My friend Joe Somoza brought me a gift the other day--a copy of the Divers Press first (only) edition of Robert Creeley’s collection of short stories The Gold Diggers. Joe said he had found the copy in a used bookstore. I won’t say which one, and I won’t say how much he spent except to say it wasn’t very much. The book was printed in Palma de Mallorca in 1954. The free-hand cover, which is silk-screened, is by René Laubiès.

My gosh! The Gold Diggers! I trembled. 1954 was back in the day. I was 12 years old. Robert Creeley and Paul Blackburn were on the Spanish island of Mallorca in the Mediterranean Sea, each of them 28 years old. They were talking about poetry, bitching about the poetry establishment and wanting to change that world, but, most importantly, they were writing. Paul, like Creeley, had been in contact with Pound at St. Elizabeth's via his correspondence and by visiting him. The old man connected them. The Divers Press was essentially Creeley’s and his wife Ann’s invention, so this first edition is a self-published book, another fine example of that essential tradition in American letters.

The preface to The Gold Diggers is pure Creeley and is a remarkable bit of understanding about the art of writing in general, and short stories in particular, for a 28 year old man. Poetics (sad, there's no such word for fiction writers)--thinking and talking and writing about the making of a poem--was the essence of Creeley. The next to last paragraph is brilliant and a forecast of all that Creeley would do. Especially: “I begin where I can, and end where I can see the whole thing returning.” This is how I write my poetry, this is how I know how to edit my poetry. Reading this now, I realize that the writing of poets like Creeley and Blackburn, besides showing me the way, authenticated the way I know a poem and the way I go about putting words into a poem and then doing the lovely dance of editing.

Preface to The Gold Diggers

Had I lived some years ago, I think I would have been a moralist, i.e., one who lays down, so to speak, rules of behavior with no small amount of self-satisfaction. But the writer isn’t allowed that function anymore, or no man can take the job on very happily, being award (as he must be) of what precisely that will make him.

So there is left this other area, still the short story or really the tale, and all than can be made of it. Whereas the novel is a continuum, of necessity, chapter to chapter, the story can escape some of that obligation, and function exactly in terms of whatever emotion best can serve it.

The story has no time finally. Or it hasn’t here. Its shape, if form can be though 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 way 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 where I can see the whole thing returning. Perhaps there is an obsession. These people, and what happens to them here, have never been completely my decision--because if you once say something, it will lead you to say more than you meant to.

As the man responsible, I wanted to say what I thought was true, and make that the fact. It has led me to impossible things at times. I was not obliged, certainly, to say anything, but that argument never made sense to me.

--December 14, 1953

I had read Scribner’s edition of The Gold Diggers in 1965. I was, painfully almost, an aficionado of anything Robert Creeley did. It was a difficult read for me at 21, but very invigorating and unique, especially when I read it out loud alone in my tiny room. Now, 40-plus years later, having this book in my hand brings back many memories of who I was back then and why I was so excited about making poems. Thank you, Joe.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

-gold diggers, the island - a matter of reading between the lines of the quarrel, of the family that was gone but somewhere might have been except for the fights, then living only in photographs and a few books and a journal or two. Somewhere the pigeons, the chickens where life was.
-missing Bob.