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Robert Bly in This World

2011

James Lenfestey and Thomas R. Smith, editors

Robert Bly in This World

Celebrating one of the most significant American poets of the twentieth century

In 1958, a powerful voice in American poetry emerged from Minnesota. Beginning with publication of The Fifties, Robert Bly’s transformative poetry, translations, and essays grew in popularity across the country. In his eighty-third year, the Elmer L. Andersen Library at the University of Minnesota sponsored a major conference, Robert Bly in This World. This is the record of that historic event.

I had never even heard Rumi’s name before attending Robert Bly’s Great Mother Conference in 1976. . . . As he handed me my copy, he said, ‘These poems need to be released from their cages.’

Coleman Barks

In 1958, a powerful new voice in American poetry emerged from the windswept prairie farmland of western Minnesota. Beginning with publication of The Fifties, “a magazine of poetry, translation and general opinion,” Robert Bly’s transformative poetry, translations, essays, and poetry readings rolled across the country like an invigorating prairie storm.

In his eighty-third year, to celebrate acquisition of his archives, the Elmer L. Andersen Library at the University of Minnesota sponsored a major conference, Robert Bly in This World. This is the record of that historic event. Scholars and authors from America and England presented papers on Bly’s poetry, translations, criticism, mythopoetic storytelling, and other major achievements, including his annual Great Mother and Minnesota Men’s conferences. A trip to Madison, Minnesota, where Bly’s writing studio has been restored and preserved on the Lac Qui Parle County fairgrounds, is also chronicled here, plus intimate appreciations by Bly’s friends and admirers Coleman Barks, Donald Hall, Jane Hirshfield, Lewis Hyde, and others. A vintage documentary on Bly, A Man Writes to a Part of Himself, screened at the conference, is included as a DVD in a supplement to the book.

In Robert Bly’s long career as a poet and translator, he has authored more than forty volumes. His pioneering prose explorations of ancient stories include the international bestseller Iron John. His latest collection of poems, Talking into the Ear of a Donkey, was released in 2011.

Robert Bly in This World

Thomas R. Smith is the author of five books of poems, most recently The Foot of the Rainbow (2010). He edited the festschrift Walking Swiftly: Writing and Images on the Occasion of Robert Bly’s 65th Birthday (1992). He teaches at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis.

James P. Lenfestey, a former editorial writer for the Minneapolis–St. Paul Star Tribune, is the author of a collection of personal essays and four collections of poems. He convened the conference Robert Bly in This World.

Robert Bly in This World

I had never even heard Rumi’s name before attending Robert Bly’s Great Mother Conference in 1976. . . . As he handed me my copy, he said, ‘These poems need to be released from their cages.’

Coleman Barks

Robert Bly’s antiwar poetry . . . engages in mental combat so as to depress the corporeal. I deeply believe that there are men and women my age who are alive today because we had people like Robert doing that work in the sixties.

Lewis Hyde

We do what we must to keep the earth alive and our own species awake to its own full nature, for our own rescue and joy, and for the rescue and joy of those who will follow. This is the vow Robert Bly has always embodied, living as he has in sentinel alertness.

Jane Hirshfield

Robert Bly in This World

Contents

Preface - James P. Lenfestey

Introduction - Thomas R. Smith

Lessons from Robert Bly’s Barn - Lewis Hyde
Shadows on the Prairie: Where the Gift Gathers - Patricia Kirkpatrick
Birth of a Revolution: The Fifties - William Duffy
Under the Sign of Odin: Robert Bly’s Wild Little Magazine - Mark Gustafson
Bly and Wright: A Passionate Poem - Anne Wright
Antonio Machado’s Eyeglasses: The Influence of Robert Bly’s Translations on American Poetry - Ray Gonzalez
So Much Happens When No One Is Watching - Daniel Deardorff
Small Engine Repair: Thirty-five Years of the Annual Conference on the Great Mother and the New Father, Organized by Robert Bly - John Rosenwald
Notes and Pieces on Speaking Poems and Stories, Learning by Heart - Gioia Timpanelli
A Little Book Project with Robert Bly - William Booth
Praising the Soul in Women and Men: Robert Bly and the Men’s Movement - Thomas R. Smith
Robert Bly: Still Taking on the Wor(l)d - Victoria Frenkel Harris
Robert Bly’s Poetry: The Later Years - Howard Nelson
Robert Bly in the Shadow of Hafiz - Leonard Lewisohn
Releasing Birds to the Air (and two poems) - Coleman Barks

Appendix I
Appendix 2
Appendix 3

Contributor Notes