A Conversation With American Poet Robert Bly

A Conversation with American poet Robert Bly, author, activist and leader of the mythopoetic men's movement.

| November/December 1988

  • Robert Bly poet
    He doesn't have a job in the ordinary sense; instead, he writes for a living, by hand, usually in a small, minimally furnished lakeside log cabin.

  • Robert Bly poet

Open Road starts a conversation with American Poet Robert Bly about his life and artistic endeavours.

A Conversation With American Poet Robert Bly

THOUGH HE'S A FORMER FARMER and lives 30 miles south of Duluth in a small, flat town where the action revolves around the farm implement dealership, the sheriff's office and Art's Cafe, there is little that is outwardly rural about poet Robert Bly. He wears dress shirts and good pants most of the time now. Even so, his hands bear old earthen creases, telling you they once found their calling close to the soil.

And though he was a fierce antiwar activist in the Vietnam era and is now a well-traveled champion, not so much of men's rights as of their psyches, there is little that is overtly political or worldly about him either. He doesn't have a job in the ordinary sense; instead, he writes for a living, by hand, usually in a small, minimally furnished lakeside log cabin. "Innerworldly" may describe him better, for Bly is quintessentially a mythologist, a dweller among the large themes and deep currents that run through the rituals, dreams and languages of all of Earth's cultures. The real human world, he will tell you, is driven by myths and stories, expressions of an underlying, universal life force. Getting close to that force and embracing it is the ultimate trick.

Also, though raised Lutheran on a Minnesota farm in a Norwegian household probably not far from Lake Wobegon, there is little that is shy or inhibited about him. He cusses unabashedly. But that language is a facet of his relaxed, talking self. His poems and prose don't resort to such colloquial syncopation. Moreover, it is another kind of music—or rather its absence—that haunts him these days, as I discovered not long ago. We were talking about men, women, environment, the concept of "Mother Earth" and the threads that weave among them, when he abruptly veered into music. It was an unexpected and strangely poignant change of direction.

"I suspect that the reason a bona fide men's movement' has lately emerged in our society," he was saying, "is that many men feel isolated—bereft and uncertain about their emotions and roles. Judging by the men who attend the workshops I help conduct on male identity, many males have come to recognize that they gave something away in early childhood—some vital element of self, a loss they are now grieving over and in some cases trying to recover. But I also think that many men gave away their connection to the earth. They are mourning that, too."

"Maybe men are starting to get their act together because of the women's movement," I ventured.

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