The Poetry Society of America is honored to announce that Robert Bly is the 2013 recipient of the organization’s highest award, the Frost Medal, presented annually for “distinguished lifetime achievement in poetry.” Previous winners of this award include Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore, Gwendolyn Brooks, Allen Ginsberg, Lucille Clifton, Charles Simic, and Marilyn Nelson who was the 2012 recipient.
Robert Bly was born in western Minnesota in 1926 to parents of Norwegian ancestry. After two years in the Navy, he received his BA from Harvard University and his MA from the University of Iowa. Following his time in Iowa, he traveled to Norway to translate Norwegian poetry on a Fulbright grant. In Norway he discovered several Latin American and European poets previously underexposed to North American audiences. As the editor of The Fifties (later The Sixties and The Seventies and so forth), Bly introduced North American readers to the riches of European and Latin American poetry. In 1962, he published his first book of poetry, the first of over thirty books of poetry to date, including Talking Into the Ear of a Donkey (2011); Reaching Out to the World: New and Selected Prose Poems (2009); My Sentence Was a Thousand Years of Joy (2006); The Night Abraham Called to the Stars (2001); Snowbanks North of the House (1999); Loving a Woman in Two Worlds (1987); This Body is Made of Camphor and Gopherwood (1977); and The Light Around the Body (1967), which won the National Book Award. In 1966 he co-founded American Writers Against the Vietnam War and emerged as a major voice against the war. Outside of poetry circles, Bly is probably best known for his international bestseller Iron John: A Book About Men and his ongoing leadership in the mythopoetic men’s movement. Among his honors are the Tranströmer Poetry Prize in Sweden, and Guggenheim, Rockefeller, and National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife Ruth.
Keeping Our Small Boat Afloat
So many blessings have been given to us
During the first distribution of light, that we are
Admired in a thousand galaxies for our grief.
Don’t expect us to appreciate creation or to
Avoid mistakes. Each of us is a latecomer
To the earth, picking up wood for the fire.
Every night another beam of light slips out
From the oyster’s closed eye. So don’t give up hope
That the door of mercy may still be open.
Seth and Shem, tell me, are you still grieving
Over the spark of light that descended with no
Defender near into the Egypt of Mary’s womb?
It’s hard to grasp how much generosity
Is involved in letting us go on breathing,
When we contribute nothing valuable but our grief.
Each of us deserves to be forgiven, if only for
Our persistence in keeping our small boat afloat
When so many have gone down in the storm.