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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.

Be Kind

Michael Blumenthal, 1949
Not merely because Henry James said
there were but four rules of life—
be kind be kind be kind be kind—but
because it's good for the soul, and, 
what's more, for others, it may be
that kindness is our best audition
for a worthier world, and, despite
the vagueness  and uncertainty of
its recompense, a bird may yet  wander
into a bush before our very houses, 
gratitude may not manifest itself in deeds
entirely equal to our own, still there's
weather arriving from every direction,
the feasts of famine and feasts of plenty
may yet prove to be one,  so why not
allow the little sacrificial squinches and 
squigulas to prevail? Why not inundate
the particular world with minute particulars?
Dust's certainly all our fate, so why not 
make it the happiest possible dust, 
a detritus of blessedness? Surely
the hedgehog, furling and unfurling
into its spiked little ball, knows something
that, with gentle touch and unthreatening
tone, can inure to our benefit, surely the wicked 
witches of our childhood have died and, 
from where they are buried, a great kindness 
has eclipsed their misdeeds. Yes, of course, 
in the end so much comes down to privilege 
and its various penumbras, but too much 
of our unruly animus has already been 
wasted on reprisals, too much of the
unblessed air is filled with smoke from 
undignified fires. Oh friends, take
whatever kindness you can find
and be profligate in its expenditure: 
It will not drain your limited resources, 
I assure you, it will not leave you vulnerable 
and unfurled, with only your sweet little claws 
to defend yourselves, and your wet little noses, 
and your eyes to the ground, and your little feet.

Copyright © 2011 by Michael Blumenthal. First published in The New Republic. Used by permission of the author.

Copyright © 2011 by Michael Blumenthal. First published in The New Republic. 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
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,
poem
This is not a poem about sex, or even
   about fish or the genitals of fish, 
So if you are a fisherman or someone interested
   primarily in sex, this would be as good a time
As any to put another worm on your hook 
   or find a poem that is really about fucking. 

This, rather, is a poem about language,
poem
My grandmother was eighty-nine and blind
and I was a young boy hungry for quarters,
so, in the waning light
of Sunday afternoons, my parents gone,
I would ring the doorbell
(my friend Raymond smirking
from behind the stairwell) and listen
for the slow shuffle of slippers
in the hall, the soft thump
of her body