Minnesota author, poet and critic Robert Bly has died at 94
Born in 1926, he grew up on a farm in Madison, Minnesota. Bly studied writing at Harvard University with poet and playwright Archibald MacLeish. Her classmates included Adrienne Rich, John Ashbery, George Plimpton, and lifelong friend Donald Hall, who admired Bly’s ability to conjure analogies.
Hall said Bly had âthe imagination to think through things and improbabilities. Often spiritual but also very moving often. It is an extraordinary quality of mind and I have never known anyone with this ability. “
After earning a Masters of Fine Arts at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Bly returned to the family farm.
There he meets William Duffy, another poet. They shared the belief that American poetry was too rooted in the classic themes proposed by European writers. They decided to shake things up with a literary magazine they named “The Fifties”. They called for poems and received works from many big names. But Bly said they weren’t inclined to post a lot.
Bly recalled her colleague writing the refusals as follows: “Dear Mr. Jones, these poems remind me of false teeth. Sincerely, William Duffy.” Or âDear Mr. Jones, these poems are kind of like lettuce that has been left in the fridge too long.â And then we would get insulting letters, and we would print the letters because they had more excitement and more excitement. ‘energy than poems! “
Bly and Duffy have printed poems by Gary Snyder, James Wright, Thomas McGrath and Galway Kinnell. Translations of Bly’s poems into other languages ââintroduced the American public to the work of poets such as Pablo Neruda and Federico Garcia Lorca. “The Fifties” has become a must-read for young American poets, with its doctrine of experimentation and originality.
Bly’s first major collection of poems, “Silence in the Snowy Fields”, was released in 1962. It referred to the farm life that Bly shared with his first wife, writer Carol Bly, who died in 2007.
Bly won a National Book Award in 1968 for her “The Light Around the Body” collection. By this time, Bly had co-founded the American Writers Against the Vietnam War. The collection included dazzling condemnations such as this poem “Counting Small-Boned Bodies”.
His workshops and readings drew huge crowds who listened, sometimes for hours as he spoke, and recited poetry aloud, usually from memory.
He began to combine folk tales with his thoughts on how society applies gender roles. Much of his early work focused on the impact on women, but over time he turned his attention to men. Bly argued that the men had gone limp. He said social norms disconnect men from their emotions, which in turn brutalizes them. In an interview with Minnesota Public Radio, Bly said it was an idea some people just couldn’t understand.
âIt never happened to think that men had feelings or could be easily hurt. You understand what I’m saying? You never notice it in any of the commercials on TV or radio. Men are seen. as something useful and ridiculous. There is a tremendous amount of depreciation of men that has been taking place in our culture for a long time, “he said.
Bly’s men’s workshops using drums and masks drew hundreds of people. He also wrote “Iron John”, a book that used a fairy tale to synthesize his ideas about masculinity. He spent 62 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. But some saw his pro-men stance as anti-women. Bly’s daughter, Mary, remembers a lot of animosity.
“He paid me $ 250 to read the ‘Iron John’ manuscript and make it acceptable to feminists,” she said. âI was in senior school at Yale at the time, and I called him up and I was like ‘Dad, this is never going to be OK for feminists’,â Mary Bly said in an interview. A few years ago.
The men’s movement, as it became known, received a storm of media attention, including a nationally televised article showing a ‘Wildman’ weekend in Texas claiming to be defending Bly’s ideas. This resulted in both more hostility and ridicule.
Looking back, Bly said he takes pride in raising awareness of men’s emotional needs.
âThe best effect we have had is on young men who become fathers determined not to be the distant fathers that their own fathers were,â he said.
Poetry has been a constant for Robert Bly throughout his life. Another constant was teaching. Later in life, he turned to a poetic form called ghazal, reveling in its complex rules on syllables and philosophical content.
Poet and journalist Jim Lenfestey hosted “Robert Bly in the World”, a 2009 conference on Bly’s life and work, and called him very influential.
âHis impact was really comparable to that of Ezra Pound who in the first half not only wrote poems but also changed the ear and his ideas changed the culture of American poetry,â Lenfestey said.