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Robert Bly (1926–2021), writer and men’s movement founder

by Linnea Crowther

Robert Bly was a poet and writer best known for his 1990 book “Iron John: A Book About Men” and the mythopoetic men’s movement he helped launch.

Creating new rituals for men

Bly’s “Iron John” was a book of nonfiction prose that explored how fairy tales can provide lessons for men. The book spent 62 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and inspired men to seek the ritual, connection, and sensitivity that their lives were lacking. The movement that followed featured gatherings of men – led by Bly and others – that focused on primal rituals such as drumming and chanting. Though Bly was best known for “Iron John” and the men’s movement, poetry occupied a much larger place in his life story. A graduate of the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa, Bly published his first of more than two dozen poetry collections in 1962. In 1968, he was honored with the National Book Award for Poetry for his collection “The Light Around the Body.” Bly was also a prolific translator of other poets’ work, as well as an editor of anthologies. In 2008, Bly was named the first poet laureate of his home state of Minnesota.

Notable quote

“There’s a general assumption now that every man in a position of power is or soon will be corrupt and oppressive. Yet the Greeks understood and praised a positive male energy that has accepted authority.” —from “Iron John”

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Tributes to Robert Bly

Full obituary: Star Tribune

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