Born in Arlington, Massachusetts in 1926, Creely was educated at Holderness School, Plymouth and Harvard University. Creeley’s father died in 1930 and he was raised by his mother and sister. He was left blind in one eye following a childhood accident. His studies at Harvard were cut short when he worked with the American Field Service as an ambulance driver in 1944 and 1945, subsequently returning to his studies at Harvard. He married Ann Mackinnon. They were divorced in 1995.

His contemporaries in poetry are known to have been William Carlos Williams, Charles Olsen and, in addition, Denise Levertov, Ed Dorson and Fielding Dawson, all of whom were part of the Black Mountain poets, born out of Black Mountain College, known for its focus on innovative and experimental writing and art. Creeley was a forerunner in projective verse, his work more freely constructed than ‘traditional’ and enabling continuing discussion about the relationship between form and content. In later years he became associated with the Beat Generation which also included Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and Michael McClure. He edited The Black Mountain Review.

His writing also includes a novel, short stories, essays and a play.