The Open Center History

Has A Nation Gone Blind? Robert Bly, April 2007

After looking back thirty years to the early days of the Open Center in our first two columns on Open Center history, this week we recall a mere eleven years ago, mid-April 2007, when one of the Center’s most outstanding and soulful presenters and performers, the great poet Robert Bly, addressed an urgent topic, ‘Has a Nation Gone Blind?’ The country was reaching the end of W’s presidency, the terrible consequences of the unnecessary Iraq War were sinking in, and Robert and his co-presenter Eric Larsen wanted to address ‘the decline of cultural energy in a U.S. dominated by slogans and immense corporations.’

Though known mostly as a poet, Robert Bly has always been a fierce and penetrating cultural critic. He changed the nature of the poetry reading during the war in Vietnam by his intense political engagement, his way of accompanying himself musically as he recited a poem, and his desire to create a soulful collective experience for the audience. He also did a huge amount to introduce many Americans to the mystical Sufi poets Rumi and Hafez, and the beautiful insights of Antonio Machado’s work. Robert also joined the Open Center for many of its Esoteric Quest conferences in Europe and gave a genuinely magical, candle-lit performance in a 16th Century alchemical castle in Bohemia that no-one who was there will ever forget.

So this week we’d like to remember Robert Bly, one of our most brilliant and uncompromising faculty members for twenty five years. Many think of him today in the context of Iron John and the Men’s Movement that he did so much to inspire. For the Open Center, he has always been a spiritual touchstone, a man of towering integrity with the courage to speak both the psychological and political truth with drama and flair. Now that age prevents him from giving public performances, we’d like to take this opportunity to send him, out there in the silent, snowy fields of his native Minnesota, our warm gratitude for his unique and invaluable contribution to the Center’s work.  If the soul has had a great champion in modern American poetry, it is surely Robert Bly!