Robert Bly interviewed by Roar Bjonnes
Robert Bly is used to moving to a drummer with a different beat. Armed with the humble weapons of poetry, he attacked the ferocious war machinery of the Vietnam War era. He pointed out how war has not only a political or economic origin, but also a psychic one.
In later years, Bly’s writing has been more focused on our interior, psychological landscape: grief, men’s issues, father and son relationships, the search for the deep masculine, male and female love, even poems to and about his alcoholic father. (Once, prior to reciting a poem about his father, he said: “He was searching for Spirit, but unfortunately he chose the wrong one.”)
Bly’s poems also speak about the interplay of human and natural energies. He describes a different reality-the mystical relation between different beings, human and non-human, animate and inanimate, the melancholic consciousness in tools or trees, or the spiritual longing of solitary humans. In most of his writing on nature, Bly details the outside fabric of things in order to enter a space where outside and inside merge. In this “holy place” the human psyche can enter without disturbance.
In his popular men’s groups, Bly endeavors to connect the spiritual warrior within with the King (mentor) without. This, he claims, allows men to move more gracefully toward healing the wounds caused by lack of contact and communication with their own father. In this work, the scholar and writer merge with the adventurous healer and shaman. As an artist, Bly attempts to recreate the function of the poet as the seer or the bard, speaking from within the deep conscience of society’s collective soul.
Robert Bly has published more than ten books of poetry and many translations of major European and South American poets. In the United States, he has emerged as one of the most distinguished and popular contemporary poets, and as a translator and critic, his prowess is indisputable.
What can we find in the language of poetry that fiction or non-fiction can’t give us?
Robert Bly: You know, language can come from the superficial upper layers of the brain or it can come from some place further down. It is known that our ancestors often spoke in images, such as fairy tales, rather than in abstract words. Today we are being poisoned by newspaper and Time magazine language which does not rise from any deep place in the brain. Sometimes we call this deeper place in the brain, soul. Poetry then, when it uses images that are genuine, comes out of the soul and speaks to the soul. It feeds and nourishes those who long for that kind of nourishment, or are aware that they need it. Poetry is extremely important to those people. Rainer Marie Rilke fed people in Europe in the twenties and thirties. No one can overestimate how important such food is to thousands and thousands of people. Contemporary poetry, particularly in Russia, Spain and the two American continents offer some soul.
Is that also what you are trying to achieve with your own poetry?
Robert Bly: Well, yes. I would say that eighteenth century poets loved to be at the interface with ethics, and the nineteenth century poets loved to interface with nature. But psychology has made tremendous advances in this century, and what interests me is poetry that interfaces with psychology. This kind of poetry is not for the elite and not for fundamentalist, ethical thinkers. It’s for people who want to work with their own inner child and the wounded person inside. My own poetry in the last ten years or so comes out of the wounded part of myself.
Your poem “The Teeth Mother Naked at Last” is probably the most powerful poem I’ve ever read about the Vietnam war. In an essay about political poetry you said that the political poem should be “personalized,” in order not to become a mere slogan or piece of propaganda writing. What do you mean by personalized political poetry?
Robert Bly: You may remember that some protesters during the Vietnam war used to say America is spelled with a “k.” What were they referring to? Ku Klux Klan maybe? Amerika. These kind of insults come from the upper part of the brain, the journalistic part. But I sense one has to contact some power in the center of the brain before the political poem can really become poetry. There is a well known figure in matriarchal mythology called the “Teeth Mother” who is apparently the opposite of the “Good Mother.” If one thinks the war was not being conducted by Johnson and Rusk but by the Death Mother and the Teeth Mother, then one is thrown into some other part of oneself. This part is mysterious and terrifying. America, by its emphasis on consumption and shallow living, opens itself to the Teeth Mother.
Can you speak about the difference between this wounded part and what Jung called the “shadow”?
Robert Bly: The best way to grasp the shadow idea is to go back to the root of its image. When you face the light, something dark follows you. It has the same shape as you, but it is dark. It is long at dawn, but almost unnoticeable at noon. As the afternoon goes on it gets longer and longer. Around 5 p.m., it is really long. At that time there might be a lot of irritability and anger in you. This is the time when people have cocktails, you know. [Laughing] Then after dark it becomes still longer. And at midnight you become your shadow. It is possible the shadow is the one that creates the dream for you. The shadow is the part we keep behind us in the effort to be civilized, respectable, nice, polite, etc. Every person puts a different “darkness” behind him or her depending on the culture and the family. In some families, sexuality goes behind and is never spoken of. In other families, humor goes behind them, including all trickster outrageousness. And in yet other families, spiritual life goes behind and is never mentioned.
I wrote a book called A little Book on the Human Shadow and there I used the image of a bag. We drag a long bag behind us and put all the things our parents do not approve of into this bag. The bags of teenagers are getting very long these days. This is because they no longer model themselves on their parents, but instead model themselves on their peers. Often times everything except rage is put into the bag. There are a lot of surly teenagers these days because they put their gentleness into their bags. Art is an attempt to go into the bag and bring something back. The more you can bring back the more energy you have.Roar Bjonnes is a poet and freelance writer. He lives in Ashland, Oregon.Original article here:
Magical Blend #48 – THE MAGIC OF THE MUSE (archive.org)