Friday, July 29, 2011

Robert Bly: One Leg in the Bog

The new Robert Bly book is nothing short of exceptional.  Regular readers of this blog know I've had my issues with him over the years - it is hot and cold, no tepid Robert Bly for me.  What I love by him I love and Talking Into the Ear of a Donkey has some of his finest work.  Try this on for size:

Wanting Sumptuous Heavens 
  No one grumbles among the oyster clans,
  And lobsters play their bone guitars all summer.
  Only we, with our opposable thumbs, want
  Heaven to be, and God to come, again.
  There is no end to our grumbling; we want
  Comfortable earth and sumptuous heaven.
  But the heron standing on one leg in the bog
  Drinks his dark rum all day, and is content.

                                              Robert Bly

The work here has a certain rhythm that seems to be influenced by the ghazal form he has been working in more and more in recent years. This time out the poetry seems less restricted in both subject and execution.

I hope to dip into this volume again for a future post, possibly as soon as next Friday.   For now, with other obligations pressing this coming week, I'll keep it brief and leave it here.


This week's feature is a pair of poems by two like minded poets: John Martone and Dennis Maloney.  They shared the same page of Lilliput Review, #167 back in March 2009.   Here is a joyful reprise.  Enjoy.




   John Martone

If you're kin to the pine
You'll love long,
Glisten in the rain,
Be lively in autumn,
And beautiful in snow.

             Dennis Maloney

the scrawny pine, too
looks extravagant...
summer moon
translated by David G. Lanoue


Send a single haiku for the Wednesday Haiku feature.  Here's how.

Go to the LitRock web site for a list of all 112 songs


Jim H. said...

The D. Maloney poem is about my wife. Our 2nd date, those many years ago, was cross-country skiing in a pine forest. She glistened in the snow. Still does.


Jim H. said...

the heron's stillness could be resignation not contentment

Issa's Untidy Hut said...


Well that is quite special ... as is this collection.

I don't write longer poems often, and by longer I means more than 2 or 3 lines, but something about the rhythm here was infectious and I found myself jotting down poem after poem. I can't figure it but there you go.

You'll have to take up the contentment thing with Mr B. - perhaps the it should simply end with "is."


Poet Hound said...

Great post as always. Robert Bly has always been "hit or miss" for me, too. I really love this poem you featured, especially since I see herons often in the swamps around my home.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Thanks, Paula. Well, predictably I guess, the responses have been mixed!

I get as much email response to posts as comments, so it's running 50/50.


Lyle Daggett said...

I also like Talking into the Ear of a Donkey -- I like it the best of his books of recent years.

(There's another fairly recent one of his that I also like a lot, The Urge to Travel Long Distances, a collection of about twenty poems written back around the time of the poems in Silence in the Snowy Fields.)

The poems in Talking into the Ear of a Donkey feel to me more grounded than the work in most of his books of the past twenty years or so. "And lobsters play their bone guitars all summer." It's been a while since I've read a line like that one in one of Bly's poems.

Here in Minneapolis, where I've lived most of my life, and in Minnesota generally, Bly's presence has been pervasive in the poetry world. (Similar to that of Gary Snyder or Theodore Roethke in the Pacific Northwest, for instance.) For the most part I've felt this as a good influence, though (as can happen) there can be people who become career camp followers, and the "influence" starts to stagnate...

This past May I heard Bly read here, just after Talking into the Ear of a Donkey came out -- it was in the main room of a local Congregational church (the church has been hosting poetry readings and lectures for some time now), and it was a good-sized audience, a few hundred people I'd say though I'm bad at gauging that kind of thing.

Bly read from the new book, as well as various of his translations or "versions" of Kabir, Mirabai, Rilke, etc., and a few poems from one or two other books. He was accompanied by two musicians, one playing a sitar or some similar instrument, the other playing hand drums and other percussions. The kind of reading he's been doing for years now. He sat down for this reading, rather than standing -- he came in walking using a cane, and I'd guess didn't feel up to standing through the reading.

I liked the reading, and the reading and the book have stayed with me, enough that I eventually wrote a longish poem about the reading. It was a clear bright spring evening, for the first half of the reading the light came through the large stained glass windows on one side of the room. It occurred to me, looking at the windows, how much the stained glass images reminded me of the scenes depicted in a tarot deck -- the religious images with their formal figures, geometric placement, and ritualized gestures, suggesting much beneath the surface.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Lyle: Been out of the office most of the week. Just wanted to write a quick note to say how much I appreciated your extended response. Some other folks who replied via email rather than comments also feel the same way about this latest Bly and it is heartening. I've seen him read and he was accompanied by the Paul Winter Consort and it was really a special evening. Of course, I've also seen recorded readings in similar circumstances.

I'd love to read your poem about the reading if you'd like to send it along via email (lilliput review AT gmail DOT com). If not, I understand but really appreciated again your sharing of the reading from "Talking in the Ear of a Donkey."

best, Don

Lyle Daggett said...

Don -- thanks for your comment, which I just picked up this evening.

Since you indicated interest, I've e-mailed you the poem I wrote about the Bly reading.

Hope you enjoy. Thanks.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Lyle, just back from a week in Seattle - haiku conference - will check this one soon. Thanks very much for sending it.