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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 III

Mary Jo Bang, 1946
Now we sit and play with a tiny toy
elephant that travels a taut string.
Now we are used and use in turn
each other. Our hats unravel
and that in itself is tragic.
To be lost. To have lost. Verbs

like veritable engines pulling the train
of thought forward. The hat is over-
turned and out comes a rabbit. Out comes a man
with a monocle. Out comes a Kaiser.
Yikes, it's history, that ceiling
comprised of recessed squares, each leg a lifeline,

each lie a wife's leg. A pulled velvet cord
rings a bell and everyone comes running
to watch while a year plummets
into the countdown of an open mouth. A loop of razor wire
closes around the circumference of a shaken globe
of snow. Yellowed newsprint with its watery text,

a latticework of shadow thrown
onto the clear screen of the prison wall.
From a mere idea comes the twine
that gives totality its name. What is a theory
but a tentacle reaching for a wafer of reason.
The inevitable gap tragic. Sure, tragic.

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

             The rhinestone lights blink off and on.
Pretend stars. 
I’m sick of explanations. A life is like Russell said 
of electricity, not a thing but the way things behave. 
A science of motion toward some flat surface, 
some heat, some cold. Some light
can leave some
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