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This review is taken from PN Review 129, Volume 26 Number 1, September - October 1999.

RESHAPING THE RECORD ROBERT BLY, Eating the Honey of Words: New and Selected Poems (HarperCollins)

A New and Selected volume allows readers an overview of a poet's career, presenting a representative selection of his work and giving an entry-point to the wider oeuvre. It has the function, too, of summing a career. Robert Bly's recent Eating the Honey of Words is a substantial and attractive book. It will probably introduce many new readers to his work, but it presents a very specific view of Bly's career, emphasising some aspects and ignoring (even editing-out) others.

When I interviewed Bly late in 1997, I questioned him about the changes of opinion and value evident through his career - especially the shift from the archetype of the mother to that of the father between Sleepers Joining Hands (1973) and the prose book Iron John (1990).1 He replied, laughing:

That's quite right. That's quite right. I'm partly exhibitionist. But someone else said, 'Robert, the only thing I like about you is that you educate yourself in public.'

I cite this exchange because it seems to have a bearing upon Eating the Honey of Words. Its relevance lies in the many revisions from the original published versions of poems and in the re-visioning of Bly's career implied in the text's arrangement. A number of poems have slipped across the boundaries of the volumes in which they were originally published and appear now under the headings of earlier or later books. There is, one suspects, something of Bly educating himself in public ...


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