cover image Eating the Honey of Words: New and Selected Poems

Eating the Honey of Words: New and Selected Poems

Robert W. Bly. HarperCollins Publishers, $25 (270pp) ISBN 978-0-06-017562-7

Heeded in the '60s as the head apostle of the ""Deep Image"" school of poets; known for ""read-ins"" against the Vietnam War; and heralded again recently as the author of the men's movement guide Iron John, Bly has been famous several times over. But this broad set of poems from his whole career reveals how detrimentally little his style has changed. Fond of would-be archetypal terms like ""the darkness,"" ""fields,"" ""stones,"" and ""the body,"" Bly seeks simplicity, knowledge of the collective unconscious, solidarity with nature and confidence in his desires: these projects entail, usually, a drastic distrust of subtlety and a near-total repudiation of intellect. Some of Bly's lines make parody pointless: ""My body was sour, my life dishonest, and I fell asleep""; ""As for me, I want to be a stone! Yes!""; ""The bear between my legs/ has one eye only,/ which he offers/ to God to see with""; ""In late September many voices/ Tell you you will die""; ""More of the fathers are dying each day./ It is time for the sons""--this last from ""Winter Privacy Poems at the Shack."" Some of Bly's mannerisms blossomed into brilliance in the work of his late contemporary James Wright; Bly himself has written a few standout poems, most recently the bizarre ""An Afternoon in June."" But Bly's real and impressive aural skills, his sense of what is easily effective, and his self-assurance, allow him to go on writing what are at bottom the same lines over and over, whether their catalyst is Vietnam, or sex, or the California coast. One might say of Bly's work, as he says of ""The Storm,"" ""It lacked subtlety and obeyed/ Something or someone irresistible""; most of his poems now seem easy to resist. (Apr.)