“Brilliant. Irreverent. Risk-taker.” There are so many dimensions to this raving white-haired family man, husband, poet, and story-teller. Since he first drew a breath on a cold day in western Minnesota in December of 1926, the arc of his poetic career and the lives he has influenced along the way are so broad and kaleidoscopic, a brief bio will hardly do. But if I were to choose one word that describes his work with men it would be “wild” as in the Wild Man Robert so adeptly conjured and employed in his culture-quaking best-selling book Iron John. As Robert described his use of the word,
“To be wild is not to be crazy or psychotic. True wildness is a love of nature, a delight in silence, a voice free to say spontaneous things, and an exuberant curiosity in the face of the unknown.”
Robert has always modeled the sort of wild inquisitiveness and delight in the world that we read in his works. He wants to know, especially from those who challenge or fiercely disagree with him, what they have to teach him. He is not afraid to leap. And he is not afraid to fall.
That same energy and attitude has remained a touchstone now for all the men who were ever buttonholed by Robert and asked to speak from their own experience—not from Jungian psychology, or from the thin-air heights of intellect, but from their own aching heart, and quivering guts. Men’s work, we learned, is like that: to endeavor to know one’s self deeply and to give our own experience full-throated expression in the company of and for the benefit of other men. “The soul is here for its own joy.”
The challenges men and women face in our culture keep changing shape. And Robert recognized early on how important it is that men change to address them. To break men out of willful naiveté; to stare down grief, sorrow, imperfection, and shame with an exuberant curiosity; to boldly name injustices and act to address them in personal ways; and to embrace with wild love the sacred dimensions of our lives amidst the vales of soul-making: these remain some of Robert’s enduring gifts to our conference and community.
For more information on Robert Bly’s biography and bibliography, please see the Poetry Foundation Author bio.