Poet Robert Bly has died at age 94

I used the tag “celebrity-death,” but I’m guessing not too many young’uns will remember this poet and guru of the 1990s. I read his books, but then, I’m old.

Bly argued in his 1990 book, Iron John: A Book About Men , that society causes men to be disconnected from their feelings, and he knew he could rub people the wrong way. “I do remember people wanting to kill me, but that’s not unusual,” he said in 2010.

He had been a well-known poet for a long time before that (even before my time).

After serving in the Navy and graduating from Harvard and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop…

In 1958, Bly launched a literary magazine called The Fifties with his friend William Duffy. In the first issue, they laid out their credo: “The editors of this magazine think that most of the poetry published in America today is too old-fashioned.” The Fifties became a must-read publication for U.S. poetry.

Bly said they got submissions from some of the best known poets of the time, but rejected almost all of them. “Bill [Duffy] was a genius at these rejection slips,” he recalled in 1999. “He’d say things like, ‘Dear Mr. Jones, These poems remind me of false teeth. Yours sincerely, William Duffy.’ Or, ‘Dear Mr. Jones, These poems are a little like lettuce that’s been left too long in the refrigerator.’ And then we’d get insulting letters back and we’d print the letters because they had more excitement and energy in them than the poem.”


The Fifties also published Bly’s own poems. Daughter Mary Bly remembers her father’s lengthy writing process: “You write a poem; you put it in a trunk; you pull it out a year later; you re-write it intensely for two weeks; you put it back in the trunk; pull it out again. You’re bringing months and years of your life to bear on the one idea that turns into 16 lines.”

In the mid-'60s, Bly co-founded American Writers Against the Vietnam War, and some have speculated his activism was the reason he never became a U.S. poet laureate.

Rest in peace, Robert. I think poems must come easy in the afterlife.

I read Iron John partly because the feminists were up in arms about it. I thought it was a very good book, still on my keepers shelf, despite being a bit wordy at times. He had some real insights into things like hazing and male violence which is part of why that book got such a backlash.

Reading the post above, though, reminds me that most poetry anthologies seem to feature male poets. I don’t know if Bly’s journals were among those.