Robert Creeley published his first poem in 1946, in the Harvard University magazine Wake. Three years later he began corresponding with William Carlos Williams and Ezra Pound, and became acquainted with Charles Olson not long after. In 1954, at Olson's invitation, Creeley joined the faculty of Black Mountain College, an experimental arts college in North Carolina, where he also edited the Black Mountain Review. Through the Black Mountain Review and his own critical writings, Creeley helped to define an emerging counter-tradition to the literary establishment.
He gained critical acknowledgment for his poetry after publishing For Love in 1962. Not originally conceived as one book, For Love collected work he had written in the 1950s, including poems from three volumes published only in Europe. The breath-determined lines, unusual syntax, and rhythm of Creeley’s plainspoken minimalist lyrics were a remarkable break from the poetic landscape then dominated by New Criticism and Confessionalism.
Considered a Black Mountain poet, alongside Robert Duncan and Olson, Creeley’s work in For Love demonstrates the influence of Williams and Allen Ginsberg, as well as jazz. It was through jazz that Creeley discovered that emotions could be expressed outside of traditional modes with equal strength. In the preface to All That Is Lovely in Men (later incorporated into For Love) Creeley acknowledged the inspiration jazz provided:
Line-wise, the most complementary sense I have found is that of musicians like Charlie Parker, and Miles Davis. I am interested in how that is done, how "time" there is held to a measure peculiarly an evidence (a hand) of the emotion which prompts (drives) the poem in the first place.
For Love includes many of Creeley's most well-known poems, such as "A Wicker Basket," the widely anthologized "I Know a Man," and the title poem, which contains these characteristic lines:
What is it that
is finally so helpless
different, despairs of its own
statement, wants to
turn away, endlessly
to turn away