Robert Bly papers
Scope and Content Note
The collection includes manuscript materials; correspondence; photographs; journals and diaries; news clippings; posters and advertisements; audiovisual items; publishers' galley proofs; and personal items from circa 1900s to 2009. Besides English, some documents in the collection are written in French, German, Greek, Italian, Norwegian, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, or Urdu.
Because Robert Bly collected; translated; received inspiration and quoted poetry from at least the 12th century forward, the dates detailed in the finding aids are the dates of his record-keeping activity. They are not necessarily the original creation dates of each document found in the collection.
The materials in this collection will provide powerful sources of research for many subjects including: biographical information; the study of poetry in general; the artistic process of creating poetry, prose, and plays; analysis of changes in 20th century poetry; genealogy; Vietnam War protest documentation; Men’s Movement development and continuation; translation of poetry from various original languages; history of 20th century publishing; among many other topics. Researchers are also encouraged to access this collection for the large amount of intimate correspondence with many recognized poets and other notable people. His audiovisual materials will be useful to observe his reading and other performance techniques. Throughout all of the finding aids, "mss" is an abbreviation for manuscript or manuscripts.
- Circa 1900s-2009
- Majority of material found within 1946-1999
- Bly, Robert (Person)
Language of Materials
English, French, German, Greek, Italian, Norwegian, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, and Urdu
Restrictions on Access
There are no restrictions on access to the collection.
Restrictions on Use
Copyright retained by the creator.
Robert Elwood Bly was born on December 23, 1926 in Madison, Minnesota, to Jacob Thomas and Alice Myrtle (Aws) Bly. Growing up on his parents' farm, he raised livestock and showed them at 4-H gatherings. He graduated from Madison High School in 1944, and enlisted in the United States Navy the same year. He was honorably discharged in 1946, and enrolled at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. After completing one year at St. Olaf, he transferred to Harvard University in 1947. Graduating Magna Cum Laude, he was named Class Poet for the Harvard Class of 1950. While at Harvard, Bly met many poets, including Donald Hall. Their friendship grew and endured throughout their lifetime.
To launch his writing career, Bly sought a solitary period in northern Minnesota and New York City for some time. In 1954, he enrolled at the State University of Iowa; married Carolyn McLean in 1955 in Duluth, Minnesota; and received a Master's degree from Iowa in 1956.
After leaving Iowa, Bly was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study poetry in Oslo, Norway. It was there that he was exposed to poetry by international writers for the first time. In 1958, he collaborated with William Duffy to publish The Fiftiesmagazine whose primary goal was to shed the formality of poetry they found prevalent in contemporary writing. Another goal of the magazine was to introduce international poets to American audiences. Bly and Duffy were generous in publishing many works of young, struggling poets from around the world, including their own poetry. The Fiftiescontinued to be published as The Sixtiesand The Seventies.
During the 1960s and early 1970s, the Bly family grew from two to six. Bly's first book of poetry, Silence in the Snowy Fields, was published in 1962. In 1966, Bly co-founded the American Writers Against the Vietnam Warwith poet, David Ray. Among other things, this organization existed to conduct poetry "read-ins" across the country on college and university campuses, and other venues, protesting the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Throughout this period, Bly protested, attended draft card burnings, was arrested, and wrote anti-war poetry in an effort to stop the massacre of innocent lives.
Robert Bly's National Book Award winning book of poetry, The Light Around the Body, was published in 1967. As part of his acceptance speech at the award ceremony in 1968, he called upon others to protest the war, and presented his award funds to resistors of the draft. In 1979, Robert and Carol Bly divorced. Bly married Ruth Ray in 1980.
Throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, Bly continued to write his own poetry and publish the works of other poets, including international poets. His translating expertise grew as he collaborated with poets and translators around the world.
In 1975, Bly organized the first annual Great Mother Conference. In the course of the ten day event, poetry, music, and dance were utilized to examine human consciousness. These conferences evolved into the Great Mother and New Father Conferences, adding storytelling, fairy tales, mythology, and other creative expressions to the many workshop offerings.
In May 1982, Bly collaborated with Keith Thompson to publish a groundbreaking article, "What Men Really Want" in New Agemagazine. The unprecedented international response from that article developed into Bly's work with the Mythopoetic Men's Movement. Men's groups were organized, whereby men shared poetry readings, storytelling, drumming, rituals, and more. The group retreats and day events enabled men to explore new ways of relating to each other, to their fathers, and to women. Bly continued his work with this movement through 2010. The concepts in the 1982 New Agearticle were expanded and eventually published by Bly in 1990 in the form of the New York Timesbest-selling prose work, Iron John: A book about men.
From a very early age, Bly had aspirations of performing in front of groups. That desire was realized again and again by his public appearances around the world. The notoriety of Bly's stature as award-winning poet, translator, and publisher created a demand for his unique style of reading of both his own and others' poetry. Always generous in sharing the stage, many of Bly's performances incorporated musical and other accompaniment, and left audiences forever transformed.
