CHRIS RICE COOPER is a newspaper writer, feature stories writer, poet, fiction writer, photographer, and painter. She maintains a blog at https://chrisricecooper.blogspot.com. She has a Bachelor's in Criminal Justice and completed all of her poetry and fiction workshops required for her Master’s in Creative Writing with a focus on poetry. She, her husband Wayne, sons Nicholas and Caleb, cats Nation and Alaska reside in the St. Louis area.
Friday, January 15, 2016
Legendary Poet Robert Bly and his most recent collection "LIKE THE NEW MOON, I WILL LIVE MY LIFE"
The Lion’s Tail and Eyes: Poems Written Out of Laziness and Silence
The Loon 1977
The Moon on a Fencepost 1988
The Urge to Travel Long Distances 2005
This Tree Will Be Here for a Thousand
Turkish Pears in August and other Ramages
Robert Bly has
sixteen additional poetry collections not included in Like the New Moon, I Will Live My Life:
Silence in the Snowy Fields
The Light Around The Body
Sleepers Joining Hands
This Body Is Made of Camphor and Gopher
The Man in the Black Coat Turns
Loving a Woman in Two Worlds
Selected Poems 1986
What Have I Ever Lost by Dying?:
Collected Prose Poems
Meditations on the Insatiable Soul
Eating the Honey of Words: New and
The Insanity of Empire: A Book of Poems
Against the Iraq War.
The Night Abraham Called To The Stars
My Sentence Was a Thousand Years of Joy
Talking into the Ear of a Donkey
Stealing Sugar from the Castle: Selected
and New Poems 1950-2013.
Robert Bly first came
on the poetry scene in 1956 when he won a Fulbright scholarship that allowed
him to travel to Norway to translate Norwegian poetry.
Robert Bly at Harvard in 1951
While there in
Norway, he discovered Pablo Neruda, and was influenced by Neruda’s protean
Pablo Neruda in 1963.
The protean poetry’s
definition is a mixture of scientific and poetic meanings – it is usually an
ameba (an eukaryotic organism) having the ability to change in shape, form, or
characters. An example of an eukaryotic
organism is the mushroom, which is the focus of Bly’s below poem:
Mushroom Painting by Jan Voerman Jr Russula in 1952
Mushrooms in Late Summer in the Western
of the Island of Runmaro with Tomas Transtromer
The mushrooms loom in the grass like extremely
They are skies from which parachutes never fall.
From us, too, sometimes a poem falls, sometimes
Delighted to be together, we are out in the summer
Robert Bly and Tomas Transtromer
meets the criteria of a protean poem in many ways: mushrooms change personalities – first it is
an individual’s stupid faults, then it is the skies that prevent the parachutes
(in the form of poems) to fall, only to change back to the literal mushroom –
where two poets pick mushrooms not only to eat, but a symbolic act of their
Tomas Transtromer and Robert Bly
The poem exemplifies
the elements of protean poetry by combining the humor and the serious without
diminishing the quality of the other. The
humor is that even though these two poets have stupid thoughts in the form of
skies that prevents poetry from being birthed, they are still able to write
poetry, allowing the poetry to fall like seed in the woods, where the seeds
represent their friendship, which is expressed by the intimate act of picking
mushrooms in the summer woods.
Robert Bly in the 1970s
most dominant influences as a poet are the Chinese poets that he encountered in
the 1960s: through the translations of Arthur
Waley, Kenneth Rexroth, and Robert Payne’s anthology on Chinese poets.
Pierre Stephen Robert Payne
This discovery was so
prevalent in Robert Bly’s life that he stated in a 1968 interview: “The ancient Chinese poetry still seems to
me the greatest poetry ever written.”
Robert Bly and his two daughters Bridget and Mary in the 1960s.
Thomas Smith wrote the introduction to Like
The New Moon, I Will Live My Life.
In the introduction, “Robert Bly’s Less-Traveled Road”, Smithdescribes two-thirds of the 171 poems as having the same elements
as the great Chinese poets that Bly so aptly admires and adheres to: freedom in spaciousness, space around the
words, space making it possible for the reader to read the poem and inhabit
that space, phenomena being observed both outside and inside the poet, and the
informality and spontaneity of the Chinese-influenced style.
"Quatrain on Heavenly Mountain" by Emperor Gaczong.
Part of the John B Elliot Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
given to the Museum as a bequest of John M. Crawford Jr in 1988
Bly’s Chinese-style poems, an essentially meditative consciousness affirms the
importance of work, solitude, and acceptance of grief and suffering to
spiritual well being. These poems collectively
suggest a practice for maintaining spiritual wholes in physically dismembering
times when wide-spread “death-mother” energy claims many victims.”
Ancient Chinese poets express their
emotions by fusing their feelings into external objects, which could be described
as imagery, but not image. Image refers
to concrete physical objects where as imagery refers to the fusion of the
poets’ subjective feelings with objective scenes. In ancient Chinese poetry, a poem is usually
composed of several imageries, which the poet uses to arouse emotional
associations and, at the same time, to enrich their poetic context.
