An Interview with Robert Bly

Part 11.

Interviewer: Did you ever think of going into a university?

Robert Bly: My idea of a poet was formed in 1950! I wanted to be independent of universities, as William Carlos Williams was, or Wallace Stevens or Eliot. Part of my reluctance was probably arrogance. But I do write best when I have a lot of time alone. I still say to my wife sometimes, "You know, I really should have joined a university. Then I could have one of those little white houses in some New England town, and there would be a sun porch and a salary; and when I got to school there would be these happy faces longing to see me!"

"Ah," she says, "You would have gotten fired anyway because you never keep your mouth shut!" That's probably true. Maybe I'm happier outside the university than I would be inside.

Interviewer: You've done some teaching lately for Galway Kinnell at NYU, and last year and this year for the Bennington writing program.

Robert Bly: Yes, I taught "The Craft of Poetry" for Galway's program one year. I'd see the writing students from six to eight on a Monday. I'd talk about the Seven Holy Vowels, or read Stevens or Marvell to them, and go out high as a kite at eight. I do like also the non-residential writing programs like Liam Rector's at Bennington. The writers, often parents or working people, exchange letters with their teachers regularly, and then come in to Bennington for a few days twice a year. Don Hall and I are "poets in residence," so we can do whatever we like. Don and I can spend some time together, meet younger writers, and hear some lectures.

Interviewer: You and Don Hall have been friends for years?

Robert Bly: Donald Hall and I have been sending poems back and forth twice a week for forty years. At one time, we had a 48-hour rule: the other had to answer within 48 hours. My generation did a lot with letters. Galway Kinnell and Louis Simpson and Don and I and James Wright would often send five- and six-page typed letters commenting on and arguing with each others' poems. I'm amazed we had the time for that. Tranströmer and I exchanged hundreds of letters. The gist of it is that no one writes alone: One needs a community.