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
"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
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
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
"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
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
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
* * *
The fame you earn has a different taste from the
fame that is forced upon you. - Gloria
Reid Baer, an
award-winning playwright for A Lyons
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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