Minnesota bestselling poet Robert Bly dies at 94 |


MINNEAPOLIS – Robert Bly, the National Book Award winning poet who began writing bucolic poems about rural Minnesota and then rocked the complacent world of 1950s poetry, stood up against the war, featured poets international to Western readers and has become a bestselling author. teaching men how to be in touch with their feelings, died Sunday, just a month before his 95th birthday.

In his heyday, Bly was known for performing poetry readings – reading poems two or three times, just because he liked their sound; read the work of other writers; wear a rubber scare mask or embroidered vest on stage; reading to the background music of drums and sitars.

But despite his theatricality, he has always been extremely serious about poetry and its importance in the cultural and political landscape. He was passionate about words.

Bly lived most of her life in her native Minnesota, a familiar figure in local literary events until recent years, when her memory began to fade. His last public reading was on April 13, 2015, at the Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis, where he launched the “Like New Moon, I’ll Live My Life” collection. One by one, 24 poets read their favorite Bly poems before Bly himself got up and read “Moon Behind a Cottonwood Tree”, “Arriving in the North Woods” and the poem that became his ending hymn. life, “Keeping Our Little Boat Afloat”, on survival, grace and death. He banged his cane on the church floor to the rhythm of the words.

After that, he occasionally attended readings, sometimes leaving before they were finished, but he no longer read in public. His latest book, “Robert Bly: Collected Poems”, was published in December 2018 by WW Norton.

In his essay “The Village Troublemaker,” the late poet Tony Hoagland described Bly this way: “Well over six feet, chunky in girth, with a sloppy rooster comb of thick black hair, he stood on stage at the front of the auditorium, in a Peruvian serape. ”Bly, Hoagland wrote,“ has always been combative.… He has attacked any establishment that caught his attention, ”from the US government to war, to consumerism, to old-fashioned views of patriarchy.

Bly was born on the family farm in Madison, Minnesota on December 23, 1926, one of two sons to Jacob and Alice Bly. After high school, he spent two years in the US Navy, working with radar and sonar. He attended St. Olaf College for a year before transferring to Harvard, where he studied with Archibald MacLeish and was part of a group of spirited young writers – John Ashbery, Donald Hall, Harold Brodky, George Plimpton and Adrienne Rich. They were all irascible, Bly said in a 2000 interview with the Paris Review – himself included. “I swelled my throat like an iguana.”

After college, he spent four years writing in New York with little success, even trying his hand at the theater. “I wanted to be a playwright and I wrote a play called ‘Martin Luther’. The problem was that no one in my family was speaking,” he told the Paris Review, and his efforts to write dialogue therefore went on. failed. “This effort was hopeless from the start.”

Bly attended the Iowa Writers Workshop, married Duluth short story writer Carol McLean, then received a Fulbright and went to Norway to study and translate Norwegian poetry. It was there that he became fascinated with the idea of ​​publishing South American, Scandinavian, and European poets, and he began working on translations by Pablo Neruda, Cesar Vallejo, Gunnar Ekelof, and others.

Back in Minnesota, the Bly’s moved to a rustic farmhouse outside of Madison, half a mile from where he grew up. His father had sold the family farm and bought three smaller farms. “One that he kept to himself, one that he gave to my brother, Jim, because he knew he was going to be a farmer, and one that he gave to me because he knew that I was not going to be, ”Bly told the Star Tribune. in 2009.

The Bly’s lived rustic – the house had no running water until 1962 – and their four children, Mary, Bridget, Noah and Micah, were born there. In her memoir, “Paris in Love”, Mary Bly remembers a summer when her father was in charge of the breakfasts. “He specialized in big boiled tongues,” she wrote. “A piece of tongue always seemed to be on the kitchen counter, labeled ‘lunch.’ I stared at him, pushed away, until I was so hungry that I sprinkled a lump of salt on it and choked it. “

With teacher William Duffy, Robert and Carol Bly founded a literary magazine called The Fifties, in which they published avant-garde poems and poets in translation. The first issue of The Fifties, published in the summer of 1958, stated: “The editors of this magazine believe that most of the poetry published in America today is too old-fashioned. People paid attention. “When I read Robert Bly’s magazine, I wrote him a letter,” James Wright told the Paris Review in 1975. Wright, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1972 and died in 1980, taught at the ‘time at the University of Minnesota. His letter to Bly “was 16 pages long and single-spaced, and all Bly said in response was, ‘Come to the farm,'” Wright said.

