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Recorded at the American Poets launch party, The New School, New York City, 2013

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)

 

The Earthquake She Slept Through

Mary Jo Bang, 1946
                She slept through the earthquake in Spain. 
The day after was full of dead things. Well, not full but a few.
Coming in the front door, she felt the crunch of a carapace

under her foot. In the bathroom, a large cockroach 
rested on its back at the edge of the marble surround; the dead 
antennae announced the future by pointing to the silver eye 

that would later gulp the water she washed her face with. 
Who wouldn't have wished for the quick return 
of last night's sleep? The idea, she knew, was to remain awake 

and while walking through the day's gray fog, trick the vaporous 
into acting like something concrete: a wisp of cigarette smoke, 
for instance, could become a one-inch Lego building 

seen in the window of a bus blocking the street. 
People sometimes think of themselves as a picture that matches 
an invented longing: a toy forest, a defaced cricket, the more 

or less precious lotus. The night before the quake, she took a train 
to see a comic opera with an unlikely plot. She noticed a man 
in a tan coat and necktie who looked a lot like Kafka. 

The day after, she called a friend to complain about the bugs.
From a distant city—his voice low and slightly plaintive—he said, 
Aren't you well? Is there anything you want?

Copyright © 2012 by Mary Jo Bang. Used with permission of the author.

Copyright © 2012 by Mary Jo Bang. Used with permission of the author.

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

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             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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