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.

I didn’t realize he’d died. I wish I understood Iron John because it’s intriguing, but apparently I’m not well-read enough.

Sometimes reading a bunch of reviews can help you understand a book.

Thanks for the link. I suspect it’s like surgeons talking shop and I stop in to eavesdrop…but I’ll take a look. I’m just not that well-read.

I never got that what he wrote was anti-women; rather, it was pro-men.

That statement proves you know more about the book than most people.

Reviews are just opinions written by ordinary people, not “shoptalk” by intellectuals. Especially on Goodreads-- those are just regular folks. Ditto amazon reviews.

Sometimes when I don’t feel like reading my book club book, I’ll read all the reviews I can find. I won’t lie to the club and say I’ve read it, but at least I can follow the discussion.

I love the notion of the book…we can rediscover the role of males in the world, or something like that. Certain moments resonated with me but others were lost, like losing a radio station when you got too far away. I wish I could explain it better.

I despise Iron John and the whole dumb mythopoetic movement it partly spawned, but I really liked some of Bly’s other poetry - the anti-war stuff, especially, but a lot of his earlier work in general.