The farm has become a gathering place for writers including Wright, Bill Holm, Donald Hall, Lewis Hyde, Tomas Transtromer, Frederick Manfred and many more. After Duffy left the magazine, Wright and others helped edit.

Bly’s first collection, “Silence in the Snowy Fields,” was published in 1962. “I spent entire days sitting in the fields,” he told the Paris Review. “But there was peace. I had always had a great love for silence. … I would never have written such an interesting book if I had not returned to the country where I was a child.”

In 1966, Bly co-founded the American Writers Against the Vietnam War. In 1968 he won the National Book Award for his second collection, “The Light Around the Body,” which included poems harshly criticizing the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War. He donated the prize money to the anti-war movement.

Her poem, “The Teeth Mother Naked at Last” is considered one of the most important poems of the Vietnam War. He begins: “Massive engines lift up beautifully from the bridge. / Wings appear above the trees, wings with eight hundred rivets … Helicopters fly above. Death- / the bee is coming.”

Bly continued to write, translate, edit and publish for the next 40 years; in the 1970s he published 11 books of poetry, essays and translations. In 1975 he founded the Great Mother and New Father Conference, a gathering of poets, storytellers and mythologists, which continues to meet annually.

He and Carol Bly divorced in 1979 (Carol Bly died in 2007) and in 1980 he married Ruth Counsell, a Jungian psychologist and analyst. They moved into their home in the Kenwood neighborhood of Minneapolis in 1993.

His 1990 book “Iron John” catapulted him to mainstream fame. The book was inspired by Bly’s intense grief at the death of her father, and it became an international bestseller, captivating thousands of men, drawing them to conferences to talk about their fathers and their emotions. In 1991, he was named one of People magazine’s “most intriguing people”.

In a 1990 documentary “A Gathering of Men”, Bill Moyers and Bly explored the changing role of men in modern America. In 2009, the Andersen Library at the University of Minnesota sponsored a four-day symposium on Bly that included readings, workshops, and a bus ride back to Madison, where Bly reunited with old friends and toured his old studio in handwriting, which had been moved from the farm. at the Lac Qui Parle County Museum, furniture and books intact.

In a ceremony at the museum, Bly’s niece, Julie Ludvigson, recalled seeing Bly on the farm when he was young, steering the tractor with one hand and holding an open book with the other. “And then when he got over the hill, it sometimes took a long time for him to come back,” she said.

Bly has published over 25 collections of her own poetry and over a dozen collections of poetry in translation. His translation of Ibsen’s “Peer Gynt” was performed by the Guthrie Theater in 2008, with Mark Rylance.

In addition to the National Book Award, he received the 2013 Robert Frost Medal, the Transtromer Poetry Prize in Sweden, and the Guggenheim, Rockefeller and National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships. He was Minnesota’s first poet laureate from 2008-2011 and won a McKnight Distinguished Artist Award in 2000. In 2015, at the annual conference, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs celebrated his work with Hoagland Discussions and others, crowned with a reading by Bly himself.

In 2012, his daughter Mary, a teacher and author, spoke to Minnesota Public Radio about Bly’s failing memory.

“My mother-in-law was talking about watching a video of him… and he said ‘I love this guy!’ And then he said ‘I’d like to know him.’ So it was very difficult for my mother-in-law at that time. But he both recognizes what’s going on – his sense of humor hasn’t gone away at all – and recognizes that life has different phases. . “

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