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November, 2007 Washington University From the Academy Audio Archive

About this poet

Mary Jo Bang was born on October 22, 1946 in Waynesville, Missouri, and grew up in Ferguson, which is now a suburb of St. Louis. She received a BA and an MA in Sociology from Northwestern University, a BA in photography from the Polytechnic of Central London, and an MFA in creative writing from Columbia University

Bang is the author of seven books of poems, including The Bride of E: Poems (Graywolf Press, 2009) and Elegy (Graywolf Press, 2007), which won the 2007 National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry and was a 2008 New York Times Notable Book. Her first book, Apology for Want (Middlebury College, 1997), was chosen by Edward Hirsch for the 1996 Bakeless Prize.

About her collection Elegy, which traces the aftermath of her son's death, Wayne Koestenbaum writes: "Mary Jo Bang's remarkable elegies recall the late work of Ingeborg Bachmann—a febrile, recursive lyricism. Like Nietzsche or Plath, Bang flouts naysayers; luridly alive, she drives deep into aporia, her new, sad country. Her stanzas, sometimes spilling, sometimes severe, perform an uncanny death-song, recklessly extended—nearly to the breaking point."

Bang's work has been chosen three times for inclusion in the Best American Poetry series. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including a "Discovery"/The Nation award, a Pushcart Prize, a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation, and a Hodder Award from Princeton University. Her books Louise in Love (Grove Press, 2001) and Elegy both received the Poetry Society of America's Alice Fay di Castagnola Award for a manuscript-in-progress.

Bang was the poetry coeditor of the Boston Review from 1995 to 2005. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri, where she is Professor of English and Director of the Creative Writing Program at Washington University.


Bibliography

The Bride of E: Poems (Graywolf Press, 2009)
Elegy (Graywolf Press, 2007)
The Eye Like a Strange Balloon (Grove Press, 2004)
The Downstream Extremity of the Isle of the Swans (University of Georgia Press, 2001)
Louise in Love (Grove Press, 2001)
Apology for Want (Middlebury College, 1997)

 

Catastrophe Theory II

Mary Jo Bang, 1946
The foot goes forward, yes.
Yet there are roots. And a giant orb
which focuses its cyclopic eye
on a moiré morning.
When the microcosm is dry—it's earth;
wet—it's water.

Water, reeds, electric eel: one possibility.
Sun, reeds, dust mote and mite: another.
Whatever the elements
(it's urban/it's pastoral,
it's empty/it's open), the theory says
it could always be worse.

Until it is. Then theory fails,
leaving a tracer mark.
From blood you come to blood
you go. Sudden things happen
inside a frame. A flame is
lit. Look

at those pathetic wiggly squiggles.
Inferno or garden?
An immeasurable distance
sizzles between them.
Watching it all. But taking so little in.
Just what will fit on the flat

of a glass lens. The ticker is hopeful.
Pathetic fallacy.
Look at the numbers move.
The mystery of ticks.
One per second, sixty per Mickey.
Four becomes ten, one in six

bombs falls in a bushel, a basket,
a two o'clock casket. Do you wish to stay
connected? The seen blurs
into the just heard. A bird outside the wide
open window. The warm day
of March. It changes. It has

all changed. The world
as a distracting disaster.
MY, what little SENSE you make, said the wolf
to Mary Jo. The theory rests
on a tipping point.
The clock steps in a direction.

From The Eye Like a Strange Balloon, Poems by Mary Jo Bang. Copyright © 2004 by Mary Jo Bang. Published by Grove / Atlantic. Appears with permission of the author and Grove / Atlantic.

From The Eye Like a Strange Balloon, Poems by Mary Jo Bang. Copyright © 2004 by Mary Jo Bang. Published by Grove / Atlantic. Appears with permission of the author and Grove / Atlantic.

Mary Jo Bang

Mary Jo Bang

Mary Jo Bang's work has been chosen three times for inclusion in the Best American Poetry series

by this poet

poem

 

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poem
You know, don't you, what we're doing here?
The evening laid out like a beach ball gone airless. 

We're watching the spectators in the bleachers.
The one in the blue shirt says, "I knew, 

even as a child, that my mind was adding color 
to the moment." 

The one in red says, "In the dream, there was a child
poem

 

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