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Bly, Robert (Elwood)

BLY, Robert (Elwood)


Nationality: American. Born: Madison, Minnesota, 23 December 1926. Education: St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota, 1946–47; Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, B.A. (magna cum laude) 1950; University of Iowa, Iowa City, M.A. 1956. Military Service: U.S. Naval Reserve, 1944–45. Family: Married 1) Carolyn McLean in 1955 (divorced 1979), two daughters and two sons; 2) Ruth Counsell Ray in 1980. Career: Since 1958 founding editor, The Fifties magazine (later The Sixties and The Seventies), and the Fifties Press (later The Sixties and The Seventies Press), Madison, Minnesota. From 1966 co-chair, American Writers vs. Vietnam War. Awards: Fulbright fellowship, 1956; Amy Lowell traveling fellowship, 1964; Guggenheim fellowship, 1965, 1972; American Academy grant, 1965; Rockefeller fellowship, 1967; National Book award, 1968. Address: 308 First Street, Moose Lake, Minnesota 55767, U.S.A.

Publications

Poetry

The Lion's Tail and Eyes: Poems Written out of Laziness and Silence, with James Wright and William Duffy. Madison, Minnesota, Sixties Press, 1962.

Silence in the Snowy Fields. Middletown, Connecticut, Wesleyan University Press, 1962; London, Cape, 1967.

The Light around the Body. New York, Harper, 1967; London, Rapp and Whiting, 1968.

Chrysanthemums. Menomenie, Wisconsin, Ox Head Press, 1967.

Ducks. Menomenie, Wisconsin, Ox Head Press, 1968.

The Morning Glory: Another Thing That Will Never Be My Friend: Twelve Prose Poems. San Francisco, Kayak, 1969; revised edition, 1970; complete version, New York, Harper, 1975.

The Teeth Mother Naked at Last. San Francisco, City Lights, 1970.

Poems for Tennessee, with William Stafford and William Matthews. Martin, Tennessee Poetry Press, 1971.

Water under the Earth. Rushden, Northamptonshire, Sceptre Press, 1972.

Christmas Eve Service at Midnight at St. Michael's. Rushden, Northamptonshire, Sceptre Press, 1972.

Jumping out of Bed. Barre, Massachusetts, Barre, 1973.

Sleepers Joining Hands. New York, Harper, 1973.

The Dead Seal near McClure's Beach. Rushden, Northamptonshire, Sceptre Press, 1973.

The Hockey Poem. Duluth, Minnesota, Knife River Press, 1974.

Point Reyes Poems. San Francisco, Mudra, 1974.

Grass from Two Years, Let's Leave. Denver, Ally Press, 1975.

Old Man Rubbing His Eyes. Greensboro, North Carolina, Unicorn Press, 1975.

The Loon. Marshall, Minnesota, Ox Head Press, 1977.

This Body Is Made of Camphor and Gopherwood: Prose Poems. New York, Harper, 1977.

This Tree Will Be Here for a Thousand Years. New York, Harper, 1979; revised edition, New York, Harper Perennial, 1992.

Visiting Emily Dickinson's Grave and Other Poems. Madison, Wisconsin, Red Ozier Press, 1979.

The Man in the Black Coat Turns. New York, Dial Press, 1981; London, Penguin, 1983.

Finding on Old Ant Mansion. Bedford, Martin Booth, 1981.

The Eight Stages of Translation. Boston, Rowan Tree, 1983.

Four Ramages. Daleville, Indiana, Barnwood Press, 1983.

The Whole Moisty Night. New York, Red Ozier Press, 1983.

Out of the Rolling Ocean and Other Love Poems. St. Paul, Minnesota, Ally Press, 1984.

Mirabai Versions. New York, Red Ozier Press, 1984.

In the Month of May. New York, Red Ozier Press, 1985.

A Love of Minute Particulars. Knotting Bedforshire, Sceptre Press, 1985.

Loving a Woman in Two Worlds. New York, Dial Press, 1985.

Selected Poems. New York, Perennial Library, 1986.

The Moon on a Fencepost. Greensboro, North Carolina, Unicorn Press, 1988.

The Apple Found in the Plowing. Baltimore, Haw River Books, 1989.

What Have I Ever Lost by Dying?: Collected Prose Poems. New York, Harper Collins, 1992.

