Five years ago John Hinderaker made a powerful case that Minnesota poet Robert Bly had just dashed off the worst poem ever written on commission from the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Once upon a time, Bly was a respectable poet. Politics — specifically the Vietnam war — seem to have driven him nuts by 1967, at least insofar as his aesthetic judgment is concerned.
That year Bly published The Light Around the Body, his second book of poetry. The book is full of dated antiwar polemics that sealed his reputation among the literary elite; the book was crowned with the 1968 National Book Award for Poetry. The recognition provided encouragement that has permanently derailed Bly’s sensibility. Below is a photograph of Bly at an antiwar poetry reading in 1970.
The descent in Bly’s poetry from 1967 has been continuous and steep — thus the drivel that Bly produced for the Star Tribune in 2003. As someone said of Colley Cibber, the notorious British poet laureate and hero of Pope’s Dunciad, his importance as a poet is nil. It therefore comes as something of a surprise, and not a particularly pleasant one, to learn that Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty has just named Bly Minnesota’s first poet laureate.
The pickings in Minnesota are slim. The state hasn’t hasn’t been able to claim a great poet since Richard Eberhart transferred from the University of Minnesota to Dartmouth in 1921, or since John Berryman jumped to his death at the University of Minnesota in 1972. But Robert Bly! Good grief.
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“Arise and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.” Winston Churchill
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