to the small poem and the quiet voice within

robert bly | four small poems by robert bly & a note on don olsen

Four Small Poems by Robert Bly
& a Note on Don Olsen

Editor’s Note: These poems are taken from a small book, 4¼ x 6¼, published by Don Olsen, Ox Head Press, a friend of both Robert Bly and Norbert Blei. Don was a poet and a printer in Minnesota. Print was pure poetry in his eyes and hands.

Around 2001 I suggested he do a book, memoir-like, about his love of printing. Nothing like this had ever been done as far as I knew. In 2003 I printed A BUTTERFLY SLEEPS ON THE TEMPLE BELL (Cross+Roads Press #20) A Reminiscence On The Ox Head Press, 1966-2000, by Don Olsen, Printer & Proprietor. Reflections on How and Why he Founded the Press, Together with some Thoughts on “Fine Printing” & Typographic Design, along with a Few Observations on the Failure of the Press to Bear Witness to the Times, & Remarks on How its Demise Begins with Anguish & Grief that Rise from the Bewildering Complexities of a Suicide & Other Ensuing Losses.

Yes, that’s all on the front cover.

Don was a task-master. Everything had to meet his high standards. I learned much. Respected everything about the man, his life, his love of print, poetry, politics, jazz. He was the real thing. What the small press, fine printing, the Press as Witness to the Times was all about. Unfortunately, his health was failing as we pushed toward publication. He never saw his book in print.

But Ox Head Press remains a testament to the “man of print’. The TLC he gave each book. That magnificent series of miniatures he did (2½ x 3½)…tiny books more valuable now than he had ever imagined.

Whenever I begin to lose faith in the whole publishing process (from e-books to the state of modern publishing in America)…I think of Don Olsen. Keep it small, perfect, meaningful—hand-made. I recall all the beautiful books he did. I read this book of Robert Bly’s small poems, only fourteen of them. I read again the book Don did for me, press it upon other writers, publishers, readers. I open it to the Prelude and read again his first sentence: “It begins with the letter “A,” on learning its origin and history.” I hear him, see him again, face to font, all the magic he worked with words printed, pressed on paper.–norbert blei


From far out in the center of the naked lake
the loon’s cry rose…
it was the cry of someone who owned very little


Strips of August sun come in through shutters.
Baskets of unanswered letters
lie on chairs.
Some foolish man must live here.


The fishermen
slam their car doors, and drive
away from the lake.


When we are in love, we love the grass,
and the barns, and the lightpoles,
and the small main streets abandoned
all night.

from: THE LOON, by Robert Bly, Ox Head Press, 1977, op COLOPHON. This pamphlet was printed at Marshall, Minnesota in a first edition of 500 copies. The leaf ornaments were hand painted with watercolors and brush. D. Olsen, Printer. February, 1977

A BUTTERFLY SLEEPS ON THE TEMPLE BELL, by Don Olsen, Cross+Roads Press, 2003, $10.



  1. Jujitsu Wiker

    …and when we are not in love, we love the smell of the grass, the size of the barn and…..

  2. Jujitsu Wiker

    …sleeping alone all night by the light of the full moon.

  3. Barbara Vroman

    Moments caught from someone else’s life—handed to
    us like small gifts of awareness. Inspiring us to catch and
    hold such moments of our own. Loved Bly’s poem about
    being in love, but Jujitsu Wiker’s sly reply also makes me
    smile and agree, then wonder still if Bly’s poem is closer
    to the truth. Gardener had a writing exercise I used to use
    in teaching. It was to write a short story about amibence
    using the same setting for both a tragic story and a happy one. An old barn was viewed far differently by the
    farmer who had just lost his son in war from the young
    girl remembering a tryst in the same barn.

  4. Michael Z

    I love how even through simple, three or four line poems, Bly still manages to convey detailed imagery that very effectively creates a vivid mental picture for me. For example, the main emotion that jumped out at me in “The Loon” was pain and sorrow. I love how even though it wasnt stated in the poem, I was able to find meaning in the imagery of the bird and its cry and relate it to my life experiences. Truly the work of a master.

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