Robert Creeley was born in Arlington, Massachusetts, on May 21, 1926. He attended Harvard University from 1943 to 1946, taking time out from 1944 to 1945 to work for the American Field Service in Burma (now, Myanmar) and India. In 1946, he published his first poem, in the Harvard magazine Wake.
In 1949, Creeley began corresponding with William Carlos Williams and Ezra Pound. The following year, he became acquainted with the poet Charles Olson. In 1954, as rector of Black Mountain College (an experimental arts college in North Carolina), Olson invited Creeley to join the faculty and to edit the Black Mountain Review. In 1960, Creeley received a master’s degree from the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque.
Through the Black Mountain Review and his own critical writings, Creeley helped to define an emerging counter-tradition to the literary establishment—a postwar poetry originating with Pound, Williams, and Louis Zukofsky and expanding through the lives and works of Olson, Robert Duncan, Allen Ginsberg, Denise Levertov, Edward Dorn, and others.
Creeley published more than sixty books of poetry in the United States and abroad, including If I Were Writing This (New Directions, 2003); Just in Time: Poems 1984–1994 (New Directions, 2001); Life & Death (New Directions, 1998); Echoes (New Directions, 1994); Selected Poems 1945–1990 (University of California Press, 1991); Memory Gardens (Marion Boyars Publishing, 1986); Mirrors (New Directions, 1983); The Collected Poems of Robert Creeley, 1945–1975 (University of California Press, 1982); Later (New Directions, 1979); The Finger (Black Sparrow Press, 1968); and For Love: Poems 1950–1960 (Scribner, 1962).
In a review of Life & Death, Forrest Gander wrote:
Robert Creeley has forged a signature style in American poetry, an idiosyncratic, highly elliptical, syntactical compression by which the character of his mind’s concentrated and stumbling proposals might be expressed… Reading his poems, we experience the gnash of arriving through feeling at thought and word.
Creeley also published more than a dozen books of prose, essays, and interviews, including The Island (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1963) and The Gold Diggers and Other Stories (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1961). He edited such books as Charles Olson’s Selected Poems (University of California Press, 1993); The Essential Burns (Ecco Press, 1989), and Whitman: Selected by Robert Creeley (Penguin, 1973).
Creeley’s honors include the Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award, the Frost Medal, the Shelley Memorial Award, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, a Rockefeller Foundation grant, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation.
Creeley served as New York state poet laureate from 1989 to 1991 and as the Samuel P. Capen Professor of Poetry and Humanities at the State University of New York, Buffalo. He was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 1999.
On March 30, 2005, Robert Creeley died at the age of seventy-eight.