November 3, 2011

Max’s Musings

By Max Molleston

Not long ago, my wife Rhoada suggested to me that my columns here seem to go better if they are less academic and more folksy. Poets have trouble accepting advice from other poets, called criticism, let alone family members who have not spoken out on this matter for seven or eight years running. Robert Bly, a Minnesota farm boy who escaped to the Ivy League post high school, has said repeatedly he did not like the academic approaches when he made the scene in the late 1950s, now 50 plus years in the past. Here is one of his newest poetry efforts.

You and I have spent so many hours working.
We have paid dearly for the life we have.
It’s all right if we do nothing tonight.
We’ve heard the old fiddlers tuning their old fiddles,
And the singer urging the low notes to come.
We’ve heard her trying to keep the dawn from breaking.
There is some slowness in life that’s right for us,
But we love to remember the way the soul leaps
Over and over into the lonely heavens.

The very latest on Robert Bly is his strong friendship with the new world laureate in poetry, Tomas Transtromer, winner of the Nobel Prize this year. Turns out the two are good friends, and most important, Bly has served as translator from the Swedish language into English, for many of Transtromer’s volumes of poetry. In an October 7 issue of the New York Times highlighting the award, Robert Bly “has been named as one of the central people” who introduced Mr. Transtromer to English language readers.

Bly came to the Quad-Cities a few years back through Quad-City Arts sponsorship. Tall stature, a good voice and excellent presentations helped Robert Bly survive the six decades he has involved himself in poetry. The American Poetry Review, a flagship publication, featured an interview with Bly and his wife, Ruth, in the current September/October issue. Bly’s poetry of the late 1950s is characterized as “new imagination” and described by him in the interview: “An imagination, which allows the unconscious to come in with its various ignorances and brilliances.” Bly endorsed emotional poets and pointed up some he admired in south America, particularly Pablo Neruda, claiming Neruda “let the wolf in the door.” Here is another, more recent, poem by Robert Bly.

Keeping Our Small Boat Afloat

So many blessings have been given to us
During the first distribution of light, that we are
Admired in a thousand galaxies for our grief.
Don’t expect us to appreciate creation or to
Avoid mistakes. We are all newcomers.
Each of us is a latecomer To the earth, picking up wood for the fire.
Every night another beam of light slips out From the oyster’s closed
eye. So, don’t give up hope that the door of mercy may still be open.
Seth and Shem, tell me, are you still grieving
Over the spark of light that descended with no Defender near into the
Egypt of Mary’s womb? It’s hard to grasp how much generosity
Is involved in letting us go on breathing,
When we contribute nothing valuable but our grief.
Each of us deserved to be forgiven, if only for
Our persistence in keeping our small boat afloat
When so many have gone down in the storm.

I am glad to be able to work with you on this poet and a couple of his recent poems. They are subdued, yet packed with meaning, if we realize many of his expressions are situations we 50+ers have thought about or had put into action as the years passed. We are entering into a joyous and meaningful season. Can our activity reflect that special feeling and sense? Work on it.