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Friday, October 20, 2006

Thoughts on Bly's Archives

Robert Bly is an acclaimed American poet. He is also still very much alive. When we from time to time learn the Nachlass of some poet or writer has come into the hands of a public institution and that always seems to elicit some degree of enthusiasm. Perhaps it is the fact that the The University of Minnesota Libraries have acquired the archives of such a noteworthy living poet that I find his news all the more intriguing.

The reported cost of this acquisition was $775,000, came from private gifts as well as university support. For this sum they will get more than 80,000 pages of handwritten manuscripts, Bly's journal spanning nearly 50 years, notebooks of Bly's "morning poems" As well as countless drafts of translations, and his extensive correspondence with writers James Wright, Donald Hall, James Dickey along with other items.

To me, it is fitting that these literary documents remain at an institution in his home state. But I am especially pleased to see that the plans include having the material digitized and made available for research and study by the university community but also a global audience who by online access. At 79, no one knows how much more material Bly is likely to produce but the acquisition agreement also provide extended opportunity to acquire all of Bly's future creative output.

If I sound excited by all this, it's because I am. For whatever reason I have found it hard to pass over opportunities to look into the goodies of various literary estates. In this case I would be especially interested in Bly's correspondence with James Wright and Donald Hall. I have already seen some of the Wright correspondence that was published in his collection of letters done not too long ago. I read the Plath's journals, Sexton's letters, and now I am reading Journals and early poems of Allen Ginsberg. I guess I am a sucker for this stuff.

I really don't think you can discount the value that knowing more about a poet and his or her life can add to the critical understanding of their work.

Speaking of Ginsberg, if you consider that Stanford University paid $1 million 12 years ago for the Ginsberg archives, the Bly deal almost seems like a steal.

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