I have met a few poets.
Richard Eberhart I met in the late 1980s, a frail old man. I shook his hand after one of his readings and told him how much I loved “The Groundhog.” He smiled and nodded politely, but he seemed pleased.
John Ashbery was (and still is) very cute, and giggled when I told him how much I admired him.
Marge Piercy, back in the 1970s, was a cloud of black hair, lost in a dream. I was introduced to her, but I doubt that she noticed.
Seamus Heaney, like Marge, was drifting in limbo when I met him.
Poets are crazy, right? The muse drives them over the wall and up the mountain and back again. Some of them (like Ashbery and Eberhart) are the Apollonian type, writing Poetic Poetry, full of rhyme and meter and control; but the madness and the beauty crept into their poetry too. “There was no sign of the groundhog,” wrote a young Eberhart, and that line broke my heart. “A chorus of smiles, a winter's morning,” wrote a young Ashbery, and it was a vision of beauty and perfection.
Then there was Robert Bly.
He did a reading in early 1978 at Gonzaga. He was huge and tall and loud and mostly drunk. He “tuned up” by reading/reciting other poetry, which is an idea I like very much; I remember he did a few Emily Dickinson lyrics. Why not? Then he started putting on masks and stalking around the hall making menacing gestures at people. I suppose this was part of the whole “Iron John” thing, and coming to terms with one's manhood, and voodoo priesthood, and the sunset of the Beat Poets. It was creepy and compelling, though.
After the reading I was introduced to Bly. I'd won the University's poetry award that year, for a forgettable little lyric that was a mishmash of Ashbery and Eliot and who knows who else. He belted down another drink and loomed down at me and ate a fistful of peanuts. “Were you born at the winter solstice?” he bellowed down at me.
“No,” I whispered. “July.”
He snorted and looked away.
I don't think he was very impressed with me.
Herewith his best lines:
“The world will soon break up
into small colonies of the saved . . . “