Poetry Out Loud MN finals 27

Robert Bly in 2009. Photo by Nic McPhee. Licensed under Creative Commons, courtesy Flickr.

Robert Bly (born December 23, 1926) is an American poet, prose author, and activist, and a leader of the Mythopoetic Men's Movement.


Youth and educationEdit

Bly was born in Lac qui Parle County, Minnesota, to Jacob and Alice Bly, people of Norwegian ancestry.[1] Following graduation from high school in 1944, he enlisted in the United States Navy, serving 2 years.

After a year at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, he transferred to Harvard University, joining the later famous group of writers who were undergraduates at that time, including Donald Hall, Adrienne Rich, Kenneth Koch, Frank O'Hara, John Ashbery, Harold Brodkey, George Plimpton and John Hawkes.

Career Edit

Bly graduated in 1950 and spent the next few years in New York. Beginning in 1954, he took 2 years at the University of Iowa at the Iowa Writers Workshop along with W.D. Snodgrass, Donald Justice, and others. In 1956, he received a Fulbright Grant to travel to Norway and translate Norwegian poetry into English. While there, he not only found his relatives, but became acquainted with the work of a number of major poets whose work was barely known in the United States, among them Pablo Neruda, Cesar Vallejo, Antonio Machado, Gunnar Ekelof, Georg Trakl, Rumi, Hafez, Kabir, Mirabai, and Harry Martinson. Bly determined then to start a literary magazine for poetry translation in the United States. The Fifties, The Sixties, and The Seventies, introduced many of these poets to the writers of his generation. He also published essays on American poets.

During this time, Bly lived on a farm in Minnesota, with his wife and children. His 1st marriage was to award-winning short story novelist Carol Bly. They had four children, including Mary Bly, a Literature Professor at Fordham University and also a best-selling novelist. Bly and Carol divorced in 1979; Bly has been married to the former Ruth Ray since 1980.[1] and he has a stepdaughter this marriage. A stepson from the marriage died in a pedestrian-train incident while he attended private college in Minnesota.

Bly's early collection of poems, Silence in the Snowy Fields, was published in 1962, and its plain, imagistic style had considerable influence on American verse of the next 2 decades.[2]

The following year, he published "A Wrong Turning in American Poetry", an essay in which he argued that the vast majority of American poetry from 1917 to 1963 was lacking in soul and "inwardness" as a result of a focus on impersonality and an objectifying, intellectual view of the world that Bly believed was instigated by the Modernists and formed the aesthetic of most post-World War II American poetry. He criticized the influence of American-born Modernists like Eliot, Pound, Marianne Moore, and William Carlos Williams and argued that American poetry needed to model itself on the more inward-looking work of European and South American poets like Pablo Neruda, César Vallejo, Juan Ramón Jiménez, Antonio Machado, and Rainer Maria Rilke.

In 1966, Bly co-founded American Writers Against the Vietnam War, and went on to lead much of the opposition to that war among writers. In 1968, he signed the "Writers and Editors War Tax Protest" pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the war.[3] When he won the National Book Award for The Light Around the Body, he contributed the prize money to the Resistance. During the 1970s, he published 11 books of poetry, essays, and translations, celebrating the power of myth, Indian ecstatic poetry, meditation, and storytelling. During the 1980s he published Loving a Woman in Two Worlds, The Wingéd Life: Selected Poems and Prose of Thoreau, The Man in the Black Coat Turns, and A Little Book on the Human Shadow.During the sixties he was of great help to the Bengali Hungryalist poets who faced anti-establishment trial at Kolkata, India.

He has published more than 40 collections of poetry, edited many others, and published translations of poetry and prose from such languages as Swedish, Norwegian, German, Spanish, Persian and Urdu. His book The Night Abraham Called to the Stars was nominated for a Minnesota Book Award. He also edited the prestigious Best American Poetry 1999 (Scribners).

