February 14, 2013
Robert Bly’s “distinguished lifetime achievement”
by Aly Vander Hayden
On Tuesday, the nation’s oldest poetry organization, The Poetry Society of America, awarded the annual Robert Frost Medal for a “distinguished lifetime achievement in poetry” to Robert Bly. Though the Frost medal has been awarded since 1930 (beginning with Jessie Rittenhouse), it did not become an annual award presented to a living poet until 1984. Previous winners of this organization’s highest honor include Allen Ginsberg, Denise Levertov, John Ashbery, Barbara Guest, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
After graduating from Harvard, where Bly joined Kenneth Koch, Frank O’Hara, and John Ashbery, he attended the Masters program at the Iowa Writers Workshop. After an early association with the New York School, Bly became most notable for his aid in the exposure of European and Latin American poetry to North American readers while he was the editor of the magazine The Fifties (later The Sixties, The Seventies, and into the 21st century). Amongst other essays, he published “A Wrong Turning in American Poetry” (1963) in which he argued against the American poetic influences of T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Marianne Moore, and William Carlos Williams, favoring the inner-spiritualism writings of Pablo Neruda, César Vallejo, Juan Ramón Jiménez, Antonio Machado, and Rainer Maria Rilke.
Bly has published over 30 books of poetry, including Talking Into the Ear of a Donkey (2011) and The Night Abraham Called to the Stars (2001). He won the National Book Award for his collection The Light Around the Body (1967). As an activist, Bly co-founded American Writers Against the Vietnam War in the 1960s and is accredited as the leader of the Mythopoetic men’s movement, a 1980s reaction to second-wave feminism. He published his international best seller, Iron John: A Book About Men, in 1990. This April, Graywolf Press will publish Airmail, a series of letters between Bly and the Nobel Prize winning poet Tomas Tranströmer.
Wouldn’t it be nice if the CIA were still funding poetry like at the beginning of Bly’s prolific career?
Aly Vander Hayden is a Melville House intern.