In the early 1960s, American poet Robert Bly wrote to one of his heroes, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.
Bly and his friend, James Wright, wanted permission to publish Spanish and English versions of Neruda's work in "Twenty Poems of Pablo Neruda."
Bly had never met the Chilean, but Neruda was all too accommodating. Futhermore, Neruda was well aware of Bly's efforts to translate "lost" poets for an American audience.
"I would have never met him if I never deigned to define culture by translating," Bly said.
Bly, now 80, was the opening speaker Thursday at the three-day UAS Spring Forum, a conference at the Egan Lecture Hall on sustaining culture, community and environment.
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The free forum resumes at 9 a.m. today and Saturday.
Bly has published roughly 40 poetry collections and translated scores of other authors from Spanish, Japanese, Norwegian, Swedish and German. His first work, "Silence in the Snowy Fields," came out in 1962. Last year, the University of Minnesota bought his archives, which span more than half a century.
"You can sustain cultures by learning languages and translating from that language," Bly said. "If you know a language, then make use of it. It's a big help to culture as a whole."
Bly gained some political notoriety in the mid-1960s, when he helped found American Writers Against the Vietnam War. He's been called "controversial" for encouraging others to press for changes in the government.
This is Robert Bly
Who: American poet, author and international bestseller.
Published: more than 40 collections and anthologies of poetry; edited and translated many others.
Awards: National Book Award winner (1968); McKnight Foundation Distinguished Artist Award (2000); University of Minnesota Library's Distinguished Writer (2002).
What: University of Alaska Southeast Spring Forum.
When: continues 9 a.m.-evening, today and Saturday.
Where: UAS Egan Lecture Hall.
"You have to look for places where you can oppose the government now," Bly said.
"Capitalism wants you to waste your life, and it succeeds with a lot of kids," he said. "When you go on dope, that's exactly what the capitalists want. So you're not intelligent enough to vote for a Democrat."
That was as far as Bly ventured into politics Thursday morning. His talk focused on poetry.
Bly spent more than an hour reading some of his favorite poets, many of which are featured in his 2004 collection of translations, "The Winged Energy of Delight."
"It's better to not know Spanish and love life and let others correct your mistakes than to study Spanish at university for 15 years and kill yourself," Bly said.
Korry Keeker can be reached at email@example.com.