page six-week in
Number 8 Page Three Octobe
r 27, 1974
the local fo owers
"Be careful you don't become a whore for
television," Bly said to the Cable 3 technician.
The man's eyebrows angled.
on my way," he said.
"I guess I'm
"Be an honest man. Get a camera and
work at taking pictures," Bly said. "It's a ser-
ious thing to be a whore."
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By MARY LONG
ROBERT BLY - poet, editor,
translator - looks as though
he could be standirg on your front
porch asking to read the gas meter.
Graying hair, gold wire-rimmed
glasses, medium height and weight
and a pinkish bright complexion. A
to-the-knees fringed tunic heavy
with patchwork and embroidery
worn over jeans and a convention-
al blue shirt is the only thing that
sets him apart physically.
That's physically. Let him bellow
two sentences at you with a voice
that explodes like a backed-up fur-
nace. Let him talk, hands slicing
the air like a ballet dancer gone
berserk and the impression is no
longer that of your old math
teacher or a favorite uncle.
In that holy man's white robe,
he will expound with precisely
equal passion on Oriental philoso-
phy, the Krishna movement, the
salvation of Christianity, the an-
cient Judaic writings and the
beauty of Indian thought. Breath-
less insights are gathered from in-
numerable sources and scattered
like bits of jewelry or pretty mosaic
pieces. And good luck in trying to
glue it together into a coherent
BUT WHAT a poet. Bly became
popular with students during
the anti-war years of the sixties.
His readings are always mobbed.
This appearance on campus is no
It's difficult to get anywhere
At this moment, the winner of
the 1968 National Book Award for
poetry is still tending to the crowd
jockeying for position near him. He
is completely patient and totally
attentive and very warm. A man
nearly bent in half with necklaces
explod es: "Hey listen! Just
great! Caught you in Ohio last
month . . .". One student asks ear-
nestly where he can find classes
in Oriental and Indian poetry. A
hesitant and abashed girl, wrapped
to her toes in a kelly green coat
whispers at Bly: "I, oh, I sent you
some poems-oh, months ago. You
wrote back and it made me so hap-
py. God.. .oh, no, no, no, there's no
reason why you should remember
my name . . . it's just, you know,
how you wrote back . .."
W7HEN THE PEOPLE had, for the
" most part, drifted away, Bly
settled into an orange Modern
Language Building Auditorium 3
chair to await an interview on
cable television. Enthusiasts were
still dropping by, most of them
simply to offer congratulations and
Bly acknowledges there is dan-
ger for a poet in all this attention.
"Danger?" he blasts. "It's death-
ly. There is nothing more pro-
foundly destructive to an artist
than mass interest. Good God, look
at how many writers it's ruined.
Look at Mailer - though Mailer's
greedy too and that also worked
to destroy him. It's interesting,
isn't it, that Mailer chose Marilyn
Monroe to write about? - she's
so like him, a feminine soul, but
a mirror image."
THE EYES NARROW and he pon-
ders so thoughtfully it seems
an even guess as to whether he
will ever speak again. Then: "That
poor girl was forced to soak up all
that projection and it's deathly-
it's as murderous as radiation -
and she was killed".
The cable television people were
1 aa n fl fn mrar nA nrAc .nnvA
sponsible for the decline in quality
in American life."
The poet eyed a tall, mustached
student technician who looked like
a riverboat gambler in an old
movie and admonished him, "Be
careful you don't become a whore
Badly startled, the man's eye-
brows angled. For a second, the
eyes flashed. Then he attempted to
cover his anger with a breezy re-
"Well," he said lightly, "I guess
I'm on my way."
The fellow looked as uncomfort-
able as the kid caught lying about
breaking the favorite vase. His feet
shifted and he said, "Well, it's
tangential to what I'm interested
in - taking pictures - and they
pay me for it."
"That's kind of creepy," Bly said
relentlessly. "Be an honest man.
Get a camera and work at taking
"There's no security in that and
I'm supporting myself and . .."
"Then do physical labor while
you're doing photography. I did it
while writing poetry."
"Ummm . . ." the technician
murmured. Wild to end the con-
versation, he was already playing
at being busy with the camera
"It's a serious thing to be a
whore," Bly said, his blue eyes bril-
THE POET TOOK a long swallow
of water and spoke thought-
fully, "You know what Gandhi
says about work? He says that we
have a huge debt of guilt that we
owe to all those who do physical
labor that must be repaid. We must
labor ourselves everyday or else
carry this guilt with us."
