Charles Altieri: On "I Know a Man"

The particular events Creeley treats and the nature of his line, however, are essentially symptoms whose underlying causes can be discovered in those poems where Creeley encounters the actual dynamics of the void, dynamics stemming in large part from the problem of finding or creating an adequate language. His most famous poem on this theme, "I Know a Man," perfectly illustrates the interconnections between the traditional sense of the void and failure of communication: 

[quotes poem]

The speaker's generalized angst here actually intensifies the horror of the void. His vague speech gives us nothing concrete to hold on to and instead 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 which 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 void, and by suggesting possible coherences 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.

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Title Charles Altieri: On "I Know a Man" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Charles Altieri Criticism Target Robert Creeley
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 06 Jul 2021
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication The Unsure Egoist: Robert Creeley and the Theme of Nothingness
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