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ISSUE 121 VOL 14 PUBLISHED 3/14/2008

Poet Laureate celebrates Minnesota

By Kirstin Fawcett
Copy Editor

Friday, March 14, 2008

This past year, 81-year-old Robert Bly became Minnesotas most celebrated writer. On Feb. 27, hot off the heels of his acclaimed Peer Gynt adaptation for the Guthrie Theater, Bly was granted the states first-ever Poet Laureate position. Governor Pawlentry, who selected Bly from a pool of three finalists, deemed the poet a Minnesota treasure whose impressive 40-year career and national renown will help promote poetry. The job description of poet laureate traditionally entails composing poems dedicated towards state and government affairs. Predictably, the ever-unconventional Bly does not plan to pen odes towards Pawlenty any time soon: [The government] wrote to me and said something about [the poet laureate position], and I said that if it doesnt involve any work, Ill do it. I dont think there are many duties connected with it. However, despite his laconic sentiments towards his position, Bly is honored to be recognized by his home state: I was born in western Minnesota, and we have a good literary tradition [there]. Im delighted to be thought of as part of it. When St. Olaf is not showcasing its choirs on PBS Christmas specials or applauding the Regents towering new science center, the odd student or faculty member remembers the colleges literary accomplishments. St. Olafs English program, which is often outshone by web statistics boasting the schools math and science majors, has produced prominent writers such as Ole Rolvaag, Siri Hustvedt and Barry Morrow. It makes sense that Minnesotas recently-named poet laureate would also be a former St. Olaf student. Disregarding his subsequent transfer to Harvard after a year in Northfield, Robert Bly possesses traits that characterize him to be a quintessential Ole. Born from Norwegian-American parents, Bly grew up in Madison, Minn. before graduating from its local high school in 1944. After enlisting in the U.S. Navy for two years, pursuing a higher education at St. Olaf seemed to be a natural transition for the Minnesota-born Bly. Nevertheless, unknown causes spurred Bly to resettle on the East Coast  first as a student in Boston, later as an aspiring writer in New York City. Despite several years spent in New Englands bustling cities, Bly could never quite abandon his Midwestern or Scandinavian roots. In 1954, Bly returned to America to pursue a Masters of Fine Arts degree at the famed Iowa Writers Workshop. Two years later, the burgeoning bard was awarded a Fulbright grant to Norway, where he translated native poets work into English. After returning to the U.S., Bly, along with novelist and former wife Carol Bly, resumed life on his familys rural Minnesota farm. Between plowing fields and planting seeds, Bly found time to start The Fifties, The Sixties, and The Seventies national literary magazines aimed toward translating the work of foreign poets. Despite Blys experience in the military, he nevertheless co-founded American Writers Against the Vietnam War. After winning the National Book Award for The Light Around the Body, Bly donated his prize money towards the peace process. However, Bly refused to rest on his laurels, continuing to publish books of poetry, essays, and translations throughout the course of the following three decades. While Bly has penned over 30 original works, Iron John: A Book About Men is perhaps Blys most frequently lauded publication. Published in 1990, Iron John probes the similarly-titled Brothers Grimm fairy tale for relevant insights on human nature. Other poetry selections by Bly include What Have I Ever Lost by Dying? Collected Prose Poems and Meditations on the Insatiable Soul. At any rate, Bly is an author who conveys a unique sense of Minnesotanness in his work  many of his poems are grounded in the sort of Midwestern identity that makes him an ideal candidate for the states poety laureate position.

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