||This article needs additional citations for verification. (March 2012)|
|Born||Robert Elwood Bly
December 23, 1926
Lac qui Parle County, Minnesota,
|Literary movement||Deep Image poetry, Mythopoetic Men's Movement|
|Notable work(s)||Iron John: A Book About Men, Silence in the Snowy Fields, The Light Around the Body|
|Spouse(s)||Carol Bly (1955-1979; divorced)
Ruth Counsell Bly (1980-Present)
Robert Bly (born December 23, 1926) is an American poet, author, activist and leader of the mythopoetic men's movement. His most commercially successful book to date was Iron John: A Book About Men (1990), a key text of the mythopoetic men's movement, which spent 62 weeks on the The New York Times Best Seller list. He won the 1968 National Book Award for Poetry for his book The Light Around the Body.
Bly was born in Lac qui Parle County, Minnesota, to Jacob and Alice Bly, who were of Norwegian ancestry. Following graduation from high school in 1944, he enlisted in the United States Navy, serving two years. After one year at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, he transferred to Harvard University, joining the later famous group of writers who were undergraduates at that time, including Donald Hall, Will Morgan, Adrienne Rich, Kenneth Koch, Frank O'Hara, John Ashbery, Harold Brodkey, George Plimpton and John Hawkes. He graduated in 1950 and spent the next few years in New York.
Beginning in 1954, Bly spent two years at the University of Iowa at the Iowa Writers Workshop, completing a Masters degree in Fine Arts, along with W. D. Snodgrass, Donald Justice, and others. In 1956, he received a Fulbright Grant to travel to Norway and translate Norwegian poetry into English. While there, he found not only his relatives, but became acquainted with the work of a number of major poets whose work was barely known in the United States, among them Pablo Neruda, Cesar Vallejo, Antonio Machado, Gunnar Ekelof, Georg Trakl, Rumi, Hafez, Kabir, Mirabai, and Harry Martinson. Bly determined then to start a literary magazine for poetry translation in the United States. The Fifties, The Sixties, and The Seventies, introduced many of these poets to the writers of his generation. He also published essays on American poets.
During this time, Bly lived on a farm in Minnesota, with his wife and children. His first marriage was to award-winning short story novelist Carol Bly. They had four children, including Mary Bly —a best-selling novelist and Literature Professor at Fordham University as of 2011— and divorced in 1979. Bly has been married to the former Ruth Counsell since 1980; by that marriage he had a stepdaughter and stepson, although the stepson died in a pedestrian–train incident.
Bly's early collection of poems, Silence in the Snowy Fields, was published in 1962, and its plain, imagistic style had considerable influence on American verse of the next two decades. The following year, he published "A Wrong Turning in American Poetry", an essay in which he argued that the vast majority of American poetry from 1917-1963 was lacking in soul and "inwardness" as a result of a focus on impersonality and an objectifying, intellectual view of the world that Bly believed was instigated by the Modernists and formed the aesthetic of most post-World War II American poetry. He criticized the influence of American-born Modernists like Eliot, Pound, Marianne Moore, and William Carlos Williams and argued that American poetry needed to model itself on the more inward-looking work of European and South American poets like Pablo Neruda, César Vallejo, Juan Ramón Jiménez, Antonio Machado, and Rainer Maria Rilke.
In 1966, Bly co-founded American Writers Against the Vietnam War and went on to lead much of the opposition to that war among writers. In 1968, he signed the “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the war. When he won the National Book Award for The Light Around the Body, he contributed the prize money to that resistance. During the sixties he was of great help to the Bengali Hungryalist poets who faced anti-establishment trial at Kolkata, India. During the 1970s, he published eleven books of poetry, essays, and translations, celebrating the power of myth, Indian ecstatic poetry, meditation, and storytelling. During the 1980s he published Loving a Woman in Two Worlds, The Wingéd Life: Selected Poems and Prose of Thoreau, The Man in the Black Coat Turns, and A Little Book on the Human Shadow.
Perhaps his most famous work is Iron John: A Book About Men (1990), an international bestseller which has been translated into many languages and is credited with starting the Mythopoetic men's movement in the United States. Bly frequently conducts workshops for men with James Hillman, Michael J. Meade, and others, as well as workshops for men and women with Marion Woodman. He has taught at the annual Great Mother Conference since 1975. He maintains a friendly correspondence with Clarissa Pinkola Estés, author of Women Who Run With the Wolves.
Bly was the University of Minnesota Library's 2002 Distinguished Writer. He received The McKnight Foundation's Distinguished Artist Award in 2000, and the Maurice English Poetry Award in 2002. He has published more than 40 collections of poetry, edited many others, and published translations of poetry and prose from such languages as Swedish, Norwegian, German, Spanish, Persian and Urdu. His book The Night Abraham Called to the Stars was nominated for a Minnesota Book Award. He also edited the prestigious Best American Poetry 1999 (Scribners).
