Friday Dec. 23, 2016

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Looking at the Stars

The text of today’s poem is not available online.

“Looking at the Stars” by Robert Bly from Eating the Honey of Words. © Harper Collins, 1999. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

It’s the birthday of American poet, anti-war activist, and translator Robert Bly (1926) (books by this author), whose earthy, spiritual poetry collections include The Light Around the Body (1968) and Eating the Honey of Words (1999). Bly is perhaps best known for his very popular nonfiction book Iron John: A Book About Men (1990), in which he argued that modern men needed to examine themselves through mythology. It spent 62 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list and made him a leader of the Men’s Movement.

Bly was born in Lac qui Parle County, Minnesota, an area dominated by Norwegian immigrants and farming.  For four years after college, Bly lived in a small cabin in northern Minnesota, writing poetry every day and making a living shooting partridge illegally. He said: “The fundamental world of poetry is an inward world. We approach it through solitude.”

In New York City in the 1960s, he worked as a file clerk, a typist, and a painter off and on, just enough to pay living expenses. The rest of the time he wrote poems 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. His first collection, Silence in the Snowy Fields, was published in 1962.

When asked, Bly admitted to watching perhaps one hour of television a week. He scoffed, “Television is the most disgusting form of not doing that we have. How can we have art if entertainment is everywhere?”

Today is the birthday of British poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy (1955) (books by this author). She was born in Glasgow, but grew up in Staffordshire, England. She began writing poetry when she was 11 years old, and it was her greatest passion as a teenager. “I’d be in my leather miniskirt and boots up to here,” she once said. “I’d finish work, get paid and would buy 10 cigarettes, a bottle of Hirondelle rosé and a new poetry book, and that would be the rest of my Saturday.” These days, she inspires teenage poets just as she was once inspired; her poems are studied in Britain’s schools. She’s known for treating complicated subjects in an accessible way. “I’m not interested, as a poet, in words like ‘plash’ — Seamus Heaney words, interesting words,” she said. “I like to use simple words, but in a complicated way.”

It’s the birthday of one of the great champions of poetry, Harriet Monroe (books by this author), born in Chicago (1860). She was a well-known poet and lecturer on poetry at the turn of the 20th century. Then in 1911, she took a trip around the world, and it was on that trip that she conceived of the idea for a literary magazine devoted entirely to poetry, which would be open to new names and new styles.

The result was Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, first published in 1912. The magazine was one of the first to publish such writers as Carl Sandburg, Vachel Lindsay, Sherwood Anderson, Rupert Brooke, Robert Frost, D.H. Lawrence, and William Carlos Williams. It was Monroe who first published T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

It’s the birthday of Norman Maclean (books by this author), born in Clarinda, Iowa (1902). He was a fisherman, firefighter, scholar, and teacher, but it is as the author of his autobiographical novella, A River Runs Through It, that he is best known. Just as he described in his book, Maclean grew up at the junction of two great trout rivers in Missoula, Montana, in a family that didn’t draw a clear line between religion and fly-fishing. His father was a Presbyterian minister, and his rowdy younger brother, Paul, like the sibling in the book, was in fact murdered under mysterious circumstances. Maclean did not publish the story of his last summer with his brother until he was in his 70s, but after it appeared in 1976, it very quickly became a classic of American literature.

After A River Runs Through It, Maclean wrote about a Montana wildfire that had claimed the lives of 13 firemen and smokejumpers decades before. Part mystery, part investigation, and part autobiography, Young Men and Fire (1992) would be Maclean’s final book, posthumously published two years after his death in 1990.

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