Mary Jo Bang in Conversation
The following is an excerpt from an interview that took place on January 16, 2008, with the Academy of American Poets. To listen to the entire interview, click the audio icon.
In the year 2000 I moved from New York City, where I'd been living for some seven years, to St. Louis, Missouri, where I had grown up. It wasn't necessarily a happy occasion; I felt a little bit trapped in my childhood. And I bought a condominium across from a large urban park called Forest Park, which is actually larger than Central Park and designed by a disciple of Frederick Olmstead, so it's very similar. And within that park there's a museum, a zoo, a lot of different lagoons for boating, and a conservatory called the Jewel Box, which I remember from my childhood. It had a little bridge that led to a wishing well where you could throw a penny or something. Maybe even a nickel.
So I began to walk in that park, and as I did, I realized at some point there were so many memories of visiting that park, and so many different memories, that it began to feel like this was the museum of my childhood. And I realized then that would make the art museum, the St. Louis Art Museum, the museum of the museum of my childhood. And I began to entertain the notion, what would happen if somebody was trapped in the museum and they couldn't get out except by going through a picture. So that meant that if you wanted to go to the beach, you could enter a Prendergast painting of a beach scene that I knew from my visits there in high school, and you could have a day at the beach. Of course if you entered a Pollock, something very different might happen. But that led to the creation, initially, of these poems that make up the book called The Eye Like a Strange Balloon