I'm happy to announce that my review of Joseph A. Amato's Buoyancies: A Ballast Master's Log (Crossings & Spoon River Poetry Press, 2014) appears in the latest print edition of The Rain Taxi Review of Books. Don't worry: My article's short. (Plus, if you get bored of my writing, you can literally turn the page and read an interview with Beat poet Diane di Prima).
While going through the Robert Bly Papers at the University of Minnesota, I came across two letters I wanted to share. In the past I've posted pieces from young writers like Oscar Wilde, Aldous Huxley, and Hunter S. Thompson, but the following come from two of the state's most-famous contemporaries. The first excerpt is from Garrison Keillor (age 27) and the other from Bill Holm (age 26). Both letters are dated 1969 and written after Bly gained fame for his literary magazine The Fifties (then The Sixties) and first book of poems, Silence in the Snowy Fields (1963). In 1966, Bly co-founded American Writers Against the Vietnam War and through it staged readings on college campuses across the country, which introduced him to many young poets. This kind of literary activism culminated in his winning the National Book Award for his politically-charged The Light Around the Body (1967). It is hard to overstate the influence Bly had on his contemporaries during the decade. Although both Keillor and and Holm later found their own fame for A Prairie Home Companion and The Music of Failure (1985), respectively, these were still decades away. In fact the two would become good friends with Keillor calling Holm, "The sage ... a colleague of Whitman born one hundred years too late."
Recently, SMSU English professor and Rural Lit RALLY Advisory Board member David Pichaske was kind enough to send me a copy of Don Olsen's A Butterfly Sleeps on the Temple Bell: A Reminiscence on the Ox Head Press, 1966-2000 (Cross+Roads Press, 2003, 124pgs). Unfortunately, it's out of print but I wanted to say a few words about it since, sadly, nowadays if it can't be found on a Google Search, it doesn't exist. Consider this short review my way of contributing to the western Minnesota paper trail. Don Olsen was a letterpress printer who, prior to retiring in the late-'80s, was a librarian at Southwest Minnesota State University. It was during time that he founded Ox Head Press. In addition to printing cards and broadsides, Olsen published several small pamphlets by an impressive list of writers including Robert Bly, Bill Holm, Ursula K. Le Guin, Pablo Neruda, and Stephen Dunn. Many of these can only be found in university archives (in fact, a Google search for "Ox Head Press" only returns archive catalogs). As the book unfolds, so too does his printer's philosophy, which incidentally was opposed to exactly what's happened to his pieces.
In 1976, winner of the National Book Award and co-founder of Writers Against the Vietnam War, Robert Bly, sat down for an interview with the novelist and literary critic Ekbert Faas. Published in the magazine boundary 2, the pair discuss everything from D.H. Lawrence to Bly's criticism of Allen Ginsberg's Buddhism. (Of the latter, beneath the surface one can feel reverberations from the Merwin-Trungpa "Incident" - or, more accurately, The Great Naropa Poetry Wars). What is particularly interesting, though, is the discussion of Bly's aesthetic. Bly imagines a poetry "in which a great 'flowing' consciousness is present" that is also "aware of [the outer world] all the time." While he abhors the term "Deep Image," this is what he's suggesting and it's become the traditional label of his work. By going deep into the dark woods of one's psyche, coming out the other side aware of oneself and the world, only then can one create art that transcends both. Things like Pop Art fail to find this "adult energy of the unconscious" and as a form makes sense only as artistic "infantilization." ..
"A light seen suddenly in the storm, snow/ Coming from all sides, like flakes/ Of sleep, and myself/ On the road to the dark barn,/ Halfway there, a black dog near me." - Robert Bly, from "Melancholia" in The Light Around the Body (1967). Famously, Winston Churchill referred to his depression as "the black dog." Sitting on … Continue reading The History of the “Black Dog” as Metaphor