UNDERDOG BILL KNOTT BATTLES ROBERT BLY

Robert Bly has a prettier Jerry Garcia tie than you.

Let’s analyze this Bly/Knott  matchup:

Robert Bly has a large cheering section.

First, Bly’s Harvard friends: the post-war Harvard classmates John Ashbery, Donald Hall, Adrienne Rich, Kenneth Koch and Frank O’Hara.

F.O. Matthiessen was the dominating literary force at Harvard when Bly was there.

Matthiessen’s vastly influential academic reader, “American Renaissance” (1941) once and for all took Poe out of the canon and put Whitman in.

Cheering on Bly is not only Matthiessen, but Matthiessen’s secret lover, Russell Cheney, the  first director of the Art Students League of New York, the 57th street independent school and studio from where modern artists, beginning with Jackson Pollock, rose to prominence in the 1940s.  The Abstract Expressionist and Pop Art movements owe their beginnings to the Art Students League of New York.   Modern poetry and modern art in the 20th century are linked by the same Ivy League movers, shakers—and crackpots.  The John Crowe Ransom Arena is not big enough to hold all of Bly’s friends!  Marla, they’re everywhere!

MARLA MUSE: Oh! There’s Robert Lowell, one of the literary lights who came to read at Harvard when Bly was there, and E.E. Cummings, I see him, modern painter, Harvard graduate, and quirky poet who belonged to the “Dial” clique with Pound, Williams, and Eliot, and of course there’s Gertrude Stein, modern-art collector, student of Harvard’s William James, and T.S. Eliot, also of Harvard, whose spirits reigned over Harvard when Bly attended….

Thanks for pointing them out, Marla, Thomas Brady’s eyes are not what they used to be…that’s quite a noise they’re making, so many of them in the front row…Did you know Matthiessen’s lover, Russell Cheney (his secret lover) was a member of Yale’s Skull and Bones?

MARLA MUSE: I did know that, Tom.  I’m the Muse.  But thanks for mentioning it.

We can’t forget the Iowa crowd.  After graduating from Harvard in 1950, Bly spent 1954-56 at Paul Engle’s Iowa Writer’s Workshop with poets like Snodgrass and Donald Justice, student of Yvor Winters and mentor to Jorie Graham.  That’s a huge cheering section, right there.

MARLA MUSE:  Small world.  Iowa’s such a little place.  As is the world.  It’s not poetry, it’s the people.

People?  I thought it was the poetry?

MARLA MUSE: (laughs) Oh, Tom, you are so naive!  Didn’t you learn anything from Alan Cordle?  Now wave to all of Robert Bly’s friends.

And there’s all Bly’s Vietnam War protester friends from the 60s…  Cool.  Bly has more friends than John Ashbery and W.S. Merwin put together. Almost as many friends as Allen Ginsberg!

MARLA MUSE:  The Iron John crowd.  They’re here, too.  I’ve never seen so many beards…

Poor Bill Knott.  Who’s rooting for him?

MARLA MUSE:  Not John Densmore, drummer for the Doors.  He’s healing and drumming for Bly’s Great Mother and New Father conference in Maine later this spring…

Somebody must be rooting for Bill!

MARLA MUSE: Alan Cordle?

Let’s get to the poems, shall we?

Snowbanks North of the House

Those great sweeps of snow that stop suddenly six
feet from the house …
Thoughts that go so far.
The boy gets out of high school and reads no more
books;
the son stops calling home.
The mother puts down her rolling pin and makes no
more bread.
And the wife looks at her husband one night at a
party, and loves him no more.
The energy leaves the wine, and the minister falls
leaving the church.
It will not come closer
the one inside moves back, and the hands touch
nothing, and are safe.

The father grieves for his son, and will not leave the
room where the coffin stands.
He turns away from his wife, and she sleeps alone.

And the sea lifts and falls all night, the moon goes on
through the unattached heavens alone.

The toe of the shoe pivots
in the dust …
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.

Robert Bly

ROOOOOOOAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!

Monodrama

Don’t think, I said, that because I deny
Myself in your presence I do so in mine—
But whom was I talking to? The room, empty
Beyond any standpoint I could attain,

Seemed all sill to stare off before someone’s
Full length nude, at halfmast the pubic flag
Mourned every loss of disguise, allegiance
More to the word perhaps than its image—

But predators always bite the nape first
To taste the flower on the spine-stem, so
I spoke again, which shows how unrehearsed
I failed to be. I went to the window:

Sky from your vantage of death, try to see.
Flesh drawn back for the first act of wound, it’s me.

Bill Knott

yay, bill!

One is obvious in the extreme, not much more than a list of cliches, the other, a nerdy mumble.  The mumble is finally a bit more interesting, because at least you can guess at what it means.

Knott upsets Bly, 55-54!

BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

3 Comments

  1. Noochness said,

    March 15, 2011 at 9:16 am

    The roar of the greasepaint,
    The smell of the crowd….

  2. Noochness said,

    March 16, 2011 at 9:04 am

    Monodrama

    Don’t think, I said, that because I deny
    Myself in your presence I do so in mine—
    But whom was I talking to? The room, empty
    Beyond any standpoint I could attain,

    Seemed all sill to stare off before someone’s
    Full length nude, at halfmast their pubic flag
    Mourned every loss of disguise, allegiance
    More to the word perhaps than its image—

    But predators always bite the nape first
    To taste the flower on the spine-stem, so
    I spoke again, which shows how unrehearsed
    I failed to be. I went to the window:

    Sky from your vantage of death, try to see.
    Flesh drawn back for the first act of wound, it’s me.

    Bill Knott

  3. Noochness said,

    March 16, 2011 at 9:11 am

    Snowbanks North of the House

    Those great sweeps of snow that stop suddenly six feet from the house, thoughts that go so far,
    boys get out of high school and read no more books,
    the son stops calling home,
    the mother sets down her rolling pin and makes no more bread…
    the wife looks at her husband one night at a party, and loves him no more,
    the energy leaves the wine, and the minister falls leaving the church,
    it will not come closer,
    the one inside moves back, the hands touch nothing, and are safe.

    The father grieves for his son, and will not leave the room where the coffin stands,
    he will not eat, he turns away from his wife, and she sleeps alone.

    The sea lifts and falls all night, the moon goes on through the unattached heavens alone,
    the toe of the shoe pivots in the dust,
    the man in the black coat turns and goes back down the hill, no one sees him
    again, nor knows why he came or why he turned away and did not climb the hill.

    Robert Bly


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: