What follows is a transcription of the first 53 minutes of a trio of informal talks on Emily Dickinson given by Robert Creeley at New College, San Francisco in the fall of 1985 and recorded by David Levi Strauss. The transcript originally appeared in a 1986 issue of Michael Cuddihy’s terrific magazine Ironwood—issue number 28, entitled “Listening for the Invisible”—that was devoted to the work of both Dickinson and Jack Spicer. Complete recordings of these talks are available online at Creeley’s PennSound page.
I know of no formal essay on Dickinson by Creeley, but she remained an important figure for him throughout his life, from the high-school anecdote he relates at the beginning of this transcript to the terrific late essay “Reflections on Whitman in Age,” in which he cites “There’s a certain Slant of light” as a poem akin to Whitman’s “Old Age’s Lambent Peaks” in that both make evident “writing with a habit so deep and familiar it no longer separates from [the writer] as an art or intention.”
During my time in Buffalo, Bob and I talked of Dickinson many times, though he never mentioned to me that he’d given these talks. I stumbled across the Ironwood issue shortly after he died, and I only recently noticed that the recordings had been added to the PennSound site. It’s my hope that reprinting the first near-hour of Creeley’s engagement with Dickinson will encourage readers to listen to his talks in their entirety.
The Ironwood issue says this talk occurred on October 20, 1985; the PennSound site says September 20 of the same year. Though I’ve relied heavily on the Ironwood transcript, I’ve made numerous changes for the sake of accuracy and clarity. Many thanks to Gillian Hamel for her help with this task.