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Bly's Call to Duty 

Each of his poems puts a chink in the armor of the war makers. Robert Bly's Friday night appearance at SFCC will be part touchstone for peace and part riling-up of the audience to bear witness and take action.

Bly, a preeminent American poet whose 80-year-old voice and intellect have helped to sculpt an important vision of literary art and cultural reclamation, will speak as part of Spokane Falls Community College's "Lit Live!"

While Bly is a sought-after voice of reason and lyrical charm, his poetic pulse has been stimulated by a life alone, working far from the rarified atmosphere of college or university settings. His roots are in Mansfield, Minn., and in the furrows of hard-working immigrants where his reverence for land and people germinated.

Translator of such great poets as South America's Pablo Neruda, Cesar Vallejo and Antonio Machado, India's Ghalib, Spain's Lorca and Jim & eacute;nez, and Norway's Rolf Jacobsen and Olav H. Hauge, Bly's output of articles, essays and criticism is matched by his more than 40 books of poetry.

Enwrapped in solitude, Bly spins ruminations shaped by other cultures, other poets -- as in "Meeting the Man Who Warns Me":

I dream that I cannot see half of my life. "I look back, it is like the blind spot in a car./ So much just beyond the reach of our eyes, what tramples the grasses while the horses are asleep, the hoof marks all around the cave mouth.../ what slips in under the door at night, and lies exhausted on the floor in the morning.

Also slated for the Music Auditorium stage on Friday night are four male drummers, pounding animal skins as a tribute to "the wild man" in Bly's Iron John. His 1991 book examines the dichotomy between Savage Man, who is both wounded and inflicts wounds on earth and humankind, and Wild Man, the shaman-healer, Zen priest or woodsman. In Iron John, we have a book about men and the lost energy of visions, fairy tales and the male drumbeat of power and depth. It's a book of healing and reaffirmation of soul.

Bly also helped redirect the creative surge of Modernism's influence on poetry by unraveling his words and lines into what Victoria Frenkel Harris has called "incorporative consciousness." Bly believes that the poet or creative thinker must go "much deeper than the ego ... at the same time [becoming] aware of many other beings." In a sense, he believes that "leaping out" of the intellectual world and into what we intuitively hold as our own realities best explores the paradoxes of two worlds: the world of our psychic pain, and the world in which we must adjust to observing the rules.

Bly came to prominence during the Vietnam War era -- a time that tore at the psychic integration of American culture. He recalls how controversial his work was then: "Most of the English teachers in the universities hated our doing 'political poems,' as they were called. That still happens," he recently said about those heady days of the '60s. "When I'm at a reception at a university these days, an English professor may come up to me and ask: 'How do you feel now about those poems you wrote during the war?' They want me to disown the poems. I say, 'I'm sorry I didn't write more of them.'"

Bly, along with David Ray, created the group American Writers Against the Vietnam War. The first important protest volume was A Poetry Reading Against the Vietnam War (1966), edited by Bly and Ray.

In one of his poetry collections, The Light Around the Body, Bly cast a beacon of hazy light upon the symbiotic relationship of poverty and racism and the country's involvement in the Vietnam War.

But now, in 2006, with the stink of Abu Ghraib and Falluja still enveloping Mr. Bush's war, Bly speaks with singular impetus in his recent work, The Insanity of Empire: A Book of Poems Against the Iraq War. "The invasion of Iraq is the biggest mistake any American administration has ever made," he says. "The most dangerous and greatest confrontation is between twentieth-century capitalist fundamentalism and eleventh-century Muslim fundamentalism," he writes.

For aficionados of the poetic form, The Insanity of Empire embodies both Bly's disdain for immoral governments and Bly as an the artful practitioner of the ghazal, an Arab poetic form:

I don't want to frighten you, but not a stitch can be taken/ On your quilt unless you study. The geese will tell you/ A lot of crying goes on before the dawn comes.

SFCC's literary publication, Wire Harp, and the endowment for Lit Live! will not be the only beneficiaries of Bly's incantations on Friday night (50 percent of the gate goes to the endowment). Conscious Living -- a local business that creates events including the annual Celebrating Body, Mind and Spirit Expo and A Psychic Affair -- is partnering with SFCC.

As a reminder of Bly's continuing relevance, consider that he's an anti-war activist of long standing. In the Dec. 9, 2002 issue of The Nation, Bly was one of the first to beat the earth drum against the impending war, in his poem, "Call and Answer":

Tell me why it is we don't lift our voices these days/ And cry over what is happening. Have you noticed & r & The plans are made for Iraq and the ice cap is melting?/ I say to myself: "Go on, cry. What's the sense/ Of being an adult and having no voice? Cry out! See who will answer!"

Poet Robert Bly reads from The Insanity of Empire on Friday, March 10, from 7-10 pm, including Q & amp;A and book-signing. Tickets: $20; $30, at the door; free, SFCC students. SFCC, Music Auditorium, 3410 W. Fort George Wright Dr. Call 624-1873.

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