Charles Altirei: On "I Know a Man"

Many of the poems in For Love try to survey the underlying conditions that create the explicit voids and the torments embodied in the style. As the style indicates, language itself is one of the primary villains, for it promises a wholeness it cannot fulfill. Language in ideal form promises to make the self objectified and communicable to another, yet its reality entraps us in webs of meanings which we do not intend. The words stand emptied of us and we face them turning once more on a self we can neither fix nor possess. "I Know a Man" contains Creeley's most fundamental dramatic statement on the problem of language and its relation to the void:

[. . . .]

The speaker's generalized angst here actually intensifies the horror of the void. His vague speech gives nothing concrete to hold on to; instead it further broadens the gap between human subjectivity and the world with which it must come to terms. Drunkenness becomes the poem's metaphor for inauthentic speech that deepens the darkness evoking the speech in the first place. Drunken speech stems not from perception, but from the need to fill voids, to put off silence. Unlike speech that is devoted to some referential order, speech that strives to communicate a feeling or perception, drunken speech takes off from its own momentum. Each succeeding statement is born from some associative speech pattern, not from any referential logic. The protagonist becomes the passive and helpless victim of his own powers of speech, and his failure is most clearly portrayed when he utters an octosyllabic line (1 .9). To Creeley the long line courts the void by not defending itself, by trying simply to cover the emptiness, and by suggesting possible coherence and orders it cannot really manage. The only reply is the one John gives--keep your eye on experience; live in it and avoid the purely verbal universe.


Title Charles Altirei: On "I Know a Man" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Charles Altirei Criticism Target Robert Creeley
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 06 Jul 2021
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Enlarging the Temple: New Directions in American Poetry During the 1960s
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