The poet Robert Bley, who counted the National Book Award and the Frost Medal for the American Poetry Association among his many awards, has died. He was 94 years old.
The Star Tribune newspaper, in his hometown of Minnesota, said Bly died on Sunday. His daughter, Mary Bly, told The Associated Press that he died after suffering from dementia for 14 years.
“My dad didn’t feel any pain,” she said. “His whole family was around him, so how could you do better?”
After spending two years in the United States Navy in the 1940s, Bly rose to prominence as an accomplished poet, translator, and prose writer. In an article for the New York Times in 1984, he recalled his beginnings.
He wrote, “One day while studying Yeats’ poem I decided to write poetry for the rest of my life.” “I realized that one short poem has room for history, music, psychology, religious thought, mood, vague speculations, personality, and events in one’s life.”
Summing up his career, the Star Tribune said that Bley “began writing country poems about rural Minnesota and went on to shake up the lax world of 1950s poetry, stand against war, bring international poets to Western readers, and become a best-selling author. Teaching men how to be in touch with their feelings” .
Thomas R. Smith, an old friend who worked as an aide to Lebley and co-edited several books about him, told The Associated Press that he “challenged the tradition that all important poetry came from the coasts and from college campuses, and carved some new space for American Midwestern poets.”
In the 1960s, Bley became a prominent opponent of the Vietnam War. In 1968, he donated his National Book Award cash, won by The Light Around the Body, to anti-conscription efforts.
Later in life, Bley was a leader of the “expressive men movement,” a controversial attempt to “reconnect” men with traditional ideas about masculinity.
In 2016, New York magazine described Bly as “a media-friendly shaman of the legendary alien men’s liberation movement… [a] Flourishing self-help books and workshops for men [that] It managed to be in both a new age and a reactionary “which really arose out of the feminist movement or at least claimed alliance with it, and had such a huge semi-official manifesto for Plei Iron John: A Book About Men.”
This book was released in 1990. Bly said his work with men was not intended to be against women, telling the New York Times in 1996, “The biggest impact we’ve had is in younger men who are determined to be better fathers than they are.” It was their parents.”
Smith said that Lee’s relationship with his father, a Norwegian farmer of few words, “led to an examination of what it means to be a man. He saw American men at a crossroads.”
“He was concerned that men were losing their inner life, their feeling life, their connection to stories and traditions and literature. But the caricature became that it’s John Wayne with a drum. That’s the opposite of what it was.”
More than 25 years later, Academy Award-winning actor Mark Rylance wrote a tribute to Bley for The Guardian.
Rylance wrote that Bly had this penetrating ability to see what was going on and he had no shame in saying it. Robert was there the first time I went to a men’s gathering, organized under the auspices of Wild Dance. There were 90 men combined, and that was pretty cool.”
Rylance said that Bly taught him to “really look at what you write about,” which helped him address his daughter’s death through poetry.
Referring to Bley’s extensive work as a translator, Rylance wrote: “The most profound thing an older man can do for a younger man is to guide and encourage a certain gift. And Robert has brought into our culture the tribal teachers, just as he introduced into the English language his great love of Spanish poets, And the mystical poets, and Rumi, and all those brilliant people who provided such help.
“It’s as if we lived in a small town that only had Chinese takeaway, and now it has fast food from all over the world, thanks to Robert Bley.”
Bly is survived by his second wife, Ruth, whom he married in 1980, and his children Mary, Bridget, Noah and Mica, a stepdaughter, Wesley Dutta, and nine grandchildren.
Mary Bly said the funeral services would be private, and urged fans to send memorial donations to their favorite poetry associations.
She said, “He was a great poet and a great father.”
“And a great husband,” said Ruth Bly.