Sunday, June 17, 2012

Is Robert Bly a Good Poet?

Earlier this evening, I spent a 1/2 hour in the basement of Half Price Books, poking through poetry books.

I ended up walking out with a smile pile and went home to read them.

The NBA finals were on, and I've been pulling for Lebron to get his ring, after's his 3rd attempt.

So I didn't want to get too engrossed in my late night studies.

When I got to the Robert Bly book (entitled The Night Abraham Called To The Stars), I kinda had to chuckle.

I know Mr. Bly is from my home state of Minnesota, and that he was a major player in the poetry world.

But I'm only 48, so for me to act as if I get him, or understand his vibe would be a lot like the time I watched Karate Kid with my son.

I hadn't seen the movie in a long time, but I gave it a huge build up.

My teenage kid wasn't all that enthused to watch this flick, but then I reminded him how if he hadn't listened to his fathers wisdom.....he would have never experienced Cool Hand Luke.

He has the movie poster in his room, and even takes it to college each fall.

So I slip the disc in and while Daniel-Son is doing that wax-on wax-off stuff my kid says.....

"Dad, are you serious? That kid is a pansy. He can't fight, and he's wearing white pants that are way to tight. His "Junk" is bulging, it should be illegal to make me watch this stuff.

I turned the disc off immediately, my kid was right on every account.

Something carry into the next generation better than other, however...Ralph Macchio just isn't one of them.

So I pick up my phone, call Finley and tell him how I just bought THE NIGHT ABRAHAM CALLED TO THE STARS and he mentioned that it was a good book.

But then I asked the question every time I begin reading a poets work for the first time.....

"Do we love him, or hate him?"
*I ask the same about female poets as well......

Now I'm sure some of you folks are thinking.....

"What a dolt, why not read him for yourself and draw your own conclusion?"

Yeah, you have a point, but part of having a mentor is milking their opinion so you can expedite your own LOL,

So let me back up and repeat......

"Finley, do we or or hate Bly?"

Most of the times Mike will roll his eyes, tolerate my questions, and if I catch him in the right mood, sometimes he'll even drop a hate bomb here or there, but tonight he answered with something like......

"What is a poet? A poet has to have something to say right? Allen Ginsberg was a good writer, but what did he say? I think his thoughts just kind of floated around. A poet....a real poet, or at least the poets I respect have to have been through the fire.

If they have, then they really have something of value to share with their audience.

You should check out Wilfred Owen.

He was a World War One soldier who wrote poems about things he witnessed on the battlefield."

So basically when you are the pupil, you should not leave your wondering to supposition.

I think that was my Zen Masters way to tell me to assess Bly's work myself, and see if any of his writings present a gift to me, instead of himself.

But also I think he's telling me to shut up and check out that bad a** poet he digs from a hundred years back.....the soldier cat.

Alright-Alright, I might be annoying, but I'm doing my work.

Check this piece out.......

I Saw His Round Mouth's Crimson

I saw his round mouth's crimson deepen as it fell,
Like a Sun, in his last deep hour;
Watched the magnificent recession of farewell,
Clouding, half gleam, half glower,
And a last splendor burn the heavens of his cheek.
And in his eyes
The cold stars lighting, very old and bleak,
In different skies.

Wilfred Owen

The End,

Pretty cool stuff, and with that said.....stay tuned and somewhere down the road, I'll give you a take on the Famous Mr. Bly from a post hippie perspective.


  1. Robert's oeuvre is a mixed bag, which should come as no surprise with someone who has published so much. In his case, perhaps too much at times and too quickly. He is an enthusiast and an extrovert, a man who wants to share what he's created, as well as the writers he has "discovered" with everyone, instantly. As with all of us, his greatest strength can at times be his greatest weakness. Strangely enough, some of his strongest work has been written "after" a poet he loves. This is the case with "Abraham," which is indeed a fine book, inspired by his love of Kabir and Ghalib and the ghazal form.

    Having said that, I would rank "Light Around the Body" as one of the most, if not the most, important collections published in the 60's. Some of the poems are marred by a didactic quality -- a precipitous slide into judgment with only the most breifest nod at imagination. Other poems are a perfect balance of eros and logos, logic and creativity. And if placed side by side with, on the one hand, the egocentric, often solipsistic work of the beats and their progeny or the apolitical poetry -- confessional, semi-formal, safe -- being written by almost all other poets at the time Robert was composing "Light," there is no question that he forever earned the right to be honored for his prophetic breakthrough and for the genuine power of many of the poems in the book. Even today, some 45 years later, his grief and rage and anguish at the insane path we were on during the Vietnam madness (a course so much like today's, only now we have plowed arguably even deeper into the quagmire we've created by our hubris, our ignorance, our misplaced faith in American exceptionalism) are still palpable, still generate a purifying flame. There is no way to overstate the magnitude of that kind of achievement.

  2. Meanwhile, I would urge a deeper, more analytical look at Wilfred Owens. He did indeed slog through hell, but even as in lovely, technically brilliant poems like the one quoted above, he wrote about these experiences, no matter how horrific, in a style still governed by a Georgian sensibility that tends to undermine the impact of what he is writing about; in other words, his form distances and prettifies subjects unsuited for that approach. During the course of his war years, there was an evolution in his poetry toward the more immediate and more direct -- toward a modernist aesthetic. I suspect if he had survived the Great War that evolution would have continued and taken fruit. Alas, we shall never know for in Flanders' fields the poppies grow between the crosses, row on row...