A Man
Overboard

 

 

An interview with Robert Bly


The current leader of the "men's movement" is first and foremost a poet. In a telephone interview from his native home in Minnesota, Bly was more interested in discussing the art of poetry than men's issues.

"A poet is not something special," he said, "just someone who takes his own feelings seriously and maybe has an accidental gift for language."

The perception of a soft-spoken, sensitive poet speaking in measured muffled tones, is blown away with the often gruff and straight-shooting Bly. "Poetry is an art and when people don't know how to do it, it's boring to everybody."

In an earlier interview with the editor of The Prose Poem, however, Bly cautions men not to let "fear cut down your ability to play (write)." "Instead of playing, you're looking for the right associations, the ones an educated person might have. The ability to make leaps has something to do with how safe you feel, because if you can't feel safe, then you can't go back to your childhood."

Bly's childhood began in western Minnesota in 1926, born of Norwegian stock. He studied at Olfa College as well as Harvard where he graduated in 1950. In the early 1990s he edited his own personal favorite work, The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart, an anthology of poems for men. "I still see men carrying that book around," Bly noted. "I think it's the best thing we did. It's still being printed."

The anthology was a collaboration with his friends James Hillman and Michael Meade, authors in their own rights. Bly is a National Book Award Winner and translator. His books include Iron John and The Sibling Society.

"I think that traditionally in our culture, women are trained by their mothers to express feelings and judge feelings," Bly stated. "When men's work started, men felt they were given permission to do this as well."

The poet said even though there are men who mock literature, there are many more who know "the blessing of a poem."

"I like very much the good that it does men when they start bringing out their feelings."

Bly suggested men follow the example of poet William Stafford and write every day. For decades Bly has been conducting conferences around the world specifically designed to help men become more expressive.

"At these conferences many men have never talked about their feelings, but they will to each other in a group of men.

Poetry is the act of taking those feelings and adding "some responsibility in language," he explained.

John Lee, an author Flying Boy and friend of Bly's was involved in the field of psychology for many years before he wrote creatively. "He gave himself permission," Bly said. "At first he said, 'I'm not a poet" and then he wrote three books and said 'maybe I am a poet.'"

Bly's is currently working on publishing the works of Tim Young, Building in Deeper Water and White Men Don't Dance in America. Lamenting the lack of venues for men's writing, Bly said he was publishing the work himself.

With an eye toward the next generation of emerging writers Bly offered this piece of advice : "(Poets) need to bring in specific images and not just abstract life."

"Poetry is about encouraging men's feelings," he concluded. "I'm so glad to be working with men. It's a tremendous privilege."

© 2005 Reid Baer

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The fame you earn has a different taste from the fame that is forced upon you. - Gloria Vanderbilt

Reid Baer, an award-winning playwright for “A Lyon’s Tale” is also a newspaper journalist, a poet with more than 100 poems in magazines world wide, and a novelist with his first book released this month entitled Kill The Story. Baer has been a member of The ManKind Project since 1995 and currently edits The New Warrior Journal for The ManKind Project www.mkp.org . He resides in Reidsville, N.C. with his wife Patricia. He can be reached at E-Mail.



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