A PROFILE OF THE POET, TRANSLATOR, ACTIVIST, VISIONARY ROBERT BLY.
“It’s all right if you grow your wings on the way down.”
― Robert Bly, My Sentence Was a Thousand Years of Joy: Poems
I shook hands with Robert Bly this evening.
A friend of mine was asked to be the photographer at a private screening of the new film about Bly’s life, “A Thousand Years of Joy”, and this friend was kind of enough to ask me to tag along as his assistant, as he knew I would enjoy attending.
The screening was at a small, private theater that maybe sat 50-75 people. It was a full house of Minnesota literary notables and Bly’s friends. My friend and I watched the film from the sound booth after we were bumped from our standing room only space by none other than Garrison Keillor of Prairie Home Companion fame. Literally bumped from that space, as Garrison bumped shoulders with me when he entered the darkened theater.
Robert Bly and his part in the “Mens’ Movement” had a significant impact upon me when I was going through an internal restructuring after my divorce, and primed me for the incorporation of ritual into my life as I began my spiritual journey. Which ultimately led to the untold number of rituals I have created and facilitated for others. Which has been perhaps the most rewarding endeavor of my entire life. So I have a big space in my heart for Mr. Bly.
The film is so wonderful. I highly recommend it. If you’re a fan of Robert Bly as a poet or as a cultural gadfly, you’ll want to make an effort to search it out. It’s charming and challenging; as always, Bly inspires one to reflect. Though I’ve read a number of his books and poems, I learned much about his life and was unaware of his larger national stature and the influence that he had upon poetry in America.
He is now 88 years old, a bit frail, though still with a fiery but kindly glint in his eye. And it was a real treat to watch him and Garrison Keillor engage in a bit good-natured bantering. As I watched him, thinking about how much he had done and accomplished in his life, there was a moment that I thought I might ask him, “Is there anything left undone?” But then a quote from Eckhart Tolle came to me, that at a certain age, “‘being’ becomes more important than ‘doing'”. I trust that he is enjoying this being phase, after such a rich life of doing.
Obviously, he was the center of attention throughout the evening and I didn’t want to impose when he had so many others to talk to. Though as we were photographing him, he kept looking at me with this inquisitive look.
Then, at the very end of the evening, when he was ensconced in his vehicle with family chatting just outside his open car door, I asked his wife if I might shake his hand. She said of course, and asked me my name. She then introduced me to him.
As we shook hands, he gave me that penetrating look again, and asked, “And just who are you?”
To which I replied, “I’m just another guy.”