Creech, Field Knowledge
for the Los Angeles Times Book Award
by J. D. McClatchy
(Judge of the Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize, 2005)
80 pp, ISBN 10: 1-904130-23-2, ISBN 13: 978-1904130-23-9, £6.99 (paperback
Publication, October 12th 2006
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note about Field Knowledge
Field Knowledge, Morri Creech's second collection,
is a series of lyrical meditations on the limits and perils of knowledge, the
beauty of experience and its inherent deceptions. Covering a breadth of subjects
from poems about his own family and the connections between local
landscape and collective memory, to evocations of Giotto, Newton, and Primo Levi
Creech explores both the familiar world and its hidden mysteries.
Many of the poems in this collection share with its predecessor an interest in
theological subjects: here are dramatic monologues in the voices of Job and his
wife, even an "Elegy for Angels". Other poems evoke both the mysteries
and terrors of science, as when Oppenheimer first beholds "the radiant god,
shatterer of worlds" in "In the Orchards of Science". Still others
examine the cost of experience through a variety of historical and fictional characters,
including Marvell's coy mistress, Simone Weil, and Rousseau. Ranging from the
humorous to the elegiac, employing both free verse and structured formal stanzas,
Creech's lush poems explore the sting of experience while luxuriating in "the
honey of knowledge."m the judges foreword
A note on Morri Creech
Creech was born in Moncks Corner, South Carolina in 1970, and
was educated at Winthrop University and McNeese State University.
He currently lives in Lake Charles, Louisiana with his daughter
Hattie and teaches in the MFA Program at McNeese State University.
His poems have appeared in Poetry, The New Criterion,
The New Republic, The Southwest Review, The
Hudson Review, Crazyhorse, Critical Quarterly,
Sewanee Review, Southern Review, and elsewhere.
He has published one previous poetry collection, Paper Cathedrals
(Kent State University Press, 2001), and, in collaboration with
the photographer Robert ParkeHarrison, two museum-quality limited
editions (21st). He has received the Stan and Tom Wick Award
from Kent State University Press, a $15,000 Ruth Lilly Fellowship
from Poetry Magazine and the Modern Poetry Foundation,
an artist's fellowship from The Louisiana Division of the Arts,
and has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
Morri's Creech's won website
for Field Knowledge
Creech's Field Knowledge has given me more pleasure than any book I have
read in years. The judges of the Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize clearly knew their
business!" Frank Kermode
are austere poets whose very distance from the world and whose reticent style
create a tension that brings the experience described and the poem enacted into
a sharper, more heartbreaking focus. And there are luxuriant poets poets
like Keats and Whitman and Hopkins for whom the worlds bounty and
the hearts bottomless mysteries spill over into lines that almost burst
with excess. Morri Creech is a luxuriant, but a canny one ...
has made a book in which a reader can both lose and find himself. Field Knowledge
is a rare achievement, and a lasting one.
J. D. McClatchy, judge of the Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize, 2005 (from
of Field Knowledge
Criterion , November 2006
of the first annual Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize, judged by Hechts literary
executor, J. D. McClatchy, Morri Creechs Field Knowledge has set
the bar high for future aspirants ... In a book centered on the pastoral, Creech
weaves form into the delicate description of raw, Southern landscapes. He relishes
the textured fields of his childhood and the layered histories that the land evokes.
spends much of the book unearthing these stories ... but, over time, they seem
to take a backseat to the process of recovery itself. In the title poem ... Creech
lifts, layer by layer, times influence on the summer soil: as if you
could prize from weeds and loam one immaculate/ hour, one orient pearl buried
at the damp root, and lift it clear/ of the years of corn stalks, furrows, hay
rakes freckled with scat . The fourth, and last, trochee, in a list
that serves to relay the weight of the waste, freckled is the perfect
word to describe Creechs memories sun-worn and spotted.
the opening poem, Engine Work: Variations, Creech remembers his grandfathers
yard; he recalls stripped engines and ripe fruit. The
poem begins with a sense of certainty
morning. Sunlight flashes through the pines
soon his stanzas deliver doubt: Or else its late
Creech is uncertain: not only how to repossess the memory of his grandfather,
but also whether poetry is capable of such an undertaking ...
Creechs poetry also explores mythology and science, his personal poems (such
as the two quoted here) make Creechs doubts beautiful, memorable, and poignant.
He makes the reader question his own past and the facility with which it can be
enough, Creech's second collection is the first winner of a prize named after
the late Anthony Hecht, who with Richard Wilbur upheld the standard of formal
poetry in the generation of American poets that came of age in the 1940s. There
are a great many more formalists in or just ahead of Creech's contingent (he was
born in 1970), but perhaps none combines gravity and grace as he does. Those qualities
are consciously and consequentially on his mind in the three poems constituting
"Some Notes on Grace and Gravity," which consider how Giotto, Leonardo,
and Newton, respectively, confirmed the interdependence of grace and gravity.
