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About this poet

Born in Vineland, New Jersey, on March 8, 1949, Michael Blumenthal grew up in a German-speaking home in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan. He received his B.A. in philosophy from the State University of New York in Binghamton, in 1969, and J.D. from Cornell Law School in 1974. From 1985 to 1986, he studied clinical psychology at Antioch University and worked in private practice as a psychotherapist with anglophone expatriates in Budapest.

Blumenthal's debut collection, Sympathetic Magic, received the Water Mark Poets of North America First Book Prize in 1980, followed by Days We Would Rather Know (Viking-Penguin, 1984); Laps: A Book-Length Poem (University of Massachusetts Press,1984), which received the Juniper Prize; Against Romance (Viking-Penguin, 1987); The Wages of Goodness (University of Missouri Press, 1992); and Correcting The World: The Selected Poetry & Writings of Michael Blumenthal (University of West Virginia, 2007).

Most recently, Blumenthal published And (BOA Editions, 2009), and Dusty Angel (1999), which received the Isabella Stewart Gardner Prize. Be Kind, Blumenthal's eighth poetry collection, is forthcoming from BOA Editions.

In his foreword to Blumenthal's first book, Charles Fishman wrote: "Like Gerald Stern or David Ignatow, Blumenthal has a genuine comic gift as well as a broad, deep sensibility that encompasses and transforms nearly everything he touches—nearly everything that touches him."

About his work, Grace Schulman has said "Michael Blumenthal has the intelligence to sort out complexities, the innocence to see the world new, and the craft to combine those often incompatible qualities."

Also the author of fiction and non-fiction, Blumenthal has published Weinstock Among the Dying: A Novel (Zoland Books, 1993), which received the Harold U. Ribalow Prize; When History Enters the House: Central European Essays, 1992-1996 (Pleasure Boat Studios, 1998); and All My Mothers and Fathers: A Memoir (Harper-Collins, New York, 2002). The anthology To Woo and To Wed: Poets on Marriage, which he edited, was published by Poseidon Press in 1992.

Blumenthal has also published various prose translations, as well as And Yet: Selected Poems of Péter Kántor (Pleasure Boat Studios, 2009). In 2009, he received the poetry prize of the Society for Contemporary Literature in German.

His other honors include fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, The Ingram-Merrill Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Rockefeller Foundation. In 1985, he was selected by the poet Howard Nemerov to receive the Lavan Younger Poets Prize from the Academy of American Poets.

Blumenthal has lived in, and taught at universities in Hungary, Israel, Germany and France. He has served as the Copenhaver Distinguished Visiting Chair in Law and is presently a visiting professor at West Virginia University Law School.

The Difference between a Child and a Poem

Michael Blumenthal, 1949
If you are terrified of your own death,
and want to escape from it,
you may want to write a poem,
for the poem might carry your name
into eternity, the poem
may become immortal, beyond flesh
and fashion, it may be read
in a thousand years by someone
as frightened of death as you are,
in a dark field, at night,
when he has failed once again at love
and there is no illusion with which to escape
the inward pull of his own flesh
against the narrowing margins of the spirit.

But if you have accepted your own death,
if you have pinched daily the corroborating flesh,
and have passed the infinite gravestones
bearing your name, if you know for certain
that the day will one day come
when you will gaze into the mirror in search of your face
and find only a silence, then
you may want to make a child, you may want to push
the small oracles of flesh forward
into some merely finite but lengthening story,
you may want to toss your seed into the wind
like a marigold, or a passion fruit, and watch
as a fresh flower grows in your place, as your face
inches onto another face, and your eyes
slip down over your cheeks onto the forehead
of your silenced, speakable future.

And, then, when you are done with all that,
you may want to write a poem.

From The Wages of Goodness, published by University of Missouri Press. Copyright © 1992 by Michael Blumenthal. Used by permission of the author.

From The Wages of Goodness, published by University of Missouri Press. Copyright © 1992 by Michael Blumenthal. Used by permission of the author.

Michael Blumenthal

Michael Blumenthal

Born in 1949, Michael Blumenthal is the author of several collections of poetry, most recently And (BOA Editions, 2009), and Dusty Angel (1999), which received the Isabella Stewart Gardner Prize

by this poet

poem
Just because a man pulls out your chair for you
and takes your coat at an elegant restaurant 
is no guarantee that he really loves you. You know this,
and so whether he burps or farts over the dinner 
like some sort of Chinese compliment 
does not much matter to you, whether he subscribes
to the high sanctimony
poem
Conformity caught here, nobody catches it,
Lawns groomed in prose, with hardly a stutter.
Lloyd hits the ball, and Lorraine fetches it.

Mom hangs the laundry, Fred, Jr., watches it,
Shirts in the clichéd air, all aflutter.
Conformity caught here, nobody catches it.

A dog drops a bone, another dog snatches it.
poem
[I] retrace by moonlight the roads where I used to play in the sun.
                                                 — Marcel Proust


At night, when I go out to the field
to listen to the birds sleep, the stars
hover like old umpires over the diamond,
and I think back upon the convergences
of bats and balls, of