Saturday, December 22, 2007

Carol Bly, Minnesota's Lioness of Letters, Dies

A somewhat somber post, my last for about a week. I had the pleasure, and I have to say honor, to meet and talk with Carol a few years back. I was a volunteer for the annual Nebraska Summer Writers Conference, a great chance for a nobody like me to schmooze with well respected national authors and editors as they conduct workshops for a week.

I volunteered to drive her to a soiree in Omaha, there and back one evening. All I knew was she was once married to Robert Bly, and that she had known many poets I consider influences--Donald Hall, James Wright, Bly. I knew little about her, which is sad, but I know much more now. She was terribly sharp, terribly opinionated, terribly funny. When I picked her up at the hotel and saw her walking a bit slow and hunched in her mid 70s, I thought for sure it would be the longest night of my life. Oh, but what a delight she was for that 60 minute drive to Omaha! Inquisitive and interested in me, which was gracious of her, but boy, what a whipper snapper she was! Intimidating with her literary knowledge and passion for social issues, but kind and sensitive to how she elevated you to her "level." I'm sure she was an incredible teacher.

I'm always intimidated by authority figures, even people who are as friendly as can be. It was a joy to have spent just those two short hours with Carol in my car. I didn't even scratch the surface of who she was and how she lived, who she knew, what she knew, what she'd done. I remember her reading--which all the visiting writers gave--where she read a short story without hardly ever looking at the page. Apparently, every time she "reads," the story is a little bit different, comes out in a slightly new way. That was amazing; it brought back the fire and oral power of storytelling we lack anymore, it involved us, made us a part of life, of her.

Though I'm a nobody (Carol would disagree no matter who you are), I know others will feel a much larger loss, and I think for good reason; I can only guess, but it's a pretty darned good educated guess.

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