Gratitude to Old Teachers: Poems. Brockport, New York, BOA Editions, 1993.

Meditations on the Insatiable Soul. New York, Harper Perennial, 1994.

Morning Poems. New York, Harper Collins, 1997.

Holes the Crickets Have Eaten in Blankets. Rochester, New York, BOA Editions, 1997.

Eating the Honey of Words: New and Selected Poems. New York, Harper Collins, 1999.

Recordings: Today's Poets 5, with others, Folkways; For the Stomach: Selected Poems, Watershed, 1974.

Other

A Broadsheet against the New York Times Book Review. Madison, Minnesota, Sixties Press, 1961.

Talking All Morning: Collected Conversations and Interviews. Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 1979.

A Little Book on the Human Shadow, edited by William Booth. Memphis, Tennessee, Raccoon, 1986.

American Poetry: Wildness and Domesticity. New York, Harper, 1990.

Iron John: A Book about Men. Reading, Massachusetts, Addison Wesley, 1990.

Remembering James Wright. St. Paul, Minnesota, Ally Press, 1991.

The Sibling Society. Reading, Massachusetts, Addison Wesley, 1996.

The Maiden King: The Reunion of Masculine and Feminine, with Marion Woodman. New York, Henry Holt, 1998.

Editor, with David Ray, A Poetry Reading against the Vietnam War. Madison, Minnesota, American Writers Against the Vietnam War, 1966.

Editor, The Sea and the Honeycomb: A Book of Poems. Madison, Minnesota, Sixties Press, 1966.

Editor, Forty Poems Touching on Recent American History. Boston, Beacon Press, 1970.

Editor, Leaping Poetry: An Idea with Poems and Translations. Boston, Beacon Press, 1975.

Editor, Selected Poems, by David Ignatow. Middletown, Connecticut, Wesleyan University Press, 1975.

Editor, News of the Universe: Poems of Twofold Consciousness. San Francisco, Sierra Club, 1980.

Editor, Ten Love Poems. St. Paul, Minnesota, Ally Press, 1981.

Editor, The Winged Life: Selected Poems and Prose of Thoreau. San Francisco, Sierra Club, 1986.

Co-editor, The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart: Poems for Men. New York, Harper Collins, 1992.

Editor, The Darkness around Us Is Deep: Selected Poems of William Stafford. New York, Harper Collins, 1993.

Editor, The Soul Is Here for Its Own Joy: Sacred Poems of Many Cultures. Hopewell, New Jersey, Ecco Press, 1995.

Editor, The Best American Poetry 1999. New York, Scribner, 1999.

Translator, The Illustrated Book about Reptiles and Amphibians of the World, by Hans Hvass. New York, Grosset and Dunlap, 1960.

Translator, with James Wright, Twenty Poems of Georg Trakl. Madison, Minnesota, Sixties Press, 1961.

Translator, The Story of Gösta Berling, by Selma Lagerlöf. New York, New American Library, 1962.

Translator, with James Wright and John Knoepfle, Twenty Poems of César Vallejo. Madison, Minnesota, Sixties Press, 1962.

Translator, Hunger, by Knurt Hamsun. New York, Farrar Straus, 1967; London, Duckworth, 1974.

Translator, with Christina Paulston, I Do Best Alone at Night, by Gunnar Ekelöf. Washington, D.C., Charioteer Press, 1967.

Translator, with Christina Paulston, Late Arrival on Earth: Selected Poems of Gunnar Ekelöf. London, Rapp and Carroll, 1967.

Translator, with James Wright, Twenty Poems of Pablo Neruda. Madison, Minnesota, Sixties Press, 1967; London, Rapp and Whiting, 1968.

Translator, with others, Selected Poems, by Yvan Goll. San Francisco, Kayak, 1968.

Translator, Forty Poems of Juan Ramòn Jiménez. Madison, Minnesota, Sixties Press, 1969.

Translator, Ten Poems, by Issa Kobayashi. Privately printed, 1969.

Translator, with James Wright and John Knoepfle, Neruda and Vallejo: Selected Poems. Boston, Beacon Press, 1971.

Translator, Twenty Poems of Tomas Tranströmer. Madison, Minnesota, Seventies Press, 1971.

Translator, The Fish in the Sea Is Not Thirsty: Versions of Kabir. Ithaca, New York, Lillabulero Press, 1971.