Among his most famous works is Iron John: A Book About Men, an international bestseller which has been translated into many languages. The book is credited with starting the Mythopoetic men's movement in the United States. Bly frequently conducts workshops for men with James Hillman, Michael J. Meade, and others, as well as workshops for men and women with Marion Woodman. He has taught at the annual Great Mother Conference since 1975. He maintains a friendly correspondence with Clarissa Pinkola Estes, author of Women Who Run With the Wolves.(Citation needed)

Thought and the Men's MovementEdit

Much of Bly's writings focus on what he saw as the troubled situation of men in today's world as a result of, among other things, the decline of the father's role in the modern family. He claimed that whereas women are helped by their own bodies along the stages of maturity, men are somewhat of an "experimental species" and have to be taught on what it is to be a man. Older cultures had elaborate myths, enacted through rites of passage, that helped men along this path as well as the concept of a "men's societie" as a place where older men would teach young boys on these gender specific issues. He argues that these rituals are as important to humans as instincts are to animals and as fathers became increasingly absent from the house during and after the industrial revolution, young males did not receive the teachings that they used to.[4][5] According to Bly, many of the phenomena of depression, juvenile delinquency and lack of leadership in business and politics have their roots in these problems.

Bly therefore sees today's men as half adults, trapped somewhere between childhood and maturity, a state in which they find it hard to become responsible leaders, carers and fathers, which in turn leads to the passing down of that immaturity through the generations. In his book The Sibling Society (1997), Bly argues that a society formed mainly by half adults is extremely problematic as it lacks in leadership, daring initiative, creativity and a deep care about others. The image of weak men, he argues, is further enhanced by popular media and Hollywood films which often present fathers as overweight and emotionally co-dependent. Women, according to Bly, rushed to fill the gap during the 1960s,[6] infusing men with an enhanced emotional sensitivity which in itself was good to the extent that it helped men to better understand women and start feeling their age old pain of repression, but also led to the creation of 'soft males' which lacked the outwardly directed strength to revitalize the community with assertiveness and a certain warrior strength.

In Bly's view, one solution lies in the rediscovery of the meanings hidden in traditional mythology that have hopefully been passed down to us but are in danger of being forgotten. He researched and collected myths he considered to focus on male maturity and published them in various books, Iron John being the most notable example, many, coming from the Grimm's fairytales.[7] Descent is a common theme arising in these myths, variously presented as the hero going underground to pass a period of solitude in a somewhat bestial mode. He often used the Greek term for 'descent' (κατάβασης) to describe the maturing process for men, in contrast with the continuous achievements they have been taught to pursue by today's culture.

Bly was also strongly influenced by the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung who developed the theory of the eternal images that exist within the Psyche which he called archetypes. The image of the powerful king, the evil witch and the beautiful maiden are, according to Jung, structures of the collective unconscious, and Robert Bly wrote extensively about their meanings. For example, Bly considered The Witch to be that part of the male psyche upon which the negative, destructive side of women is imprinted (first presented to him in the form of his own mother's imperfections) and not as yet realized in the Self. This is why the witch's symbols are inverted motherly symbols, as cooking becomes the brewing of evil potions and the act of feeding is reversed, to the demise of the child that is now in danger of being eaten rather than fed. Many fairytales describe this battle in physical terms with the hero saving the girl by killing a witch, as in the Grimm's story "The Drummer". These concepts are recounted in Bly's talk The Human Shadow (1989) and the book it was presenting.[8]


Bly was the University of Minnesota Library's 2002 Distinguished Writer. He received The McKnight Foundation's Distinguished Artist Award in 2000, and the Maurice English Poetry Award in 2002.

In 2006 the University of Minnesota (UM) purchased Bly's archive, which contained more than 80,000 pages of handwritten manuscripts; a journal spanning nearly 50 years; notebooks of his "morning poems"; drafts of translations; hundreds of audio and videotapes, and correspondence with many writers such as James Wright, Donald Hall and James Dickey. The archive is housed at Elmer L. Andersen Library on the UM campus. The university paid $775,000 from school funds and private donors.

In February, 2008, Bly was named Minnesota's first poet laureate.[9]



