[Citation Needed]: Verifying the Claim That Iron John's Robert Bly And Women Who Run With The Wolves' Clarissa Pinkola Estés Had A "Friendly Correspondence"
I wonder if you can assist me! You may be familiar with the men’s “mythopoetic” movement of the 1980s, which asked the important question, “What does The Golden Bough have to say about losing touch with your old college buddies?” Perhaps its best-known proponent was Robert Bly, the author of Iron John: A Book About Men, which spent more than a year on The New York Times’ Best Seller list.
Some of Bly’s poetry, by the way, was quite good; I haven’t yet read any of his translations, but I can happily recommend The Night Abraham Called To The Stars and “HE WANTED TO LIVE HIS LIFE OVER”:
What? You want to live your life over again?
“Well, I suppose, yes . . . That time in Grand Rapids . . .
My life—as I lived it—was a series of shynesses.'“
Being bolder—what good would that do?
“I’d open my door again. I’ve felt abashed,
You see. Now I’d go out and say, ‘All right,
I’ll go with you to Alaska.’ Just opening the door
From inside would have altered me—a little.
I’m too shy . . .” And so, a bolder life
Is what you want? “We could begin now.
Just walk with me—down to the river.
I’ll pretend this boat is my life . . . I’ll climb in.”
But I’m afraid that Iron John, and the attendant men’s-workshop-industrial complex, was every bit as goofy as you remember; it begins with the perfectly-sound premise that many men experience psychic pain in need of healing, then rapidly devolves into a vague porridge of “warrior energy” and outlandish claims like “Hair is intuition” or “the love unit most damaged by the Industrial Revolution has been the father-son bond.”
What interests me today, however, is the as-yet-unverified claim in Robert Bly’s Wikipedia page that he maintained “a friendly correspondence” with Clarissa Pinkola Estés, the Jungian psychoanalyst and author of Women Who Run With The Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype. After this extraordinary sentence comes a dream-puncturing “.” Can this possibly be true? Has anyone published their correspondence? Has Estés ever discussed it in greater detail? What percentage of said correspondence, if it exists, can be said to be friendly? Congenial or effusive? Did they exchange fursonas? Bly went on to co-write The Maiden King: The Reunion of Masculine and Feminine with another Jungian (this one an analytical psychologist), Marion Woman, so there’s precedence for such a claim, obviously, yet tantalizingly little information.
You may find you have more patience for Women Who Run With The Wolves than Iron John, depending on your own temperament, whether you prefer nicely-accurate scholarship or lavish vibes, on your receptivity to self-help, essentialism, and what Michiko Kakutani called “a kind of post-feminist perspective that’s shrouded in thick clouds of New Age psychobabble” in a review that also discusses Marianne Williamson(!).
These “primal boy” and “primal girl” bestsellers had a sort of legitimate patina to them (Bly won the National Book Award for Poetry back in ‘68 and was a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop while Estés had a doctorate in psychology; let’s throw Reviving Ophelia into the mix while we’re at it) that gradually sloughed off into increasingly low-effort knockoffs like John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart that nevertheless sold like hotcakes among American evangelicals in the ‘90s and early ‘00s. Those earlier New Age-y bestsellers all had titles that betrayed some aspirations towards historical and psychological accuracy, like Thálatta!: Piloting The Orphaned Canoe Towards the Wine-Dark Sea and Bluebeard’s Menarche: the Grandest Guignol, while the trickle-down also-rans had more less-ambitious titles like Gentle Warriors or Women, Christ’s Waterfalls.
Anyhow, the closest thing I can find to evidence for this supposed “friendly correspondence” between the Homecoming Queen and King of the mythopoetic movement is an old interview between Dr. Estés and someone named Bert Hoff for M.E.N. Magazine:
Bert: What is the “wild woman”?
Dr. Estés: She is ... God.
Bert: Are you talking about finding a god within?
Dr. Estés: I would say it in a little different way. I would say that if you look in a woman's face, the god shows in her face. You see this furred criatura right behind her visage, right behind her eyes. If you are an intelligent person, you will be respectful. If you are not an intelligent person and the woman is in her biting instinctual nature, she may bite you.[…]
Bert: How does the wild woman compare to the wild man in Robert Bly’s Iron John?
Dr. Estés: My sensibility is that what is wild is nature. We need to see and understand that whatever stands behind nature is what is god. Nature itself, it is the manifestation. We see things about nature that are beautiful, like your blue sky outside today, and it fills us with almost a prayerful excitement. When I look at it, I feel still. I have seen this sky every day of my life and I am still in awe by it. That is what the wild is -- this intense medicinal beauty. To look at it makes you feel whole.[…]
Bert: Do you think it’s important for men to read you[r] book?
Dr. Estés: Yes, I do. Sam Keen and I had a conversation about this. I also received a very nice letter from Robert Bly a couple of weeks ago, saying that he really liked the book very much. People were recommending it to him, and he was recommending it back. [Emphasis mine.]
Surely this can’t be it! Not the Wild Man telling the Wild Woman “Hey, I liked your book very much” and nothing more! Such tepid niceness – this cannot be the end! If you have any information about the extent and scope of the “friendly conversation” that allegedly existed between Iron John and Iron Jane, I urge you (wildly!) to share it with me.
Oof, I'm getting flashbacks to a poetry course I took in college where we studied (among other things) a whole collection of Robert Bly poems. I was *not* a fan, but I'm a fan of this dialogue!
I’m stuck on “Bluebeard’s Menarche” and “Women, Christ’s Waterfalls.” And of course, Thalatta!
I had a friend who was in Jungian analysis and also a recovering alcoholic. She kept getting this impulse to take a bath in a tub full of wine - because, wine dark sea. Her analyst said she should go for it. Most everyone else thought it was the craziest relapse idea ever.