Robert Bly (born December 23, 1926) is an American poet, essayist, activist, and leader of the mythopoetic men's movement. His most commercially successful book to date was Iron John: A Book About Men (1990), a key text of the mythopoetic men's movement, which spent 62 weeks on The New York Times Best Seller list. He won the 1968 National Book Award for Poetry for his book The Light Around the Body.
Bly was born in Lac qui Parle County, Minnesota, to Jacob and Alice Bly, who were of Norwegian ancestry. Following graduation from high school in 1944, he enlisted in the United States Navy, serving two years. After one year at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, he transferred to Harvard University, joining the later famous group of writers who were undergraduates at that time, including Donald Hall, Will Morgan, Adrienne Rich, Kenneth Koch, Frank O'Hara, John Ashbery, Harold Brodkey, George Plimpton and John Hawkes. He graduated in 1950 and spent the next few years in New York.
Beginning in 1954, Bly spent two years at the University of Iowa at the Iowa Writers Workshop, completing a master's degree in fine arts, along with W. D. Snodgrass, Donald Justice, and others. In 1956, he received a Fulbright Grant to travel to Norway and translate Norwegian poetry into English. While there, he found not only his relatives, but became acquainted with the work of a number of major poets whose work was barely known in the United States, among them Pablo Neruda, Cesar Vallejo, Antonio Machado, Gunnar Ekelof, Georg Trakl, Rumi, Hafez, Kabir, Mirabai, and Harry Martinson. Bly determined then to start a literary magazine for poetry translation in the United States. The Fifties, The Sixties, and The Seventies introduced many of these poets to the writers of his generation. He also published essays on American poets.
During this time, Bly lived on a farm in Minnesota, with his wife and children. His first marriage was to award-winning short story novelist Carol Bly. They had four children, including Mary Bly —a best-selling novelist and Literature Professor at Fordham University as of 2011— and they divorced in 1979. Since 1980 Bly has been married to the former Ruth Counsell; by that marriage he had a stepdaughter and stepson, although the stepson died in a pedestrian–train incident.