Carol Connolly quoted poet Lewis Hyde twice — when she introduced Robert Bly, and when she thanked Bly after his reading. Hyde, she said, believes that there are men and women alive today because of Bly’s protests in the 1960s against the Vietnam War.
It was one of several homages to Bly, Minnesota’s most venerable poet, who came out on a spring night to celebrate Poetry Month and ended up being celebrated himself.
The event was the monthly Carol Connolly Reading Series at St. Paul’s University Club. April is poetry month, and Connolly had packed the bill with fine poets. Louis Jenkins was a crowd pleaser with his humorous prose poems; Freya Manfred read her earthy poems of nature and family, and Thomas R. Smith opened the evening with a poem about spring, which he read with vigor. “It’s amazing how doing a good loud poem clears away nervousness,” he said.
Each poet paid homage to Bly, the star of the evening. “We’re all borrowing so much from Robert that in the next life we’re all going to have to do his dishes and take out his garbage,” Smith said.
Jenkins agreed: “We steal from him all the time.” Manfred read a poem about the eye of a loon, saying that Bly had suggested she remove one word, “dreadful.” She shook her head in admiration. “He was right about that last line,” she said.
Bly declined the easy chair that had been placed for him, and he declined the help of Smith, who was willing to hold the microphone, and instead stood strong and firm and read and recited and cracked jokes and offered the occasional poignant aside. He read “Waking on the Farm,” “My Father at Eighty-Six,” “Keeping Our Small Boat Afloat.”
When he read “Snowbanks North of the House,” Bly noted, “That’s the first poem I ever wrote that had some of my darkness in it.” He recited the final stanza twice:
And the man in the black coat turns, and goes back
down the hill.
No one knows why he came, or why he turned away,
and did not climb the hill.
“Maybe there’s somebody like that in each of us,” he said. And the poets and the fans and the readers in the audience leaned forward in their chairs, listening, everybody wanting more.