  • The Lion’s Tail and Eyes: Poems written out of laziness and silence (with William Duffy & James Wright). Madison, WI: Sixties Press, 1962.
  • Silence in the Snowy Fields. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1962.
  • The Light around the Body. New York: Harper, 1967.
  • Chrysanthemums. Menomonie, WI: Ox Head Press, 1967.
  • Ducks. Menomonie, WI: Ox Head Press, 1968.
  • The Morning Glory: Another thing that will never be my friend (twelve prose poems). San Franciso, CA: Kayak Books, 1969; revised edition, 1970
    • complete edition, New York: Harper, 1975.
  • The Teeth Mother Naked at Last. San Francisco, CA: City Lights, 1971.
  • Poems for Tennessee (With William E. Stafford & William Matthews). Martin, TN: Tennessee Poetry Press, 1971.
  • Christmas Eve Service at Midnight at St. Michael’s. Rushden, Northamptonshire, UK: Sceptre Press, 1972.
  • Water under the Earth. Rushden, Northamptonshire, UK: Sceptre Press, 1972.
  • The Dead Seal Near McClure’s Beach. Rushden, Northamptonshire, UK: Sceptre Press, 1973.
  • Sleepers Joining Hands. New York: Harper, 1973.
  • Jumping Out of Bed. Barre, MA: Barre, 1973.
  • The Hockey Poem. Knife River Press, 1974.
  • Point Reyes Poems. Mudra, 1974; Point Reyes Station, CA: Floating Island, 1989.
  • Old Man Rubbing His Eyes. Greensboro, NC: Unicorn Press, 1975.
  • The Loon. Marshall, MN: Ox Head Press, 1977.
  • This Body Is Made of Camphor and Gopherwood (prose poems). New York: Harper, 1977.
  • Visiting Emily Dickinson’s Grave and Other Poems. Madison, WI: Red Ozier Press, 1979.
  • This Tree Will Be Here for a Thousand Years. New York; Harper, 1979.
  • The Man in the Black Coat Turns. New York: Doubleday, 1981.
  • Finding an Old Ant Mansion. Knotting, Bedford, UK: Martin Booth, 1981.
  • Four Ramages. Barnwood Press, 1983.
  • The Whole Moisty Night. Madison, WI: Red Ozier Press, 1983.
  • Out of the Rolling Ocean. New York: Dial Press, 1984.
  • Mirabai Versions. Madison, WI: Red Ozier Press, 1984.
  • In the Month of May. Madison, WI: Red Ozier Press, 1985.
  • A Love of Minute Particulars. Rushden, Northamptonshire, UK: Sceptre Press, 1985.
  • Selected Poems. New York: Harper, 1986.
  • Loving a Woman in Two Worlds. New York: Perennial / Harper, 1987.
  • The Moon on a Fencepost. Unicorn Press, 1988.
  • The Apple Found in the Plowing. Haw River Books, 1989.
  • Angels of Pompeii. New York: Ballantine, 1991.
  • What Have I Ever Lost by Dying?: Collected Prose Poems. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.
  • Gratitude to Old Teachers. Brockport, NY: BOA Editions, 1993.
  • Meditations on the Insatiable Soul: Poems. New York: HarperPerennial, 1994.
  • Morning Poems. New York: HarperCollins, 1997.
  • Holes the Crickets Have Eaten in Blankets: A Sequence of Poems (BOA Pamphlets, No 9). Rochester, NY: BOA Editions, 1997.
  • Snowbanks North of the House. New York: HarperCollins, 1999.
  • Eating the Honey of Words: New and selected poems. New York: HarperCollins, 1999.
  • The Night Abraham Called to the Stars. New York: HarperCollins, 2001.
  • My Sentence was a Thousand Years of Joy. New York: HarperCollins, 2005.
  • The Urge to Travel Long Distances. Spokane, WA: Eastern Washington University Press, 2005.
  • Turkish Pears in August: Twenty-four ramages. Spokane, WA: Eastern Washington University Press, 2007.


  • Talking All Morning: Collected conversations and interviews. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1980.
  • The Eight Stages of Translation. Boston: Rowan Tree, 1983.
  • The Pillow and the Key: Commentary on the fairy tale “Iron John”. St. Paul, MN: Ally Press, 1987.
  • A Little Book on the Human Shadow (edited by William Booth). New York: Harper, 1988.
  • American Poetry: Wildness and domesticity. New York: Harper, 1990.
  • Iron John: A book about men. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1990.
  • Remembering James Wright. St. Paul, MN: Ally Press, 1991.
  • Between Two Worlds (With Jacob Boehme, music by John Harbison). New York: G. Schirmer, 1991.
  • The Spirit Boy and the Insatiable Soul. New York: HarperCollins, 1994.
  • The Sibling Society. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1996.
  • The Maiden King: The reunion of masculine and feminine (with Marion Woodman). Holt, 1998.


