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.
* * * *
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
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!"
* * * *
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.
"What Remains Is the
Essence", the home pages of Max Reif
Baba, children's stories,
"The Hall of
Famous Jokes", whimsical
prose, paintings, and
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