The padded flapping of shoes on
the auditorium carpet announced
a middle-aged lady who looked
like a wise little owl complete with
professor-type glasses. "O, Mr.
Bly! she swooned, "you take me
back! I'm from Minnesota too and
when you described the snow .. .
Reminiscence followed for the
woman as well as current Minne-
sota news. Bly lives on an isolated
farm in that state. His student
years were spent at Harvard. He is
dedicated to poetry as a way of
life and has also published a quar-
terly journal for over two decades.
The journal is titled The Seventies
(formerly The Fifties and The Six-
ties) and has introduced new poets
from all over the world. Kenneth
Rexroth heralds Robert Bly as
"one of the leaders of a poetic re-
vival which has returned American
literature to the world commun-
IE CAME BACK from his conver-
sation w i t h a challenge:
"Whatcha want to talk about
Well . . . his work. There was a
real attempt in current poetry to
"xistence. How in God's name can
you get too much of that? Too
much - that's absurd. Americans
are famous for the weakness of
their inner lives. And, most of all,
you can't distinguish between an
inner and outer life. That's like a
professor in a class who, when you
comment favorably on the emotion
found in a poem, will spring up and
say, "Yes, I see. Then you must
hate the intellect!"
LIE DOESN'T FEEL as though the
spiritual aspect of man has
been represented through poetry
at all, except in the best work of
the Orientals. "The unconscious
that is supposedly represented by
current poetry is a false uncon-
scious. The images are not genu-
ine. They're . . ." he groped for a
minute and then his eyes lighted
as the .precise term came to him.
"They're nationally made images.
Like plastic tables. Need an un-
conscious image? Take one from
my store! Most Pop Art Is precise-
ly this. The New York art world
is riddled with it - and our poetry
is too. My own battle with It hasn't
been won by any means. My stuff
is often souped up or I put ito It
a light surrealism, a false uncon-
scious. But some advances are be-
Some advances. Ironic coming
from a man who has been printed
in every maj or publication. Who
edited a volume entitled "40 Poems
Touching On American History", a
volume which is, first and fore-
most, a book of political poems.
The works were compiled by Bly
to affirm his belief that the long-
honored division between political
and personal poetry is an illusion.
Bly asserts that the genuine politi-
cal poem is one which makes clear
the demands of the personal and
outside world with equal assur-
ance and which in its own lan-
guage is capable of entangling the
psychic life of the nation.
flE FINGERS THE fringe on the
Indian poncho as he talks
"The young are frightened" says
the man who was once the leader
of an enormous groun organization
of writers opposed to the war In
Vietnam. "It's a real fear of the
body. The Kent State shootings
had a lot to do with it. A fear of
They placed feeling completely
over thinking. You can't do that-.
Marx didn't do that. He equalized
the two aspects."
THE TV PEOPLE were frantic.
Every eye on a wristwatch.
Biy moved over to do the interview
and then loped back.
He speaks of transforming sex-
ual energy into spiritual energy
and his hands cut the air in en-
thusiasm. "With most writers the
sexual energy remains sitting
there like a lump. With Heming-
way it's a lump, with Plath, with
Mailer, and Anne Sexton. But in
the arts of the Oriental world,
there is this description of an
erotic, estatic love life. Of course,
this is taken back to America
where they'll coo "O! what won-
derful pornography!" But, in the
Krishna cult for example, they're
not Puritans. The suppression isn't
there. Remember what Jung said
about anything that you suppress
-how it will come from behind
you and run you? He was dead
Now he's setting a scene. Very
intense. The hands move out again.
"OH, THOSE religious altars -
you've seen them, of course,
right? And the scene is, you know,
the priest or whomever and the
Father and the Son and the Holy
Ghost and - there's no women
nresent! Ha! They've got to be
"No women! What a joke! The
feminine is the flow, the river val-
ley of the world. It's true in writ-
ing, when you go down to a certain
part of you, there's a flow and then
you no longer know where the
poem is coming from. Light is mas-
culine and nice. Darkness - that's
feminine and great. You like light
and the tops of mountains, sure,
hut you know it's the shadows at
the foot of it that really matter".
And then-a touch on the hand
and he rises to leave. Several fol-
lowers are still about and trail be-
hind him. Someone offers him a
ride to his next appointment.
Leaving, he is still being besieged.
The attention focuses directly and
purely on each person who ap-
proaches. This is all very import-
ant to him. A man comes near him
and Bly reaches out his hand and
says, "Well hello! I was just think-
ing about you yesterday .. ." and