15th Century Painting inspired by Daoism "Poetry On a Mountaintop"
In most of Robert Bly’s poems there is
the imagery of birds, water, trees, snow, bones, and rocks. It is through these imageries that Bly is
able to encounter isolation, solitude, the acceptance of grief and suffering
while at the same time experience some form of spiritual well-being even if it
is in the simple recognition of sorrow and unwanted change.
An example of this sorrow and unwanted
change while at the same time appreciation for humanity is Bly’s “Poem for James Wright” dedicated to
James Wright, a fellow poet who was also influenced by the Chinese poets.
Poem for James Wright
I read your lines
sometimes see, like
on the back of hands,
out from between words.
Guam. The surviving
drift on rafts
on the ocean,
going with the currents,
one or two palm leaves
put your elegant
skiff into the brine,
if to say, The octopus
in the grenade shell
James Wright and Robert Bly
Moon and insects are perhaps the most
popular symbolisms used in Chinese poetry and Bly uses them expertly in “Night Farmyard” where horses and
chickens and perhaps humanity are symbolized by the bark of a cottonwood tree
on a journey that ends at the moon.
Painting "Moonlight Sonata" by R.A. Blakelock in 1892
horse lay on his knees sleeping,
rat hopped across the scattered hay
disappeared under the henhouse.
the chickens sat in a stiff darkness.
they are like the bark fallen from an old cottonwood.
we know their soul is gone, risen
into the upper air above the moon.
Bly continues the connection between death and
the moon and newness in “For My Brother,
a Year After His Death.”
"Two Men Contemplating The Moon" by Caspar David Friedrich
For My Brother, a Year
After His Death
night, full moon, I walked the roads
where we played-
between the plowed fields, silent and alone.
thought of you, seeing black earth
clear above the new fallen snow.
riverbanks, above water, or the chest of
Heads” insects experience death but their final destination is not the moon
but another life through reincarnation.
Adult female Iris Oratoria performs a fluffing threat display, rearing
back with the forelegs or wings spread and mouth opened
Arabic, sailing in the husks of galleons,
octagonal heads also
sand paintings of the next life.
the insect this time a bug takes on the same quest as humans – that of the
Adult Box Elder Bug. Attributed to Bruce Martin CCASA 2.5 Generic
homeless is looking on the long roads-
dog lost since midnight, a small duck
the odorous reeds,
a tiny box-elder bug searching for the windowpane.
“Wind” the grasshopper takes on the persona of an individual that either
commits suicide or takes a big risk in life in order to live to the fullest,
depending on the reader’s interpretation.
grasshopper on the cliff
two hundred feet above the water!
Insects take on the form of life in “Women We Never See Again.”
hatched in winter disappear behind books.
Where the Plows Have Been Turning” crickets exemplify being at peace,
something us humans have been trying to do since the beginning of time.
There is a hum-ming in my body, it is jealous of no one. The cricket lays its wings one over the
other, a faint
whispery sound rises up to its head
. . . which it hears . . . and disregards . . . listening for the next sound. .
the insect gnat takes on a ghost like identity constantly in the state of
cloud of gnats resembles
lifts or sinks.
are too excited –
can’t be feeding.
few days to live
they spend it this way!
Bly, in his poem “A Moth with Black Eyes”, depicts the moth as having the capability
of incest, which can be jarring for the reader, until the reader learns about
the Navajo legend, a departure from the Chinese connection, that helps explain
the poem’s meaning.
The Navajo legend tells the story of the male
butterfly god Begochidi, who leads the butterfly people and has sexual
relations with both the males and females.
Soon Begochidi leaves the country and the butterfly people decide to
commit incest instead of have sex with outsiders to produce. This causes the butterfly people to go
insane, which explains, why moths have the tendencies to rush into flames.
Moth with Black Eyes” could also refer to the Chinese folklore of moths –
that the moth or butterfly is actually the souls of loved ones who have died
coming to visit those that still live.
The soul of the individual who has died is not ready to move onto the
next world, which explains their restlessness and why the moth flies in a
hesitant manner, particularly in fire.
It is the speaker of the poem, a writer,
telling of his experience of the moth climbing up his left arm, left hand,
thumb, and finally his chest. The moth
becomes a great many of things: a
messenger for the other world, a human in disguise, simply an insect
communicating with another species.
However one interprets this poem, one thing cannot be denied: the sense
of humanness in everything.
A Moth with Black Eyes
moth climbs down the sleeve of my sweater onto my left hand,
as I write with the other. He waits
there, among all the lamplit
hairs.Then his antennae begin to move,
as if a band were starting
down the street, and he moves swiftly up my thumb – reaching the end, he turns
around and goes back, and up the chest of my brown sweater.
Lamplight falls on his compressed,
intense body, so self-contained,
free of the longing for incest.How far
he is out on the plain!His head is a
haystack of brown fur, a hatrack with two mad gleaming eyes in front, and
witchlike wands going out to either side, to poke into the other world, and see
what the eyes cannot see.
And my big moving chest, what is
it! I scratch the side of my nose, and a
shadow falls across the chest. Outside the night goes on, on all sides into
November, children are sitting near each other, on sofas, waiting for supper .
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