This Day In Writing History
On December 23rd, 1926, the famous poet, philosopher, and activist Robert Bly was born. He was born in Lac qui Parle County, Minnesota. After graduating high school in 1944, Bly joined the Navy and served for two years. He then enrolled at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, where he stayed for a year before transferring to Harvard University.
At Harvard, Bly's fellow undergraduate students included a group of poets and writers who would later become famous, such as George Plimpton, John Hawkes, Kenneth Koch, John Ashbery, and Frank O'Hara. Robert Bly graduated Harvard in 1950 and moved to New York, where he spent the next few years.
In 1952, Bly received a Fulbright Grant to travel to Norway and translate Norwegian poetry into English. Being of Norwegian descent himself, Bly also took time to meet his Norwegian relatives. While working on his poetry translations, Bly encountered the works of other internationally renowned poets who were barely known in the United States, including Pablo Neruda, Cesar Vallejo, Antonio Machado, Gunnar Ekelof, Georg Trakl, Rumi, Mirabai, and Harry Martinson.
Bly was determined to create an American forum for English translations of the works of those and other foreign poets. So, he founded a succession of literary magazines that introduced them to the writers (and readers) of his generation. He also published essays on American poets. In 1954, he entered the Iowa Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa. While there, he met a girl named Carol on a blind date and later married her. She bore him four children and became a successful writer and teacher of the craft. They divorced in 1979. A year later, Bly married his second wife, Ruth.
Robert Bly's first poetry collection, Silence in the Snowy Fields, was published in 1962. It would prove to be a major influence on American poetical voice for the next two decades. In 1963, Bly published an essay, A Wrong Turning in American Poetry, where he made a case against the influence of T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, and Marianne Moore on American poetical voice, believing that American poets should look toward the likes of Pablo Neruda, Cesar Vallejo, Juan Ramon Jimenez, Antonio Machado, and Rainer Maria Rilke for inspiration.
In 1966, Bly became a political activist, co-founding American Writers Against The Vietnam War. The group organized public readings, meetings, teach-ins, and antiwar rallies and demonstrations. Bly would become a leader in the writing community's opposition to the Vietnam War.
Bly would publish more collections of poetry, including The Light Around the Body (1967), which won him the National Book Award. In 2000, he received the McKnight Foundation's Distinguished Artist Award. In 2002, he won the Maurice English Poetry Award and was named the University of Minnesota Library's Distinguished Writer. Six years later, in 2008, Bly was named the state of Minnesota's first poet laureate.
In addition to his poetry collections, Robert Bly wrote non-fiction books on a variety of subjects, including poetry and philosophy. His most famous non-fiction book combined both poetry and philosophy. Iron John: A Book About Men (1990) uses an obscure Brothers Grimm fairy tale to deliver a philosophical treatise on the masculinity of the modern man. Bly argues that the male psyche has been damaged by both the chauvinistic, aggressive "macho man" model of the 1950s (which was rejuvenated and embraced by the Reagan conservatives of the 1980s) and the "sensitive man" model of the 1970s created in part by the feminist movement.
Instead of these destructive models, Bly proposes an alternative model of manhood - a man of strength, bravery, intelligence, and conviction who is also a nurturer and not afraid to show (and share) his emotions. Bly also proposes a return to the rituals of guiding boys into manhood. Iron John: A Book About Men has been credited with starting the Mythopoetic men's movement of the early 1990s.
In 2006, the University of Minnesota purchased Bly's archive of over 80,000 pages of handwritten manuscripts, a journal covering nearly 50 years of his life, notebooks filled with poems, early drafts of translations, his correspondence with many other writers, and hundreds of audio and video tapes. The collection is housed at the Elmer L. Andersen Library on the University's campus.
Quote Of The Day
"The beginning of love is a horror of emptiness." - Robert Bly
Today's video features Robert Bly reading his poem Talking Into the Ear of a Donkey at his 80th birthday party at the Guthrie Theatre. Enjoy!