In 2006 the University of Minnesota purchased Bly's archive, which contained more than 80,000 pages of handwritten manuscripts; a journal spanning nearly 50 years; notebooks of his "morning poems"; drafts of translations; hundreds of audio and videotapes, and correspondence with many writers such as James Wright, Donald Hall and James Dickey. The archive is housed at Elmer L. Andersen Library on the University of Minnesota campus. The university paid $775,000 from school funds and private donors.
In February 2008, Bly was named Minnesota's first poet laureate. In that year he also contributed a poem and an Afterword to From the Other World: Poems in Memory of James Wright. In February 2013, he was awarded the Robert Frost Medal, a lifetime achievement recognition given by the Poetry Society of America.
Thought and the Men's Movement 
Much of Bly's writing focuses on what he perceived as the deeply troubled situation in which most men find themselves in western societies today. This he understood to be a result of, among other things, the decline of the father's role in the modern family. He claimed that whereas women are helped by their own bodies along the stages of maturity, men are an "experimental species" and have to be taught what it is to be a man. Older cultures had elaborate myths activated by rites of passage, which helped men along this path, and "men's societie", where older men would teach young boys on these gender-specific issues. He argues that such learning is as important to humans as instincts are to animals, but no longer worked for young men as fathers became increasingly absent from the house during and after the industrial revolution. According to Bly, many of the phenomena of depression, juvenile delinquency and lack of leadership in business and politics have their roots in these problems.
Bly therefore sees today's men as half adults, trapped somewhere between childhood and maturity, a state in which they find it hard to become responsible leaders, carers and fathers, which in turn leads to the passing down of that immaturity through the generations. In his book The Sibling Society (1997), Bly argues that a society formed mainly by half adults is extremely problematic as it lacks in leadership, daring initiative, creativity and a deep care about others. The image of weak men, he argues, is further enhanced by popular media and Hollywood films which often present fathers as overweight and emotionally co-dependent. Women, according to Bly, rushed to fill the gap during the 1960s, infusing men with an enhanced emotional sensitivity which in itself was good to the extent that it helped men to better understand women and start feeling their age old pain of repression, but also led to the creation of "soft males" which lacked the outwardly directed strength to revitalize the community with assertiveness and a certain warrior strength.
In Bly's view, one solution lies in the rediscovery of the meanings hidden in traditional mythology, which should be passed down to us but are in danger of being forgotten. He researched and collected myths that concern male maturity, and published them in various books, Iron John being the most notable example; many (including "Iron John") were from Grimms' Fairy Tales. Descent is a theme in many of these myths, variously presented as the hero going underground to pass a period of solitude in a bestial mode. He often used κατάβασις, the Greek term for descent, to describe the maturing process for men, in contrast with the continual pursuit of achievement that today's culture teaches.
Bly was also influenced by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung who developed the theory archetypes, the discrete psychic structures, perceived as images, that exist within the human Psyche. The Powerful King, the Evil Witch and the Beautiful Maiden are, according to Jung, images imprinted in the collective unconscious that Robert Bly wrote extensively about. As an example, he considered the Witch to be that part of the male psyche upon which all the negative and destructive side of women is imprinted, first developed to store his own mother's imperfections. As a consequence, the Witch's symbols are essentially inverted motherly symbols, where cooking becomes brewing evil potions, weaving takes the form of spider's web and feeding is reversed, with the child now in danger of being eaten rather than fed. In that respect, the Witch is a mark of arrested development on the part of the man and has yet to be incorporated in the man's psyche to form a coherent and healthy whole. Many fairy tales describe the psychic battle of incorporation in physical terms, with the hero saving his future bride by killing a witch, as in "The Drummer" (Grimms tale 193). These concepts are expounded in Bly's 1989 talk "The Human Shadow" and the book it presented.
