buffalo's literary community and one of the country's most praised living poets, was named the eighth recipient of the Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award last month.

Creeley, 75, is the fourth poet to win the $200,000 award for "writers who have made significant contributions to English-language literature." A past winner of Yale's prestigious Bollingen Prize, Creeley is the author of over 75 individual works, including the recently published collection "Just in Time."

He has worn many professional hats beside poet, including editor, literary critic, essayist and lecturer. A focal point of the Beat movement, Creeley's better known poems include "For Love," "Pieces" and "Just In Time."

Currently in his second year of a visiting professorship at the University of Maine-Orono, Creeley founded UB's poetics department in 1991 with fellow poet and UB professor Charles Bernstein. The two have worked closely for the past 11 years.

"I would not have expected to be working with [Creeley] ... as a young writer reading his work, which had an enormous influence and impact on me," said Bernstein.

Bernstein and others have described Creeley's poetry as the process of thinking and writing rather than description. It is direct, compact poetry that packs emotional punch, often dealing with male anxiety, "which was unusual in the '50s, when he first started writing such pieces as 'For Love,'" said Bernstein.

Linda Russo, a doctorate student in poetics, believes Creeley's work creates a unique bond with the reader's emotions.

"Because his work engages the process of thinking, it brings the poetry much closer to the human sentiment," said Russo. "No one could read any of his poems and not feel affected."

Born and raised by his widowed mother in Massachusetts, Creeley attended Harvard University, leaving after a year to join the American Field Service in India and Burma. After a second try at Harvard (and subsistence farming), Creeley attempted to launch his own alternative literary magazine. This led to a correspondence with Charles Olson that for a while consumed eight hours per day.

Along with Olson, Creeley was heavily influenced by William Carlos Williams and Allen Ginsberg, with whom he shared a close friendship.

Although he "shared the same dislike of mainstream poetry," according to Bernstein, "the work that Creeley did was radically distinct from what one would associate with the Beatniks."

Bernstein believes Creeley's greatest achievement has been "the way he brought many aspects of poetry together. He is one of the great 20th-century poets."