From the Ether
On Literary Debt
Financial experts will tell you that there is good debt and bad debt, but that most of it is bad. However in the world of letters, “literary debt,” appreciating one’s literary influences by acknowledging indebtedness to the work of poets who have come before and enlarged the world of poetry and our own vision of poetry—is essential.
Last fall I taught a workshop on Robert Bly I called “Leaping Poetry” to a group of eight exciting poets. Over the course of four months we read Bly’s Leaping Poetry book, books of his translations, books of his own poetry, his friends’ poetry, the Best American Poetry issue that he edited, and many interviews and articles. The readings sparked lively discussion about contemporary surrealism, prose poems, daily poems, the Seven Holy Vowels, Deep Image, problems in translation, the ghazal, using myth in poetry, American poetics before the 1960’s, and of course the Leap itself, that unexpected propulsion in a poem ignited by association and the unconscious. We wrote poems in the midst, often comically obsessed with “Where’s the goddam leap?”
I’d come early to Bly in my own poetry studies, attending one of his annual Asilomar, California retreats at the coast the spring before I went to study in Bennington’s MFA program in Vermont. At Bennington, Bly served as a Poet-in-Residence with his longtime friend and cohort, Donald Hall. I was further regaled with workshops, readings, and one quite memorable public conversation on poetics between Bly and Hall. I’ve had a lot of Bly.
However, to undertake the Leaping workshop was to note more profoundly the paradigm shift Robert Bly affected on American poetry from mid-century on. I won’t elaborate here or try and create, to quote Bly, “a broadside on amazement” that might better express his influence. But perhaps to mention that Bly’s efforts brought formerly unknown international writers such as Pablo Neruda, Federico Garcia Lorca, Tomas Tranströmer, and Anthony Machado into translation and into mainstream American poetics offers one way to begin to appreciate his sizable influence.
It is therefore with great pride that we at the DMQ Review offer not only another terrific issue of poets and poetry alongside the inspiring images of featured artist Brian Curling, but include Robert Bly as Spring 2012’s featured poet.
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