Bly continued to write and translate into the 21st century, including translating Henrik Ibsen's Peer Gyntinto English. In 2008, it was produced and performed at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. Robert Bly was named the first poet laureate for Minnesota in 2008. Robert Bly has written original poetry, prose, and plays; translated poetry and prose of other writers; and published and edited numerous works. The "Blyography" is vast, and has not been gathered comprehensively. For listings of his works, see Robert Bly's website, Robert Bly's wikipedia entry, and LitCheck: The Center for Literary Biography Online's entry for Robert Blyat the University of South Carolina. In addition, for more biographical information on Robert Bly, researchers may consult a fee-based database, Contemporary Authors, available at university and public libraries.
124.21 Cubic Feet (289 boxes; 27 flat boxes; 9 shoe boxes; 6 book trays; 1 microfilm box; 1 oversize square box)
This collection contains the work of poet, writer, translator, activist, performer, literary editor, and publisher, Robert Bly. The materials include manuscripts, correspondence, journals, audiovisual items, photographs, publishers' galley proofs, news clippings, scrapbooks, and school assignments from childhood through Harvard, U.S. Naval service, State University of Iowa, and his career in writing, translating, and publishing poetry, prose, and plays.
The collection is organized into eighteen series:
Series 1. Correspondence
Series 2. Journals and Diaries
Series 3. Poetry manuscripts
Series 4. Prose manuscripts
Series 5. Plays manuscripts
Series 6. Translations manuscripts
Series 7. Publishing and Editing
Series 8. Vietnam War
Series 9. Conferences and Workshops
Series 10. Men's Movement
Series 11. Readings and Performances
Series 12. Personal
Series 13. Photographs
Series 14. Reviews
Series 15. Financial materials
Series 16. Miscellaneous materials
Series 17. Published materials
Series 18. Audiovisual materials
Mezz (R69, D1-3, R70, D7-D10) (R68, D4, S1-2); HB (R5, D17, S1); AV (R1, D7, S1, S4; R1, D8, S1; R1, D9, S1; R2, D2, S2-4)
Collection was acquired from the creator in 2006, with additional accruals beginning in 2007.
The following list provides a partial representation of the more than 700 internationally notable persons, including other poets, musicians, politicians, activists, and editors whose letters are contained in the collection. They may be located in the Correspondence series, or in other series under other file titles. Please consult the archivist for more detailed information found in the internal Collections file.
- Ashbery, John
- Baez, Joan
- Barks, Coleman
- Berrigan, Ted
- Berryman, John
- Bly, Carol
- Carter, Jimmy
- Codrescu, Andrei
- Creeley, Robert
- Densmore, John
- Deutsch, Babette
- Dickey, James
- Eberhart, Richard
- Ekelöf, Gunnar
- Ellsberg, Daniel
- Ginsberg, Allen
- Guthrie, Arlo
- Hall, Donald
- Hauge, Olav H.
- Hecht, Anthony
- Hillman, James
- Hyde, Lewis
- Ignatow, David
- Kinnell, Galway
- Kissinger, Henry
- Kizer, Carolyn
- Knight, Etheridge
- Kooser, Ted
- Kunitz, Stanley
- Levertov, Denise
- MacLeish, Archibald
- Merwin, W.S.
- Moore, Marianne
- Moyers, Bill
- Neruda, Pablo
- Oates, Joyce Carol
- Plimpton, George
- Ransom, John Crowe
- Rich, Adrienne
- Rowley, Coleen
- Rylance, Mark
- Salisbury, Harrison
- Sexton, Anne
- Simpson, Louis
- Snodgrass, W.D. ("De")
- Snyder, Gary
- Sonnevi, Göran
- Stafford, William
- Tate, Allen
- Tranströmer, Tomas
- Voznesensky, Andrei
- Warren, Robert Penn
- Williams, Jonathan
- Wright, James
The collection was processed and finding aid written in 2010 by Ann Mulfort, with the support of student assistants, Sarah Marrone and Kerry Ritterbusch. There was ample evidence of rodent and insect excretions, and other environmental effects in the original materials.
To maintain Robert Bly's original order of usage of the documents, his file contents and titles were retained, where possible. Therefore, if the contents of one file include materials from multiple series, they are located with Bly's original organization of the materials. For example, the file entitled: "Don Hall's comments on 'Light Around the Body'" is found in the Poetry manuscripts series, because it includes revisions to his poetry, but also includes some correspondence from Hall which provides context for the revisions.
- American poetry -- Minnesota Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Anti-war poetry Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Bly, Carol
- Dickey, James
- Hall, Donald, 1928-
- Ignatow, David, 1914-1997
- Knight, Etheridge
- Manuscripts Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Men’s movement Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Minnesota -- poetry Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Oral interpretation of poetry Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Plays Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Poetry Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Poetry -- History and Criticism Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Poetry -- Publishing Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Poetry -- Translating Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Poetry -- Translations into English Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Poets Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Publications Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Publishers and publishing Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Thoreau, Henry David, 1817-1862
- Translators Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Tranströmer, Tomas, 1931-
- Vietnam War, 1961-1975 -- Protest movements -- Poetry Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Wright, James Arlington, 1927-1980
- Robert Bly papers, Circa 1900s-2009, undated Mss 81 Mss081
- Ann Mulfort
- April 2010
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
Collecting Area Details
Contact The Upper Midwest Literary Archives Collecting Area