Robert Bly’s Greatest Hits

Selected Poems, 1986
A “best of” anthology of a kind, these are really good poems—and the mixture of work sheds light on Bly’s stylistic and topical meanderings. You’ll find “Counting Small Boned Bodies” and other lamentations on Vietnam, as well as more than a hundred examples from three decades of work. The prose poems from This Body Is Made of Camphor and Gopherwood (1977) are beautiful and show off Bly’s command of the unwieldy form.

Sleepers Joining Hands, 1973
To understand how Bly got to be so Blyish, look back to some of his earlier work. His third poetry collection is filled with vigorous incantations on the good, the bad, and the ugly, and it is punctuated with a long discourse on the Great Mother. The essay makes a good primer for Iron John and The Sibling Society.

The Night Abraham Called to the Stars, 2001
This is Bly’s most recent collection. If you’ve joined the current Rumi rediscovery trip, you’ll have a better appreciation of why Bly seems to be jumping all over the place—that’s part of the beauty of this old Islamic form (ghazal). He’s trying to get your head to stretch some great distances, to make those “psychic leaps.” Even without knowing anything about the Battle of Ypres, you can easily appreciate Bly’s incredible energy, insight, and wit.

A Little Book on the Human Shadow, 1988
This is a highly readable collection of essays that offers up “the philosophy of Robert Bly” in less than one hundred pages. He explains his connection to Jung and gets into the feminine, masculine, and then some.

The Sibling Society, 1996
It’s an artful diatribe on our moral decay and the dominance of American popular culture. But unlike other polemics of this ilk, Bly digs deep and blames our own selfishness for squandering the knowledge of how to live in community. The result: permanent adolescence. Be prepared to look in the mirror.

Iron John, 1990
Read it and you’ll be able to start an argument at nearly any party. If you want to understand it, though, you may want to take a few classes in psychology, mythology, classics, sociology, anthropology, women’s studies, and men’s studies. It’s heavy stuff, and it’s very easy to get lost in the forest. Bly is extremely blunt and often his take on male-female relations can sound harsh toward women. No good pickup lines here. We’re supposed to embrace our differences before we can enjoy our sameness. For some that’s not so easy to swallow.