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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 BA in philosophy from the State University of New York in Binghamton in 1969, and his JD 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 (Water Mark Press, 1980), received the Water Mark Poets of North America First Book Prize. His other collections include, most recently, No Hurry: Poems 2000-2012 (Etruscan Press, 2012), And (BOA Editions, 2009), and Dusty Angel (BOA Editions, 1999), winner of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Prize.

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 nonfiction, Blumenthal has published “Because They Needed Me”: The Incredible Struggle of Rita Miljo to Save the Orphaned Baboons of South Africa (Pleasure Boat Studios, 2015), Just Three Minutes, Please: Thinking Out Loud on Public Radio (Vandalia Press, 2013), and All My Mothers and Fathers: A Memoir (Harper-Collins, 2002), among others.

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.


Bibliography

Poetry

No Hurry: Poems 200-2012 (Etruscan Press, 2012)
And (BOA Editions, 2009)
Dusty Angel (BOA Editions, 1999)
The Wages of Goodness (University of Missouri Press, 1992)
Against Romance (Viking/Penguin, 1987)
Days We Would Rather Know (Viking/Penguin, 1984)
Laps (University of Massachusetts Press, 1984)
Sympathetic Magic (Water Mark Press, 1980)

Nonfiction

“Because They Needed Me”: The Incredible Struggle of Rita Miljo to Save the Orphaned Baboons of South Africa (Pleasure Boat Studios, 2015)
Just Three Minutes, Please: Thinking Out Loud on Public Radio (Vandalia Press, 2013)
All My Mothers and Fathers: A Memoir (Harper-Collins, 2002)
When History Enters the House: Essays from Central Europe, 1992-1996 (Pleasure Boat Studios, 1998)

Fiction

The Greatest Jewish-American Lover in Hungarian History: Stories (Etruscan Press, 2014)
Weinstock Among the Dying: A Novel (Zoland Books, 1993)

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 No Hurry: Poems 2000-2012 (Etruscan Press, 2012), And (BOA Editions, 2009), and Dusty Angel (BOA Editions, 1999), winner of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Prize.

by this poet

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
poem
A man in terror of impotence
or infertility, not knowing the difference . . . . 
                                             Adrienne Rich


We live in dread of something:

Need, perhaps. Tears,
the air inside a woman's dress,
the deep breath of non-ambition.

In a valley of stone,
men had to carry
poem
after Tennyson
Now come the purple garments, now the white;
Now move the vagrant beds among the disinfected halls;
Now stretch the opaque hose between the antiseptic rooms:
I waken: and she looks at me.

Now droops the freshly propped-up pillow like a ghost,
And like a ghost she