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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)

 

The Eye Like a Strange Balloon Mounts Toward Infinity

Mary Jo Bang, 1946
We were going toward nothing
all along. Honing the acoustics,
heralding the instant
shifts, horizontal to vertical, particle

to plexus, morning to late,
lunch to later yet, instant to over. Done
to overdone. And all against
a pet-shop cacophony, the roof withstanding

its heavy snow load. So, winter. And still,
ambition to otherwise and a forest of wishes.
Meager the music floating over. The car
in the driveway. In the P-lot, or curbside.

A building overlooking an estuary,
inspired by a lighthouse.
Always asking. Has this this been built?
Or is it all process?

Molecular coherence, a dramatic canopy,
cafeteria din, audacious design. Or humble.
Saying, We ask only to be compared to the ant-
erior cruciate ligament. So simple. So elegant.

Animated detail, data from digital.
But of course there is also longstanding evil.
The spider speaking
to the fly, Come in, come in.

Overcoming timidity. Overlooking
consequence. Finally ending
with the future. Take comfort.
You were going nowhere. You were not alone.

You were one
of a body curled on a beach. Near sleep
on a balcony. The negative night
in a small town or part of an urban abstraction.

Looking up
at the billboard hummingbird,
its enormous beak. There's a song that goes. . .
And then the curtain drops.

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 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
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
poem

 

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