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William Stafford, one of the most beloved American poets of the second half of the 20th century, was also one of the most prolific. His secret? Get up in the dark, brew a cup of coffee, stretch out on his yellow sofa and write a poem every morning. When Stafford died in 1993, Robert Bly, his friend and colleague, took up the practice as a tribute to the older poet, whom he had begun to recognize as a mentor. Bly's new collection Morning Poems is the first harvest of that loving and often verbally agile discipline.
Nothing in Bly's earlier work quite prepares the reader for the surprise and freshness of Morning Poems. It is one of Bly's largest collections, and among its 88 poems there are many kinds of poems we have not seen from him previously. A group of these plain-spoken poems go deeper into Bly's boyhood on a farm in western Minnesota than he has taken us before. In several poems Bly displays his bemused, often acerbic sense of humor more openly than he has done in poems in the past. He confides in "The Resemblance Between Your Life and a Dog":
I never intended to have this life, believe me
It just happened. You know how dogs turn up
At a farm, and they wag but can't explain.
While their tone may be deceptively casual, these new poems approach in playful ways such profound matters as aging, death, and the hunger for God. In them, Bly extends his ongoing investigation of the mysterious figures that populate our psyche, especially those treacherous interior characters who like to subjugate our desires to their own. In "It's So Easy to Give In," he tells this ordinary, chilling story:
A mouse visits a cat, and the cat agrees
To drown all her children. "What could I do?"
The cat said. "The mouse needed that."
Despite such frank recognitions of the darkness in human and the universe, Morning Poems is illuminated throughout by Bly's love of truth and his love of art, especially the art of writing poetry. A series of dazzlingly original poems springing from the joy of writing every morning gives us the intimate flavor of the mind of a master poet:
It's as if someone else is here with me, here in this room
In which I lie. The longing the ear feels for sound
Has given me the sweetness that I confuse with Her . . . .
The joy of being alone, eating the honey of words.
Celebratory, meditative, whimsical, biting, and sweet, Morning Poems stands as one of Bly's most deeply satisfying collections for its range, variety and success in weaving together the varied strands of a fascinatingly intricate sensibility. This book shines like a cloth of many colors. Stafford, wherever he is now, must be applauding Bly's adoption of a practice that has borne such handsome and delightful fruit.
Thomas R. Smith, Dragonsmoke