Thursday, January 17, 2008

Robert Bly in Santa Cruz

First met Robert Bly when he read with James Wright at Cornell University back in 1963. Bly has been a friend, someone who provided just what was needed in those years I struggled with the podiatrist father / son poems, the ones that found their way into God is in the Cracks and now this new work, Doctor Sward's Cure for Melancholia. And a volume scheduled for publication in the U.S. in 2011, a New & Selected... the last four books were published by Black Moss Press and distributed largely in Canada.

Bly read a few days ago (Jan. 13) in Santa Cruz, upstairs, above the Blue Lagoon, in a venue called The Attic. Full house, several hundred people, $10. a ticket. Robert's third reading here in 3 years. Nils Peterson, poet from the San Jose Poetry Center / SJ State University does the Intro, "a poet and a cause for poetry in others," he says of Bly, which is fair.

Bly reads, if I got it straight, "Turkish Pears in August," new book? More than in his two previous readings he speaks about poetics, nitty gritty of poetry... sounds, syllables, vowels, odd ways of rhyming... drawing on Middle Eastern traditions... and of course there is musical accompaniment. So the music and the poetry come together. Musicians: Marcus Wise on tabla and Bruce Hamm on sarod. And there was a harmonica in there for a while too. You don't often go to a poetry reading and hear tabla, sarod and harmonica... in moving harmony... yeah, that was interesting.

Bly speaks of "Momma's boys," in fact, calls himself a Momma's boy, and reads his recent translation of Ibsen's *Peer Gynt, the passage where a young man provides comfort, solace, whatever it is one does when someone is dying... for his mother to ease her passage... moving, beautiful passages.. in fact, the high point of the evening, for me.

That word "beauty," "beautiful..." I'm so fucking old, old enough, anyway, to have heard Robert Frost read at Bread Loaf and compliment himself, say how, to the best of his (Frost's) knowledge, he had managed over the years to use the word "beautiful..." only once, maybe twice in his poetry. Beautiful, beautiful... where did you ever get the idea that word was poetic? That it even belonged in a poem, any poem?

Bly like a latter day Ezra Pound (it has long seemed to me), translating and introducing North American readers to poets they might not otherwise have heard. Swedish poets like Martinson, Ekelof, and Transtromer... plus Neruda and Vallejo, Lorca and Jimenez...

Photo by J.J. Webb

* Peer Gynt (IPA: [per g Źnt]) is a play by the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. It was written in 1867, and first performed in Christiania (now Oslo) on 24 February 1876, with incidental music by the composer Edvard Grieg. Ibsen wrote Peer Gynt while traveling in Rome, on Ischia and in Sorrento. It was first published on November 14, 1867, in Copenhagen. The first edition comprised 1,250 copies. It was followed by a re-print of 2,000 copies after 14 days. The large sales were mostly due to the success of Ibsen's previous play, Brand. Unlike Ibsen's other later plays, Peer Gynt is written in verse. This is because it was originally intended to be a written drama, not for stage performance. Difficulties due to rapid and frequent change of scene (including an entire act in pitch darkness) render the play troublesome to perform. It is also unlike Ibsen's later plays in that it is a fantasy rather than a realistic tragedy. Perhaps the most famous aspect of this play is Grieg's music piece entitled In the Hall of the Mountain King.


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