I was very happy to be able to feature Scott in this blog. He is not only a great personal friend, but a poet whose work I have admired and enjoyed for a long time. His words are moving, full of meaning, and often evoke a sense of familiarity with shared human experience. I asked him to write a brief reflection on the shoot we did.
"I wrote some of my first real poems in Claremont. The courtyard in this photo set is like the places I would go to when I ditched my high school classes and smoked cigarettes while I evaded Claremont PD (which is harder than it sounds, they don’t have much to do). It’s amongst the places where I made my first attempts at writing about the forces that seemed to lurk below the pretty surface of things. That’s the direction I’ve tried to take my work ever since. I want to catalogue what might otherwise be forgotten or unnoticed. Despite the immense privilege they represent, the campuses of the five colleges have always seemed a bit dark and occult. You can feel the prestige and secrets and symbolism of the place, you can sense the lives that have passed through here, and that’s always been something that’s intrigued me. Having grown up in Pomona, where gentrification or neglect often overwrite the past fairly quickly, this was a place that fascinated me when I was a teenager because you could feel both the history the powers-that-be wanted you to see, and then, below that, you could also sense some of the secret history of the place -- the fact that people ate and made love here, that they got high and cut classes.
For me, writing is about cataloguing place as much as it is people. For a while, at least, we leave the remnants of our ideas upon a place -- We become part of it, it holds some existential echo of us, and we carry a bit of it when we leave. I used to hang out in a haunted stairwell near where these photos were taken. The folklore is that this was where a Scripps college student jumped to her death from the top flight, vaulting over the bannister and then crashing into the courtyard. The students say that her spirit roams around the halls and offices there. They say that you can sometimes catch a glance of her in the mirror of a tiny, forgotten bathroom on the third floor.
Even before I knew the story of the place, I felt it. Maybe I noticed the way people hurried through it, or the sad art around the place. Maybe it was something else. Regardless, there was something there beyond the ordinary physicality of the architecture, or the garden, or the artwork dedicated to regents -- The place was made into a story by the people who inhabited it, and that makes it fascinating to me.
Now I carry the ghost of that girl with me to all the places I’ve lived in. Even decades later, I often think about her in the still hours of the morning, and she makes me wonder about the stories under my feet, about the ways all of us haunt the world. Most of my writing is about unearthing those stories and preserving them, so this seemed like an excellent place to take photos that might represent some small piece of who I am as a poet. "
Scott Noon Creley holds an MFA in poetry from California State University, Long Beach, and a BA in writing from UC Riverside. His work has been featured in the collections Bear Flag Republic, One Night in Downey, Cadence Collective: Year Two and , as well as in quality journals as diverse as Sentence, Miramar, Spillways, Cadence Collective and Carnival Literary Magazine. His most recent book Digging a Hole to the Moon debuted in the top 50 on Amazon.com’s poetry section.
He recently returned from China, where he read for Beijing Normal University, the Lu Xun Literary Institute, and Yunnan University as a featured visiting reader alongside Pulitzer Prize winner Gregory Pardlo and Pushcart Prize winner Tony Barnstone. He is the founding chairman of San Gabriel Valley Literature Festival inc., a non-profit literacy foundation that holds monthly free writing workshops, monthly readings, and an annual community literature festival.
He is one of the Writers in Residence for The dA Center for the Arts in Pomona, California.
His collection Digging a Hole to the Moon, is available from Spout Hill Press.
He lives with his wife, painter & photographer Carly McKean Creley, in Los Feliz.
A poem of his appears below.
Ashes, White Noise
by Scott Noon Creley
It is Ash Wednesday.
The children who walk by the window
have crosses smeared over their foreheads
in the thick pigment of burned palm fronds.
Those sigils are so rigid, so geometric -
Trailing down the sidewalk like a long line
of precisely punctuated speech,
a message that, for all its coherency
I cannot grasp before it trails out of view
around the corner.
Turning on the radio,
I want to listen long enough
to extract this same voice
from the ghost orchard of static,
my fingers twitching
at every tinny scrap of sound.
Here, with the blinds drawn,
with the glow of the television
pervading the room and mingling
with the blue onset of early twilight
it is easy to envy those children their markings —
to hunger for the dead black certainty of them.