Robert Creeley and Arthur Okamura’s collaboration, 1o2o3o4o5o6o7o8 o9o0, was co-published by Shambala (Berkeley) and Mudra (San Francisco) in 1971. Clifford Burke set the poem in Centaur at Cranium Press in SF, but it was printed offset in Michigan by Edwards Brothers. This copy happens to be the second printing. No telling how many copies were produced, but I suspect it was a popular book, as the first printing was in March and the second was only six months later.

Arthur Okamura (1932–2009) was an American artist who worked in screen printing, drawing and painting. It was in Mallorca that he first met Creeley, a life-long friend who offered him inspiration and influenced his work. He lived most of his life in Bolinas, and was Professor Emeritus at the California College of the Arts. His work is in the permanent collections at the Smithsonian, the Whitney, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Creeley was attracted to beautiful figures: numbers, letters, geometric shapes, diagrams, patterns, human forms, and bodily shapes. The cover (the only color image in the book) is rich, high-contrast purple, gold and olive green. The miniature, acrobatic figures flower in a frame within a field, within a book. The parts work together creating a whole that is necessarily more than its proverbial parts—nothing to spare.

The numbers are old style, dipping down below the baseline, as if in carrousel animation: 3, 4, 5, 7 and 9. Although the book is not paginated, it must be close to 100 pages. One poem by Creeley, called “People” and dedicated to his collaborator, is dispersed throughout. Like the images, the poem is built up of irreducible words, lean and whole. The poem begins on the recto, opposite a blank verso, followed by a spread with images on both sides (complementary but independent), followed by an image on the verso and text on the recto that reads:

How big is small. What
are we in. Do
these forms of us take shape, then.

Stan told us of the shape
a march makes, in
anger, a sort of small

head, the vanguard, then
a thin neck, and then,
following out, a kind of billowing,

Although there is plenty of white space in this book, a kind of horror vacui takes place when the page is turned and the reader is confronted with the first unexpected blank—a silence that comes with deep concentration is broken, or the inversion. As in most Creeley collaborations, the point is to create a kind of conversation with the poems, not a 1 to 1 description of the work:

loosely gathered body, always
the same. It must be
people seen from above

There is semblance, never symmetry. There is a self and there is an other in ongoing dialog—to each his own:

I love you, I thought,
suddenly. My hands
are talking again. In-

side each finger must
be several men. They
want to talk to me.

Unlike a traditional, illustrated book, there are many more pictures than pages of text and indeed, the pictures pick up where the poem breaks off, sometimes gracefully carrying the reader through four or five pages of pictures before returning to the text (and occasionally, the pictures form words of their own). Numbers are figures, bodies are figures, people both individual and multiple, words our own and not our own—they own us as we own them. And of course, readers should be reminded that the Vietnam War was still raging in 1971, daily death counts coming over the air, every ‘body’ a number, every figure a name or not a name is this book called 1o2o3o4o5o6o7o8 o9o0 containing one poem, a poem called “People” written in just two days (March 25-26, 1970) by Robert Creeley.

PS: I found this sweet picture of Joanne Kyger and Arthur on Bill Melater's flicker site when I was searching the web for additional pictures of this book. Happy Valentine's day!


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