Back in the 1960s, Minnesota poet Robert Bly and his friend David Ray, also a poet, formed a group called American Writers Against the Vietnam War. They organized readings and protests, and in 1968 when Bly won the National Book Award for “The Light Around the Body,” he donated the prize money to the cause.
Bly and Ray edited an anthology of antiwar poetry, and later, as his concern for the welfare of the planet deepened, Bly edited an anthology about nature called “News of the Universe,” published by the Sierra Club.
Now welcome a new group, a sort of a hybrid of the two concerns. Poets and Writers and Musicians Against the War on the Earth will make its debut on the evening of the summer solstice. (The name isn’t quite as lyrical as the one from 1966, but it gets points for being inclusive and specific.)
The idea for the new group came from Bly’s wife, Ruth Bly, who decided in April that she wanted to do something joyful after a string of depressing environmental news from the White House. Her urgency rose with the recent announcement that the United States will withdraw from the Paris agreement on climate change.
“The frustration is so terrible these days,” she said in an interview last week, “and it reminded me of the time of protests against the Vietnam War and later. During that time we used to have poetry readings all over the country. It built energy to have all those poets all together.”
So on the evening of June 21, beginning at 7 p.m. at St. Joan of Arc Church, 4537 3rd Av. S., Mpls., poets and writers will read aloud, musicians will perform, representatives from environmental groups will discuss their work and climate change, and copies of “News of the Universe” will be given away.
The event is free and folks are encouraged to bring their own food, bring their families, and make a night of it.
“It’ll be a loose and fun and joyful evening about a grievous circumstance,” said poet James Lenfestey, who — with writer Freya Manfred — helped Bly plan the event.
Robert Bly probably will not be there — he’s 90 now, and frail — but Ruth will be there, as will many of their friends and fellow writers, including Manfred, Lenfestey, Michael Dennis Browne, Peter Campion, Ed Bok Lee, Julie Schumacher, Joyce Sutphen and Connie Wanek.
Oh, let’s name them all: Peter Geye, Margaret Hasse, Ezra Hyland, Louis Jenkins, Ardie Medina, Shawn Otto, Thomas R. Smith, Lynette Reini-Grandell and Julie Schumacher. Musicians Tim Frantzich and Larry Long will play songs between the readings.
The event has many sponsors, from literary (Rain Taxi Review of Books) to environmental (the Sierra Club’s North Star Chapter).
If the weather is good, “afterwards we’ll all go dancing out of the hall to Larry Long’s song ‘Butterflies Dancing,’ ” Lenfestey said.
He and Bly hope to hold these events seasonally — on the equinoxes as well as the solstices.
“It isn’t a huge amount of work, and poets are all happy to come and contribute,” Bly said. “A poem has great power. It resonates with people, stays with them, and they remember it and what it stands for.”
And what better time to think about the future of this wondrous planet than the long, long day and star-twinkling night of solstice?
Laurie Hertzel is the Star Tribune’s senior editor for books. On Twitter: @StribBooks. On Facebook: facebook.com/startribunebooks.