Adios, Robert Bly


  1. Joseph Hutchison
    Joseph Hutchison November 24, 2021 at 2:39 pm .

    I’d dispute the term “cant,” Daniel. (“Hypocritical and sanctimonious talk.”) Bly rightly skewered the dead-end formalism of 1950s poetry, which all too often clothed itself in forms that amounted to little more than Halloween dress-up. But he didn’t attack only Eliot and Pound, Ransom and Eberhart and Wilbur, but Olson and even W. C. Williams, who he loved. He did so not to expunge their work from the scene but to call its premises into question. That questioning was necessary to poetry and the poets trying to write it. There is, after all, no inherent value in formal verse, just as there is no inherent value in improvisational (a.k.a. “free”) verse. But it’s in part thanks to Bly that we have poets today like Amit Majmudar, who writes with great assurance in both modes, or the highly formal but iconoclastic poetry of Tina Chang. Not that they would claim Bly as a member of their personal lineage; I have no idea if either one would cite him as an influence. But the ground they’re working was made arable by him and others in his rather vast circle. Bly was no enemy of form, only of empty form. He located the value of poetry elsewhere, and yes over time, as the climate of poetry changed, Bly moderated his views. He himself wrote in forms, albeit forms of his own creation—his ramages and his version of the ghazal in tercets instead of couplets. We were lucky to have had him in our midst!

  2. Joseph Hutchison
    Joseph Hutchison November 24, 2021 at 1:40 pm .

    You’re right, Jonah, that his late poems are among his best and among the best of his generation, though they’re generally overlooked. I think his allusiveness in the late ones has kept serious critics at bay. I read an interview somewhere in which he was asked about that—something about how many arcane references he makes in the late poems. Won’t that frustrate readers? And he said something like: “It’s not my job to make up for what a reader didn’t learn in high school.” Hah!

  3. Joseph Hutchison
    Joseph Hutchison November 24, 2021 at 1:35 pm .

    Pat, I’m glad you could finally post! Not sure what they did behind the scenes, just glad it worked. Yes, Bly is certainly sailing on, but not on the surface. “… at last, the quiet waters of the night will rise, / And our skin shall see far off, as it does underwater.” There’s a wonderful recording of the sonorous Garrison Keillor reading the poem those lines come from here: The poem begins are 3:13 or so.

  4. Patricia Dubrava Keuning
    Patricia Dubrava Keuning November 24, 2021 at 12:01 pm .

    Sail on, Robert Bly!

  5. Jonah Bornstein
    Jonah Bornstein November 24, 2021 at 6:30 am .

    Robert Bly, the last of the great American poets born between 1925 and 1929. What a family they were:
    Carolyn Keizer, Koch, Kumin, Stern, Ammons, Creeley, Merrill, O’Hara, Ashbery, Kinnell, Merwin, Wright, Hall, Levine, Sexton, Rich.
    Hugo, Dickey, and Levertov were born a couple years before. Haydn Carruth a couple before them.
    After Merwin died, I think I was holding my breath a little. Bly was the one poet left from his generation of poets. His late poems were among his best. His presence in this world will be missed.
    Besides his great poems, he introduced American readers to poets like Vallejo, Jimenez, Machado, Neruda, Kabir, Ghalib, and others.
    Robert Bly was a gift.

  6. Daniel Klawitter
    Daniel Klawitter November 24, 2021 at 3:17 am .

    I have some mixed feelings about the man’s impact on American poetry, but I appreciate that he moderated his ideological cant against formal verse as he grew older and his later work, like Morning Poems, was outstanding.

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