Robert Bly (1926-2021)

Robert Bly,  Minnesota, May 29, 1992 – photo: Allen Ginsberg, courtesy Stanford University Libraries / Allen Ginsberg Estate

We note today the passing of another great poet, Robert Bly, eminent poet and activist.

He passed away yesterday (“Dad had no pain. … His whole family was around him”, reports his daughter, Mary Bly).

He was 94.

We wish his family and those who knew him (and most importantly, Robert himself), peace.

Peace and love – (not cliched, idle words) –  were very much his life-time commitment, his motivation  – (most notably, in his heroic ‘Sixties activism – in being one of the prominent figures (alongside Allen) reading and performing on the college campuses, drumming up support against the barbarities and iniquities of the Vietnam War)

In 1968 he won the National Book Award for his collection of protest-poems, The Light Around The Body.
He donated the entire $1,000 prize money to the draft resistance movement.

Allen and he can be heard reading here, (from 1969, along with poets Robert Sund and John Anderson) at Portland, Oregon, in a reading sponsored by Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the New University Conference.

We’ll draw your attention also to the remarkable “The Teeth Mother Naked. At Last”  (from 1970 – from City Lights)

Don’t miss also this – “Rays of Distant Bly Light From A Rare Stellar Convergence” by Mark Gustafson, focusing on this iconic photo,  picking up the story and taking it up to 1995

Allen Ginsberg, Anne Waldman, Robert Bly, William Burroughs, Gregory Corso: Boulder 1975 –  Photograph by Rachel Homer

and check out this previous posting from The Allen Ginsberg Project – (Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s “crazy wisdom“?)

The later fame and notoriety that came with the monumental success of his prose meditation on male identity – Iron John complicates the picture a little.

As Robert D McFadden writes, (writing in the obituary notice in the New York Times):

“The book touched a nerve. It was on The New York Times’s best-seller list for 62 weeks, including 10 weeks as No. 1, and was translated into many languages.
Mr. Bly was profiled in newspapers, magazines and a 90-minute PBS special by Bill Moyers, who called him “the most influential poet writing today.” He became a cultural phenomenon, a father figure to millions. He held men-only seminars and weekend retreats, gatherings often in the woods with men around campfires thumping drums, making masks, hugging, dancing and reading poetry aloud.

He said his “mythopoetic men’s movement” was not intended to turn men against women. But many women called it a put-down, an atavistic reaction to the feminist movement. Cartoonists and talk-show hosts ridiculed it, dismissing it as tree-hugging self-indulgence by middle-class baby boomers. Mr. Bly, a shambling white-haired guru who strummed a bouzouki and wore colorful vests, was easily mocked as Iron John himself, a hairy wild man who, in the German myth, helped aimless princes in their quests”

Bly’s reputation as a poet (and it, should also be noted, as a translator) may well have been occluded but it certainly wasn’t eclipsed.

Laurie Hertzel writes at length on him in the Minnesota Star Tribune, his local paper – here (and (from back in 2009) here)
Read his obituary in the New York Times (in its entirety)  – here 
and in The Guardianhere
from NPR – here
Here‘s Steve Karnowski for the Associated Press

Gregg Pratt & Michael Hazard’s 1978 documentary, “A Man Writes To A Part of Himself” can be viewed – here

Francis Quinn’s interview with Bly from 2000 from the Paris Review can be read here

Another great poet passes on to join the immortals.

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