On a warm Montreal summer evening, out of sheer boredom, I wandered in to “Le Op”, a hippie coffee house hangout on Park Avenue a couple of blocks north of Sherbrooke. The last person I’d have expected to see there was Robert Creeley but there he was, having just walked in after me in the company of two men as yet unknown to me.
It was 1967 – the summer of the last great World’s Fair, Expo 67. It was the last year I was to live in Montreal, the fair was on, and everybody was in town.
I’d met Creeley four years earlier and whether he remembered me or not I can’t say for sure. He’s among the kindest men I’ve known, a gentleman through and through, and if he didn’t remember me he would have still made me feel as though we’d been friends for years.
Bob! Hi. Don’t know if you remember me – we met at the Vancouver poetry conference.
Of course I remember you. How are you? We’re looking to drink some beer. Do they serve beer in this place?
They don’t but I know a good place two or three blocks from here.
La Hutte Suisse – the Swiss Hut – was the Deux Magots of Montreal’s English-speaking artistes, eggheads, and hipsters and my main haunt when in town. On the way there Bob introduced me to his pals, Robert Lowell and George Barker. Yeah, you heard me right.
The Hut’s back room was where my associates and I normally spent our evenings. Tonight we, me and three of best known most adored poets of twentieth century literature, found an empty booth just inside the doorway to the back room so that everyone coming and going passed or stopped to chat with me for a few minutes.
Carol Belkin came in and I invited her to sit down. She squeezed into the booth, which surprised me because normally she wouldn’t even speak to me, being of a gorgeous and haughty caste. Brian, what are you doing with these old guys? (Barker and Lowell were in their fifties.) Robert, I’d like you to meet my friend Carol. Carol, this is Robert Lowell. Bullshit, Brian. Carol, it’s Robert Lowell. Hey, I’m taking a course on Lowell at McGill. This ain’t Robert Lowell. Lowell was amused and delighted. No doubt he met cute literature students every day of his life, but they usually knew and were awed by him. I don’t know if he managed to convince her – probably didn’t try or even care – but as they chatted Linda K showed up.
Barker had been sitting opposite me. I didn’t know, had never heard of him. So I was not so awestruck as by the others. He was such a hell of a nice guy I was totally at ease yakking about this and that with him. I never heard of you, I said. You will, he replied. As prophesied, the last thing I did that night as I staggered drunk as a fucking sailor into my bedroom at three A.M., was dig out my old high school Oscar Williams poetry anthology and, sure as shit, there he was, his picture on the inside back cover right between Thomas Hardy and Robert Graves.
Then Linda was sitting opposite me. I’d lost my virginity to Linda three years earlier. I believe the key factor in her surrender to me (or was it the other way around?) was mentioning, when I’d seen her one day carrying around Creeley’s For Love, that I knew Creeley – had met him the year before. Next thing I know we’re in the maid’s room in her parent’s basement going at it while her mother yells from upstairs, Linda what are you doing down there? She’d snuck me in through the back door. The maid’s night off.
That affair was over within weeks. Now she was across from me in that booth and I said, Linda, this is Robert Creeley. Her jaw hit the table, her eyes bugged out, she stopped breathing for about three days, she may have wet her drawers. I introduced them. Bob, this is Linda. You don’t know it but you got us into bed together three years ago.
By now we were all well-oiled and Bob wanted to hear some music. We went over to the club next door where country and western bands thumped and whined the night away. More beer. Bob wandered off, probably to the bathroom or to dance with someone and I was too fucked up to wait and, having drunk enough, went back to the Hut where I was rightfully scolded by Linda for abandoning Robert Creeley in a country and western bar in French Canada in the late sixties. She went off to find him and came back alone. He was gone. Lowell and Barker were gone. Carol was gone. Everbody was gone, especially me. I kissed Linda goodbye and stumbled home to find my Oscar Williams book and pass out on my bed.
In 1996 I referred to that evening in a letter to Creeley, to which he replied,
That night in Montreal was terrific, i.e., I recall the girl who was writing her dissertation on Lowell, and the look she had when she realized it was actually him. Earlier that eve we had also had Miloscz in the company, but he’d soured and dropped out–which he wouldn’t now do except for age.
I did not know, when I wrote this story, that Robert Creeley had died about five days earlier, on Wedneday March 30 at the age of 78.