Those masterful images because complete
Grew in pure mind, but out of what began?
A mound of refuse or the sweeping of a street,
Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can,
Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut
Who keeps the till. Now that my ladder’s gone,
I must lie down where all ladders start,
In the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart.
—William Butler Yeats
Before The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart, became a thematically arranged anthology of poetry, with the instructive, if not subtle, subtitle: poems for men, it was lists and crib notes, bookmarks and dog-ears. It was loose sheaves of paper in heaps in small rooms, in canvas and woolen book bags, and when I first saw it, it was in three separate stuffed binders under the chairs of three amazing men. Eight years before I turned up on the doorstep of the Minnesota Men’s Conference, but after I had been puzzling things out by myself for quite a while, I left early on a Saturday morning to drive into Boston in search of a particular, very large social hall and a place to park. Boston and parking are not on speaking terms, so I wound up walking a long way to where Robert Bly, James Hillman, and Michael Meade were holding a non-residential workshop. It was very early. The streets were quiet. I was thinking that the light of day was sleeping in when I noticed another man, other men, walking in the same direction I was walking, coming from every compass point, alone or with another man, forming clumps at cross walks, and finally a large scrum outside the doors of the building, where forward motion stopped as though behind a freeway accident.
Inside, a mass of men filling the corridors shuffled slowly toward an opening where we were guided, single file, into a narrow draped doorway that required us to stoop. Well, it wasn’t just a doorway. It was a low canvas birth canal lined with hidden drummers, pounding out, endlessly and expertly, the rhythm and chant, “Jin-Go-Lo-Ba,” introduced to the west in 1959 by Babatunde Olatunji. When 700 men had entered the hall in that way, had joined in the singing and taken seats in a large field of folding chairs, Robert began, “Well, that’s about it. There’s nothing we could add to that.”
It was a joke, of course. The germ of truth was that the conference begins when you make the decision to attend, and in the sense that the acorn contains the forest, it is realized when we plant ourselves in the seats. Showing up is an achievement in itself. Was Bly telling us we were revitalizing a pre-mammalian act by flocking together? Probably not, but you can never be sure with Robert. He just likes looking at our faces. We just like that feeling of being seen by someone we respect and admire.
Author: Mark Gardiner