Translator, Night Vision, by Tomas Tranströmer. Ithaca, New York, Lillabulero Press, 1971; London, London Magazine Editions, 1972.

Translator, Ten Sonnets to Orpheus, by Rainer Maria Rilke. San Francisco, Seyhyrus Image, 1972.

Translator, Lorca and Jiménez: Selected Poems. Boston, Beacon Press, 1973.

Translator, Basho. San Francisco, Mudra, 1974.

Translator, Friends, You Drank Some Darkness: Three Swedish Poets, Henry Martinson, Gunnar Ekelöf, Tomas Tranströmer. Boston, Beacon Press, 1975.

Translator, Twenty-Eight Poems, by Kabir. New York, Siddha Yoga Dham, 1975.

Translator, Try to Live to See This! Versions of Kabir. Rushden, Northamptonshire, Sceptre Press, and Denver, Ally Press, 1976.

Translator, The Kabir Book. Boston, Beacon Press, 1977.

Translator, The Voices, by Rainer Maria Rilke. Denver, Ally Press, and Knotting, Bedfordshire, Sceptre Press, 1977.

Translator, with Lewis Hyde, Twenty Poems of Vicente Aleixandre. Madison, Minnesota, Seventies Press, 1977.

Translator, Twenty Poems of Rolf Jacobson. Madison, Minnesota, Seventies Press, 1977.

Translator, Mirabai Versions. New York, Red Ozier Press, 1980.

Translator, I Am Too Alone in the World, by Rainer Maria Rilke. New York, Silver Hands Press, 1980.

Translator, Canciones, by Antonio Machado. West Branch, Iowa, Toothpaste Press, 1980.

Translator, Truth Barriers, by Tomas Tranströmer. San Francisco, Sierra Club, 1980.

Translator, Selected Poems, by Rainer Maria Rilke. New York, Harper, 1981.

Translator, with Coleman Barks, Night and Sleep, by Rumi. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Yellow Moon Press, 1981.

Translator, Letter to Miguel Otero Silva, in Caracas (1948), by Pablo Neruda. Willimantic, Connecticut, Curbstone Press, 1982.

Translator, with Kirkland, Selected Poems and Prose, by Antonio Machado. Buffalo, White Pines Press, 1983.

Translator, Times Alone: Selected Poems of Antonio Machado. Middletown, Connecticut, Wesleyan University Press, 1983.

Translator, Trusting Your Life to Water and Eternity, by Olav H. Hauge. Minneapolis, Milkweed, 1987.

Translator, Selected Poems, 1954–1986, by Tomas Tranströmer, edited by Robert Hass. New York, Ecco Press, 1987.

Translator, Ten Poems of Francis Ponge. Riverview, New Brunswick, Owl's Head Press, 1990.

Translator, with Sunil Dutta, The Lightning Should Have Fallen on Ghalib: Selected Poems of Ghalib. New York, Ecco Press, 1999.

*

Bibliography: "Robert Bly Checklist" by Sandy Dorbin, in Schist 1 (Willimantic, Connecticut), fall 1973; Robert Bly: A Primary and Secondary Bibliography by William Roberson, London, Scarecrow, 1986.

Critical Studies: Alone with America by Richard Howard, New York, Atheneum, 1969, London, Thames and Hudson, 1970, revised edition, Atheneum, 1980; The Inner War: Forms and Themes in Recent American Poetry by Paul A. Lacey, Philadelphia, Fortress Press, 1972; "Robert Bly Alive in Darkness" by Anthony Libby, in Iowa Review (Iowa City), summer 1972; "Robert Bly: Radical Poet" by Michael True, in Win (Rifton, New York), 15 January 1973; Four Poets and the Emotive Imagination by Ronald Moran and George Lensing, Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University Press, 1976; Moving Inward: A Study of Robert Bly's Poetry by Ingegerd Friberg, Gothenburg, Gothenburg Studies in English, 1977; Charles Molesworth, in Ohio Review (Athens), fall 1978; Of Solitude and Silence: Writings on Robert Bly edited by Kate Daniels and Richard Jones, Boston, Beacon Press, 1982; Robert Bly; An Introduction to the Poetry by Howard Nelson, New York, Columbia University Press, 1984; "In Search of an American Muse" by the author, in New York Times Book Review, 22 January 1984; Understanding Robert Bly, Columbia, University of South Carolina Press, 1989, and Robert Bly: The Poet and His Critics, Columbia, South Carolina, Camden House, 1994, both by William V. Davis; Robert Bly and Randall Jarrell as Translators of Rainer Maria Rilke: A Study of the Translations and Their Impact on Bly's and Jarrell's Own Poetry by Steven Kaplan, New York, Peter Lang, 1989; Walking Swiftly: Writings and Images on the Occasion of Robert Bly's 65thBirthday edited by Thomas R. Smith, St. Paul, Minnesota, Ally Press, 1992; "Hurt into Poetry: The Political Verses of Seamus Heaney and Robert Bly" by Jeffery Alan Triggs, in New Orleans Review, 19(3–4), fall 1992; "Robert Bly, Gratitude to Old Teachers" by Tom Hansen, in Literary Review, 39(3), spring 1996; "A Rhetoric of Indeterminacy: The Poetry of Margaret Atwood and Robert Bly" by R.A. Kizuk, in English Studies in Canada, 23(2), 1997.

