Lynn Keller: On "I Know a Man"

[M]ost of the line breaks in "I Know a Man," coming midphrase, create hesitations one would not find in relaxed conversation:

[. . . .]

Because of the asyntactic line breaks, the first syllable of each line receives extra emphasis. The crowding of stresses and the unnatural pauses communicate both the speaker's anxious restraint and his need for release, well before he mentions the threatening darkness or the car in which he might escape it. The unexpected break in "the darkness sur- / rounds us" -- sounding as if the speaker were almost suffocating or breathless with fear and forced to inhale midword -- conveys his heightened panic. When the speaker hits upon a possible solution, the poem's rhythms reflect his momentary confidence and sense of liberation; "buy a goddamn big car" is the poem's only phrase of any length that flows unimpeded. In "John" 's cautionary rejoinder, Creeley returns to midphrase junctures that interrupt ordinary speech rhythms; the abrupt, heavy stresses of this lineation register the urgency of "John" 's warning -- "for / christ's sake, look / out where yr going."

By the late 1950s, when he was composing the poems in A Form of Women, Creeley had established his own distinctive blend of colloquial and flatly abstract diction and had learned to manipulate the rhythmic possibilities of the vernacular. At the same time he had settled into a characteristic mode, one -- as Duncan has pointed out -- defined by Williams: "the common-speech song with a persisting convention of two, three, or four-line stanzas, highly articulated to provide close interplay and variation." That deft articulation involves manipulating not only the speech patterns and line junctures I have already examined, but also the broad range of sound patterns that Creeley, following Pound as well as Williams, includes within the category of "rhyme."


Title Lynn Keller: On "I Know a Man" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Lynn Keller Criticism Target Robert Creeley
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 06 Jul 2021
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Re-making It New: Contemporary American Poetry and the Modernist Tradition
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