  • The Sea and the Honeycomb. Madison, WI: Sixties Press, 1966.
  • A Poetry Reading against the Vietnam War (compiler, with David Ray). Madison, WI: Sixties Press, 1966.
  • Forty Poems Touching Upon Recent History. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1970.
  • News of the Universe: Poems of twofold consciousness. San Francisco, CA: Sierra Books, 1980.
  • Ten Love Poems. St. Paul, MN: Ally Press, 1981.
  • The Fifties and the Sixties (with William Duffy). (10 volumes), Hobart / William Smith, 1982.
  • The Winged Life: The poetic voice of Henry David Thoreau. Covelo, CA: Yolla Bolly Press, 1986.
  • The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart: Poems for men (With James Hillman and Michael Meade). New York: HarperCollins, 1992.
  • Leaping Poetry. Boston: Beacon Press, 1975.
  • David Ignatow, Selected poems. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1975.
  • Selected from Twentieth-century American Poetry: An anthology. New Readers Press, 1991.
  • William Stafford, The Darkness around Us Is Deep: Selected poems. New York: HarperPerennial, 1993.
  • Men Healing Shame: An anthology (with Roy U. Schenk, John Everingham, and Gershen Kaufman). New York: Springer Publishing, 1995.
  • The Soul Is Here for Its Own Joy: Sacred poems from many cultures. Hopewell, NJ: Ecco Press, 1995.
  • The Best American Poetry 1999. New York: Scribner, 1999.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy the Poetry Foundation.[10]

Audio / videoEdit

Robert Bly

Robert Bly

A Fine Crop of Ruin Poetry Reading by Robert Bly

A Fine Crop of Ruin Poetry Reading by Robert Bly

Robert Bly Poetry Does the Lark Need Forgiveness For Its Blue Eggs? (1997)

Robert Bly Poetry Does the Lark Need Forgiveness For Its Blue Eggs? (1997)

Robert Bly Poetry Reading The Untempered Soul (2007)

Robert Bly Poetry Reading The Untempered Soul (2007)

  • The Poetry of Robert Bly (cassette). New York: Jeffrey Norton, 1966.
  • For the Stomach: Selected poems, 1974 (cassette). Watershed Intermedia, 1975.
  • Robert Bly (cassette). Deland, FL: Everett / Edwards, 1976.
  • Poetry Reading: An ancient tradition (cassette). Big Sur, CA: Dolphin, 1986.
  • Into the Deep: Male mysteries (cassette). San Francisco: New Dimensions Foundation, 1986.
  • Magic Words (cassette). San Francisco: New Dimensions Foundation, 1987.
  • A Home in Dark Grass: Poems and meditations on solitudes, families, disciplines (cassette). St. Paul, MN: Ally Press Audio, 1987.
  • Men and the Wound: The Iron John story, parts 1 and 2 (cassette). St. Paul, MN: Ally Press Audio, 1989.
  • Men and the Wild Child (cassette). Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 1990.
  • Iron John: A book about men (cassette). New York: Random House, 1991.
  • The Masculine Road: The red, white, and black (cassette). San Francisco: New Dimensions Foundation, 1992.
  • Facing the Shadow in Men and Women (cassette; with Marion Woodman). Pacific Grove, CA: Oral Tradition Archives, 1993.
  • The Sibling Society (casette). New York: Random House, 1996.
  • The Human Shadow / What stories do we need? (DVD). Grand Haven, MI : Brilliance Audio, 2009.

Except where noted, discographical information courtesy WorldCat.[11]

See alsoEdit


  1. 1.0 1.1 Johnsen, Bill (June 2004). "The Natural World is a Spiritual House" (PDF). Colloquium on Violence and Religion Annual Conference 2004. Girardian Reflections on the Lectionary. Retrieved 2007-04-30. 
  2. Gioia, Mason, and Schoerke, editors. Twentieth-Century American Poetics, p. 260.
  3. "Writers and Editors War Tax Protest" January 30, 1968 New York Post
  4. Bly, Robert. (1990) Iron John: A book about men p.97 Publisher: Da Capo Press.
  5. "A Gathering of Men with Robert Bly" Accessed: 13 Jan 2011
  6. Bly, Robert. Iron John: A book about men p.17
  7. New Dimensions Media. Accessed: 18 Jan 2011
  8. Bly, Robert. (1989) The Human Shadow [audiobook]. Publisher: Better Listen (remastered 2009)
  9. "A Poet Laureate for Minnesota". The New York Times. 2008-03-01. Retrieved 2008-03-02. 
  10. Robert Bly b. 1926, Poetry Foundation, Web, Aug. 10, 2012.
  11. Search results = au:Robert Bly + audiobook, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Sep. 17, 2016.

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