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Books / Fatwah / March 17, 2009
By John Dolan

Robert Creeley: Great Poet or One-Eyed Interspecies Plagiarist?

Robert Creeley: Great Poet or One-Eyed Interspecies Plagiarist?

Here are two pieces of twentieth-century verse. One has been called “…the most often quoted, even the most widely known, short poem” of the 1960s; the other is from a long-forgotten collection of comic newspaper verse. One was written in 1954, the other almost four decades earlier.

Exhibit A

…the lamb frolicked
about her new found friend
gambolling as to the sound
of a wordsworthian tabor
and leaping for joy
as if propelled by a stanza
from william blake…
gently he cut her throat
all the while inveigling
against the inhuman wolf
and tenderly he cooked her
and lovingly he sauced her
and meltingly he ate her
and piously he said a grace
thanking his gods
for their bountiful gifts to him
and after dinner
he sat with his pipe
before the fire meditating
on the brutality of wolves
and the injustice of
the universe
which allows them to harry
poor innocent lambs
and wondering if he
had not better
write to the paper
for as he said
for god s sake can t
something be done about

Exhibit B

As I sd to my
friend, because I am
always talking, — John, I

sd, which was not his
name, the darkness sur-
rounds us, what

can we do against
it, or else, shall we &
why not, buy a goddamn big car,

drive, he sd, for
christ’s sake, look
out where yr going.

Exhibit A is an excerpt from “Aesop revised by archy,” published in the New York Daily Mirror during the First World War.

Exhibit B is Robert Creeley’s “I Know A Man,” written in 1954, which has been called “…the most often quoted, even the most widely known, short poem” of the Sixties.

Creeley is still considered a great poet, and “I Know A Man” is still his best-known poem. Don Marquis, author of Exhibit A, wrote his poem as a quick way to fill his daily newspaper column. After grinding out columns six days a week, he left journalism in 1923 and died wretchedly during the depression.

Odd, isn’t it? Reading them together, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the great Robert Creeley stole his whole schick from an insect. Because “archy,” the narrator of “Aesop revised by archy,” is a cockroach.

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Add your own

  • 1. muffinpie  |  March 17th, 2009 at 1:46 pm

    Cheer up, Dr. Dolan. Everyone else hates poetry too.

  • 2. beeblebrox  |  March 17th, 2009 at 1:54 pm

    I almost skipped this article because of the poetry quotes. I have a lit. degree from a UC and I don’t read poetry. Won’t do it. Can’t do it. I’ve never once experienced anything but boredom and loathing from reading verse. Maybe I’m a bad reader, or maybe all the poetry they assigned really sucked. Plus my teachers didn’t have much to say about stuff that wasn’t directly related to feminist careerism.

    Someday they’ll say of Dolan, “If he hadn’t been so frickin’ awesome, he would have had tenure.”

  • 3. wengler  |  March 17th, 2009 at 2:04 pm

    I never understood poetry, especially free-form poetry, but I get what your saying. Good article.

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