Poetry collections 
- Talking into the Ear of a Donkey: Poems (W. W. Norton & Company, 2011)
- Reaching Out to the World: New & Selected Prose Poems (White Pine Press, 2009)
- Turkish Pears in August: Twenty-Four Ramages (Eastern Washington University, 2007)
- The Urge to Travel Long Distances (Eastern Washington University Press, 2005)
- My Sentence Was a Thousand Years of Joy (HarperCollins, 2005)
- Surprised by Evening (RealNewMusic, 2005)
- The Night Abraham Called to the Stars (HarperCollins, 2001)
- Eating the Honey of Words: New and Selected Poems (1999)
- Snowbanks North of the House (1999)
- Morning Poems (1997)
- Meditations on the Insatiable Soul (1994)
- What Have I Ever Lost by Dying?: Collected Prose Poems (1992)
- Loving a Woman in Two Worlds (1985)
- Selected Poems (1986)
- Mirabai Versions (1984)
- The Man in the Black Coat Turns (1981)
- This Tree Will Be Here for a Thousand Years (1979)
- This Body is Made of Camphor and Gopherwood (1977)
- Old Man Rubbing His Eyes (1974)
- Jumping Out of Bed (1973)
- Sleepers Joining Hands (1973)
- The Light Around the Body (1967) — National Book Award
- The Lion's Tail and Eyes (1962)
- Silence in the Snowy Fields (1962)
Translations [clarification needed]
- The Dream We Carry: Selected and Last Poems of Olav H. Hauge, translators Bly and Robert Hedin (Copper Canyon Press, 2008)
- Peer Gynt (2008) — verse play by Henrik Ibsen
- Kabir: Ecstatic Poems (Beacon Press, 2004)
- Mirabai: Ecstatic Poems, translators Bly and Jane Hirshfield (Beacon Press, 2004)
- The Winged Energy of Delight: Selected Translations (HarperCollins, 2004)
- The Half-Finished Heaven: The Best Poems of Tomas Tranströmer (Graywolf Press, 2001)
- The Lightning Should Have Fallen on Ghalib, translators Bly and Sunil Dutta (1999)
- Lorca and Jiménez: Selected Poems (Beacon Press, (1997)
- Ten Poems of Francis Ponge Translated by Robert Bly & Ten Poems of Robert Bly Inspired by the Poems of Francis Ponge (1990)
- Trusting Your Life to Water and Eternity: Twenty Poems of Olav H. Hauge (1987)
- Machado's Times Alone: Selected Poems (1983)
- The Kabir Book (1977)
- Friends, You Drank Some Darkness: Three Swedish Poets: Martinson, Ekeloef, and Transtromer (1975)
- Neruda and Vallejo: Selected Poems (1971)
- Hunger (1967) — novel by Knut Hamsun
- Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke: A Translation from the German and Commentary by Robert Bly (1981)
Anthologies (as editor) 
- The Best American Poetry (1999)
- The Soul Is Here for Its Own Joy: Sacred Poems from Many Cultures, Ecco Press (1995)
- The Darkness Around Us Is Deep: Selected Poems of William Stafford (1993)
- The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart: Poems for Men (1992)
- News of the Universe (1980)
- Leaping Poetry (1975)
- A Poetry Reading Against the Vietnam War (1967)
Nonfiction books 
- Remembering James Wright (2005)
- The Maiden King : The Reunion of Masculine and Feminine, Bly and Marion Woodman (Henry Holt & Co, 1998)
- The Sibling Society (Addison-Wesley, 1996)
- The Spirit Boy and the Insatiable Soul (1994)
- American Poetry: Wildness and Domesticity (1991)
- Iron John: A Book About Men (1990)
- A Little Book on the Human Shadow, Bly and William Booth (1988)
- Eight Stages of Translation (1983)
- Talking All Morning: Collected Conversations and Interviews (1980)
See also 
- "Iron John: A Book About Men". Britannica.com.
- Richard A. Shweder (January 09, 1994). "What Do Men Want? A Reading List For the Male Identity Crisis". New York Times.
- "National Book Awards – 1968". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-03.
(With acceptance speech by Bly and essay by Patrick Rosal from the Awards 60-year anniversary blog.)
- Johnsen, Bill (June 2004). "The Natural World is a Spiritual House" (PDF). Colloquium on Violence and Religion Annual Conference 2004. Girardian Reflections on the Lectionary. Retrieved 2007-04-30.
- Gioia, Mason, and Schoerke, editors. Twentieth-Century American Poetics. p260.
- "Writers and Editors War Tax Protest". New York Post, January 30, 1968.
- "A Poet Laureate for Minnesota". The New York Times. 2008-03-01. Retrieved 2008-03-02.
- Aly Vander Hayden (February 14, 2013). "Robert Bly's "distinguished lifetime achievement"". Melville House Publishing. Retrieved February 14, 2013.
- Bly, Robert (1990). Iron John: A book about men. Da Capo Press. p97.
- Iron John, p17.
- New Dimensions Media. Retrieved 2011-01-18.
- Bly, Robert (1989). The Human Shadow [audiobook]. Better Listen (remastered 2009).
- The Robert Bly Web Site
- Profile and poems of Bly at Poetry Foundation
- Robert Bly profile at Academy of American Poets
- Francis Quinn (Spring 2000). "Robert Bly, The Art of Poetry No. 79". Paris Review.
- Bill Moyers talks with Poet Robert Bly (Transcript) at PBS
- MenWeb - Men's Issues Interview with Robert Bly
- "Robert Bly reads 'Loon's Cry' " for the WGBH series, New Television Workshop
- Robert Bly at The New Yorker
- Modern American Poetry critical essays on Bly's works. University of Illinois
- The Human Shadow and other essays, articles and interviews by Robert Bly. Audio.
- Robert Bly translations published by Beacon Press.