*  *  *

Robert Bly emerged from the early 1960s as one of the more stubbornly independent and critical poets of his generation, and wherever forums were open to him, he boldly stated his positions against war and corporate monopoly, broadening federal powers, and crassness in literature. He was a dominating spokesman for antiwar groups during the Vietnam War, staging readings around the United States and compiling (with David Ray) extraordinary poetic protests in the anthology A Poetry Reading against the Vietnam War. Throughout his career he has been a cranky but refreshing influence on American thought and culture, as much for the grandeur of his positions as for the force of his artistic individuality.

Although Bly's output has been relatively small in an era of prolific poets, his books follow a deliberate course of deepening conviction and broader conceptions. Silence in the Snowy Fields, his first book, is a slender collection of polished, mildly surreal evocations of his life in Minnesota and of the northern landscape, with its harsh winters and huddled townships. Bly's brief poems impute to nature a secret, willful life force, as in this final stanza from "Snowfall in the Afternoon":

The barn is full of corn, and moving toward us now,
Like a hulk blown toward us in a storm at sea:
All the sailors on deck have been blind for many years.

Silence in the Snowy Fields has an immediacy of the poet's personal life that reflects the inward shift of poetry during the late 1950s and early 1960s, a direction that Bly then actively retreated from, claiming that poetry deserved a larger frame of experience than the poet's own circumstances and private dilemmas.

The Light around the Body moves into the political and social arena with poems against corporate power and profiteering, presidential politics, and the Vietnam War. These poems are more boldly imaginative and take reckless leaps into a surreal mode of discourse. The poems fuse the banal and the bizarre: "Accountants hover over the earth like helicopters,/Dropping bits of paper engraved with Hegel's name" ("A Dream of Suffocation") or "Filaments of death grow out./The sheriff cuts off his back legs/and nails them to a tree" ("War and Silence").

To explain his poetics and to give it context, Bly edited an interesting volume of poems entitled Leaping Poetry, in which he argued that consciousness has expanded to a new faculty of the brain where memory opens up the mythological experience of human origins. The old nature religions and the archetypes of gods and heroes and the lore of animals, magic, and miracles are there for anyone brave enough to make the descent. In that sense Bly remains true to the original Jungian impulses he started from. At some point late in the 1950s Bly appropriated a nascent movement calling itself "deep image" poetry, after Jung's depth psychology. Bly soon made it his own and drew in other Midwestern poets, among them James Wright, to develop a sense of poetry as coming from interior depths of memory and psychic imagery. In Sleepers Joining Hands he suggests that society is returning to a matriarchal order as the foundation of human culture.

Bly later revised his views to argue that men are discovering their own mythological beginnings in certain magical fathers and heroes and are drawing renewed strength in the age of female liberation. Iron John and other books counsel men about their traditions and their hidden powers; in a collection of prose entitled American Poetry: Wilderness and Domesticity he argues that wilderness has not vanished but only gone underground in a culture of narrow consciousness. In A Little Book on the Human Shadow Bly asks, "How much of the darkness from under the earth has risen into poems and stories in [two hundred years]?" The American wilderness was once fully articulated in the Amerindian imagination, but it is, according to Bly, only now finding its way into the minds of white writers.

—Paul Christensen

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