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August 22, 2013

In the latest issue of The Writer’s Chronicle, “Oh Baby!” contributor Norman Minnick defends Robert Bly as well as anyone can. It is a spirited, studied show of support for a poet Minnick readily aligns with Walt Whitman—and not just for the ostentatious hair.

Bly is a rabble-rouser, agitator of the common & comfortable—politically, culturally, spiritually. He has his canonical detractors, as Minnick immediately 13sept_coverpoints out, but Bly is a herald of all things poetry. A devoted champion of the spirit of poetry & other poets in the form of his translations, anthologies, & magazine work. He is a cagey poetry heavyweight and promoter all in one.

I’m happy to see Minnick laud Bly the way he does in “Greatness has a Defender: Robert Bly in the 21st Century.” One of my first doors of poetry took the shape of Bly’s first major anthology News of the World: Poems of Twofold Consciousness. A nerdy teen stacking shelves at a bookstore downtown, News of Universehovering mostly around the poetry corridor, when the pages prompted me to open them the poems delivered me to a world underneath, alongside, & infused in the grit of suburban cement and currency. The poets collected there stretch from Goethe to Neruda to Simic to Levertov, emanating a neo-Romanticism that any youngster is sure to fall—and with any luck live—for. It is one of my earliest companion books and has accompanied me for two decades.

As Minnick states at the end of his appreciation—with a piercingly placed verb— “It shouldn’t take catastrophic events to hurt people into reading poetry because there is something in it we all need in ordinary times.” This living for poetry, to poetry, and of poetry to uplift our normals and extend our blisses is what Bly fox in socksand Minnick both champion.

One of the elements I most appreciated in the essay, though, is the quirky obsession with feet Bly seems to have, which Minnick illuminates citing four passages that deal with feet and/or toes. After that, it was particularly fun to come home & read Neruda’s “Ode to my Socks,” translated by Bly and collected in his second anthology, with James Hillman, & Michael Meade, The Rag & Bone Shop of the Heart:

Maru Mori bought me

a pair

of socks

which she knitted herself

with her sheepherder’s hands,

two socks as soft

as rabbits.

I slipped my feet

into them

as though into




with threads of


and goatskin.

Violent socks,

my feet were

two fish made

of wool,

two long sharks

seablue, shot


by one golden thread,

two immense blackbirds,

two cannons,

my feet

were honored

in this way





They were

so handsome

for the first time

my feet seemed to me


like two decrepit

firemen, firemen


of that woven


of those glowing



I resisted

the sharp temptation

to save them somewhere

as students



as learned men


sacred texts,

I resisted

the mad impulse

to put them

in a golden cage

and each day give them


and pieces of pink melon.

Like explorers

in the jungle who hand

over the very rare

green deer

to the spit

and eat it

with remorse,

I stretched out

my feet and pulled on





then my shoes.

The moral

of my ode is this:

beauty is twice


and what is good is doubly


when it is a matter of two socks

made of wool

in winter.

minnickNorman Minnick’s poem “The Child Nero,” appears in the latest issue of “Oh, Baby.”

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