Looking out at the packed auditorium at Acton-Boxborough Regional High School Tuesday, Penelope Creeley said, “I think I can say, with good authority, that Creeley is in the house.”
Looking out at the packed auditorium at Acton-Boxborough Regional High School on Tuesday, Penelope Creeley said, “I think I can say, with good authority, that Creeley is in the house.”
Underneath a large photo of her husband in a moment of mirth, Penelope Creeley — Robert Creeley’s wife of more than 30 years and a member of the Robert Creeley Foundation — introduced poet Gary Snyder, Pulitzer prize winner and the 10th annual recipient of the Robert Creeley Award.
In an emotional greeting punctuated by applause, she invited audience members to pay their respects at Creeley’s grave at Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge. “He’d be delighted by the company,” she said.
She presented the award to Snyder, and recalled Creeley’s words of praise for Snyder, whom Creeley befriended in the 1950s.
Snyder’s presentation was a blend of Creeley’s poems and his own, drawing from Snyder’s career of more than five decades, and anecdotes that prompted laughter.
He recalled Creeley – who grew up in Acton, and who died in 2005 — as a poet gifted in the art of conversation, and known for his ability to state ideas clearly and simply in his poetry. He told of friendships among poets whose names are fixtures in popular culture as well as literary circles, such as Snyder’s meeting with Creeley and Jack Kerouac in Majorca.
Snyder recalled taking poet Allen Ginsberg – whom he described as humble despite fame -- on several hiking trips.
On a trek to Glacier Peak in Washington, Snyder said Ginsberg gazed at the view of mountains and valleys, and said, “You mean, there’s a senator for all this?”
Snyder spoke of his lifelong concern for the environment, and his affinity for East Asian culture and religion — dating back to his childhood friendships with Asian-American families on the west coast.
His more recent poems touch on contemporary concerns, including living in a post-Sept. 11 world and the pressures of parents and blended families, attending to the needs of teenaged children and aging but indomitable parents.
For all ages
Snyder’s reading was preceded by the winners of the Helen Creeley Poetry Prize for high school students – Andy Vo, a junior at Boston Latin School, and Melanie Wang, a junior at Wayland High School.
The event drew audience members of all generations, from those who remembered Snyder’s and Creeley’s earliest works, to newer generations of poetry writers and readers.
Afterward, Steve Glines of Littleton – founder of the Wilderness House Literary Retreat in Littleton – remembered Creeley as an early retreat guest, and as a speaker in 2004.
“He was cool. I always liked his stuff -- it was so simple. He made it look so easy,” Glines said.
Glines said of Snyder, “He’s one of the old guard, one of the last of the classic poets of the 1960s and 1970s.”
Champion slam poet Regie Gibson, of Lexington, praised Snyder’s style, which he found plain spoken and straight forward. “It’s special for me. It’s different from my style. I’m so verbose,” Gibson said.
Gibson said he was pleasantly surprised by Snyder’s many humorous comments amid serious themes. “Some [poets] are really, really serious,” Gibson said.
Gibson said he appreciated Snyder’s wryness toward religion, which Gibson found “irreverent, but not disrespectful.”
“I took extreme pleasure when Snyder was talking,” said Jessica Hartounian of Leominster, a French teacher at Leominster High School.
She added that the experience of an older generation such as Snyder’s “gives young people a sense of hope.”
Hartounian recently returned from Europe and appreciated Snyder’s poems and stories of traveling and living abroad.
“I’m so enjoying the international feel of his works, because I’m feeling very Europe-sick right now,” Hartounian said.
Margaret Smith is Arts and Calendar editor at GateHouse Media New England's Northwest Unit. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.