The muralist draws the feet of holy figures to the ground, the painter-scientist
turns from rendering saintly flesh to sundering cadavers, and the theoretician
unites gravity and grace, mass and motion, materially. If those poems concern
the infusion of the sacred into the profane, others mourn modernity's willful
alienation from the sacred, quite often by imaging gods in exile, as in the three
poems, placed early, middle, and late in the book, about the travails of Orpheus.
Besides such grave pieces, there is much that is witty. Throughout, there is a
use of the European poetic tradition that is as gratifying and profound as it
is assured. This man's good."
Ray Olson (Copyright ©
American Library Association. All rights reserved)
Knowledge is intelligent, remarkably dexterous and inventive in its use of
line by line
like "the sprinkler's lisp and hiss / trailing a veil of diamond through
the air." The book is also playful, sometimes very funny
for example, angels whose heaven involves a trashy casino. Such gifts make Field
Knowledge one of the strongest collections this reviewer has read in years."
Benjamin S. Grossman
for the poetry of Morri Creech
Creech uncovers for us the world as unspeakable enigma
Each thing he holds
up to the eye is lit from inside with the fire of its own passing away and its
These poems transform by a deepest magic." Li-Young
as they are, these poems maintain a fine tension between earthly splendors and
spiritrual anxieties. As a result, they never slip over the line into extravagance
... Morri Creech's language 'forges its burnished imprint on the river' of our
own consciousness ... [D]azzling."
biblical, as both testament and revelation, is important to this poet the way
the mythical is vital to so many others. It is the informing adjective of his
imagination and the modifier through which his personal world and the natural
world are transformed ... His writing fills with light" - Stanley Plumly
hear Morri Creech read
Morri Creech read
from Field Knowledge at Florida State University on October 24th 2006.
If you would like to hear a podcast of this reading, please click here: http://www.podcastdirectory.com/podshows/874465
Canto of Ulysses
Primo Levi, in his apartment
in Turin, reading The Divine Comedy. February, 1987
head propped above the eighth circle,
he feels the present shifting like a
takes his bearings by the toss and swivel
snow in window light though still less real,
it seems to him, than
that thick Polish snow
which, tumbling in his mind, begins to wheel
Dante's leaves or starlings, like the slow
stumble of shades from an open
or from an open book. All night, the snow
at his window, whiting out the stars.
We sailed now for the stars of that
Leafing a thumb-worn page, he tries to parse
lines he once struggled to recall
for a fellow prisoner, who'd hoped to learn
Italian as they scraped rust from the wall
an emptied petrol tank. The greater horn
began to mutter and move, as a
wrestles against the wind and is overworn
oddly enough, the lines sound tame
now there is no one to explain them to.
Nor words to write. His own canticle of pain
after all, finished. The past is nothing new.
And the present breaks over
him like the dream
of firelight, plush eiderdown, and hot stew
prisoner will sometimes startle from
who has lost hope of returning to the
blowing upon his hands the pluming steam
breath, in which a few snowflakes are whirled.
Or, nodding above the passage
tells how the second journey ended-hurled
a fierce squall, till the sea closed over us
at the moment like that restless king
home from Troy after twenty years, his
old and strange from so much wandering,
who broods all night over the cyclops'
or Circe's pigs, the shades' dim gathering,
leans back in his chair.
It all seems now just like it seemed the snow;
the frozen dead. They whisper on the stair
if he'd called their shades up from below
to hear the story of Agamemnon slain,
or paced out the long maze of the Inferno
hear their lamentations fresh again.
Beyond his window: stars, the sleeping
the past, whirled like flakes on a windowpane
sea closed over us, and the prow went down.
Dreaming, he drops the book
without a sound.
to the Earth
the photograph by Robert Parke Harrison
heard the prophets speak,
knew well their
eloquent thunder, the split stone
and urgent whirlwind of their voice and
had grown used to the fierce synaptic
the olive-bearing birds
and withered fields
that figured their concern.
what we'd never heard
was their silence: the
wind grown inarticulate
at their retreat from us, the god's command
in the trees a voice they'd said had stirred
our ears that we might understand
plainly, none of us could interpret.
first we were relieved;
such talk of mystery
when there was work to do, laundry and errands,
grain waiting for harvest. So we lived
for a while, our minds
less cluttered, clearer,
fixed in the present tense.
who would read the hail,
storms and stars, the
pale fever of winter sun
or those first harsh winds that flushed the moon's
the corn and mellowed the plums each fall?
was there to say what the world
meant? The raven's
flight, bees sweetening carrion,
little to do with us;
the sparrow's note was
foreign to our ears.
Breezes stirred in the eaves much as before,
seemed, but kept on saying less and less
us. On the granary floor
the scattered chaff
would not speak to our fears.
wasn't the god we missed,
but how a god might
sound, those metaphors
and tropes that yoked us to some vast design,
hidden shades up out of the mist,
lilies that neither toil nor spin,
sky now strewn with random stars.
in the plain streets we listened
for those syllables
that once conjured the cold,
fathomless swells of Leviathan-haunted seas,
the fabled bush ablaze on hallowed ground,
snowflakes' mythic treasuries
our ordinary fields.