Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Celebrating A Mentor: Robert Bly

At a dinner to honor Robert Bly during his Eugene visit last week, I had an opportunity to publicly express my gratitude to him for mentoring me for nearly 25 years. I know he has mentored thousands of men (without knowing it!) and probably as many women poets during his lifetime. For me, it felt like the right moment to voice my affection, admiration, and love for the man who has made such a meaningful contribution to my life and the life of so many people around the world.

After Robert was "toasted" by everyone at the gathering, I made my way to his table and gave my (mostly) impromptu talk about how we met, how attending his men's gatherings gave me a proverbial "kick in the butt" to start working with local men in support groups and workshops, and how his poetry has given me and everyone who has read his work "a thousand years of joy."

I also shared a funny story about my grandmother Hannah's reaction when I told her I had met Robert Bly at a poetry reading in Illinois. My "gramma" looked a lot like Robert with her white hair, wire-rimmed glasses, and ruddy western Minnesotan complexion. When I told the story to Robert and the group, I asked him to mimic my grandmother's wonderful grimace (which he did) when she had exclaimed to me, "Oh, that awful Bly boy!". The room (and Robert) filled with laughter. He then quietly asked me, "Did she tell you why she said that?" "Never did," I replied, but I suspect it was because Robert told many of the "unspoken secrets" of Madison and the people who lived there. I told him and the audience that her response had made such a big impression on me that I knew I better pay very close attention to whatever that "awful Bly boy" was doing for the rest of his life (and mine!). So I have ... and I've been blessed in ways I never would have imagined.

Looking back at that evening, I'm pleased that I was able to share with Robert many of the words I've written in my ethical will about him and his influence on my life. Many of the other men and women who've been important in my life died before I could tell them how much they mattered to me (or I finally "woke-up" to realize their significance in my life).

I encourage you to seek out your mentors who are still alive and tell them now the many ways they have made a difference in your life. And celebrate them in person as well as honor those who have passed on by including your thoughts about them in your ethical will.
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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great story, Todd. Bly changed my life, too. I was at two of his men's group weekends way back in those days, also. I bought his new book of poetry but didn't get to his performance here.

Richard Reed