Robert Bly

     Robert Bly was on fire in the early '70s. He was enthused, a word that I once heard him say literally means "God-drenched".
     Bly was the first "real poet" I ever had personal contact with. He came to my the small seminar class I was taking at University of Cincinatti, "Eastern Thought and American Literature."
     How can I describe this "white conglagration" who showed up in a colorful Mexican serape, his hair blindingly white, his voice a nasal Scandinavian, his mind blade-sharp? He spent the next hour and a half burning away cobwebs from our minds.
     I remember a rising crescendo in his voice as, in full nasal imperative, he told us: "And those 'logical positivist' philosophers on the college campuses who say they're value-free. They're not value-free! They're EVIL!!!"
     Then Bly brought out a gray-faced puppet representing an American corporate executive. As the puppet, Bly began singing "Mmmm,mmmm good. Mmmm, mmmm good. That's what Campbell's Soup is, mmmm, mmmm good." Then he repeated the jingle. After the tenth repetition or so, we got the idea of where such mantras of advertising take the mind.
     Bly told us to "Beware of professors of English who don't themselves write!" He pointed to our own teacher, my friend (doctor) Michael Atkinson, as an exception. Michael was an accomplished potter and a meditating Buddhist, and his personality blended masculine and feminine elements in an evolved way.
     Bly helped the class work its way through a Thomas Merton poem I'd asked about, first quoting Merton's answer ("Other monks.") to the question, "What is your biggest obstacle as a monk?"

     As the poet began like a white tornado to make his exit from the room, I stopped him and asked some question that today is consigned to the storage bins of the akashic record. Something about thought and feeling, I think, because I remember he looked at me and replied, "You have a lot of feeling!" That was surprising, because I was in the midst of a depression at the time, and wasn't feeling much feeling.

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     Bly was giving readings in a large lecture hall at the university, that night and the next. I attended that night and sat near the front. About half way through his reading, the poet looked at the audience and passionately barked at us, "You people shouldn't be here listening to me. You should be home writing your own poems!"
     I thought about what he said as he went on to his next poem.A couple minutes later, I made my way from the center of the row I was in to the aisle, quietly exiting to go and follow the bard's advice.

     The next night, accompanied by a couple friends, I arrived at Bly's reading about five minutes after he began. He paused as we came down the center aisle to claim a few vacant seats we saw in the packed room.
     "We're doing Yeats now," he said, looking straight at me.
     And then, to the audience, as I sat down, he commented, "I love that man!"

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    Bly went on a few years later to write the prose book Iron John and to host men's gatherings all over the country. Though I read the book and attended a couple of the men's workshops in California in the mid-80's, I never again connected personally with the poet the way we had on that first meeting.
      He continues to be a man of prodigious consciousness, translating as well as writing poetry, and continuing to write prose books of constructive cultural criticism. He's been one of the popularizers of the Sufi poets Meher Baba loved, Rumi and Hafiz, and has published "The Night Abraham Called To The Stars", a book of English-language poems inspired by the Persian ghazal.

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