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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)

Fish Fucking

Michael Blumenthal, 1949
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, 
   and about the connections between mind and ear
And the strange way a day makes its tenuous
   progress from almost anywhere. 

Which is why I've decided to begin with the idea
   of fish fucking (not literally, mind you, 
But the idea of fish fucking), because the other
   day, and a beautiful day it was, in Virginia
The woman I was with, commenting on the time
   between the stocking of a pond and the 

First day of fishing season, asked me if this
   was perhaps because of the frequency with which
Fish fuck, and—though I myself know nothing at all
   about the fucking of fish—indeed, I believe 

From the little biology I know that fish do not
   fuck at all as we know it, but rather the male
Deposits his sperm on the larvae, which the female, 
   in turn, has deposited—yet the question 
Somehow suggested itself to my mind as the starting
   point of the day, and from the idea of fish 

Fucking came thoughts of the time that passes
   between things and our experience of them, 
Not only between the stocking of the pond and our
   being permitted to fish in it, but the time, 

For example, that passes between the bouncing
   of light on the pond and our perception of the
Pond, or between the time I say the word jujungawop
   and the moment that word bounces against your 
Eardrum and the moment a bit further on when the
   nerves that run from the eardrum to the brain 

Inform you that you do not, in fact, know 
   the meaning of the word jujungawop, but this,
Perhaps, is moving a bit too far from the idea of 
   fish fucking and how beautifully blue the pond was 

That morning and how, lying among the reeds atop 
   the dam and listening to the water run under it, 
The thought occurred to me how the germ of an idea
   has little to do with the idea itself, and how 
It is rather a small leap from fish fucking to the
   anthropomorphic forms in a Miró painting, 

Or the way certain women, when they make love,
   pucker their lips and gurgle like fish, and how
This all points out how dangerous it is for a 
   man or a woman who wants a poet's attention 

To bring up an idea, even so ludicrous and 
   biologically ungrounded a one as fish fucking,
Because the next thing she knows the mind is taking 
   off over the dam from her beautiful face, off 
Over the hills of Virginia, perhaps as far as Guatemala 
   and the black bass that live in Lake Atitlán who 

Feast on the flightless grebe, which is not merely
   a sexual thought or a fishy one, but a thought 
About the cruelty that underlies even great beauty,
   the cruelty of nature and love and our lives which 

We cannot do without and without which even the idea
   of fish fucking would be ordinary and no larger than
Itself, but to return now to that particular day, and to 
   the idea of love, which inevitably arises from the 
Thought that even so seemingly unintelligent a creature
   as a fish could hold his loved one, naked in the water, 

And say to her, softly, Liebes, mein Lubes; it was 
   indeed a beautiful day, the kind filled with anticipation 
And longing for the small perfections usually found only 
   in poems; the breeze was slight enough just to brush 

A few of her hairs gently over one eye, the air was
   the scent of bayberry and pine as if the gods were
Burning incense in some heavenly living room, and
   as we lay among the reeds, our faces skyward, 
The sun fondling our cheeks, it was as if each 
   time we looked away from the world it took 

On again a precise yet general luminescence when we 
   returned to it, a clarity equally convincing as pain 
But more pleasing to the senses, and though it was not 
   such a moment of perfection as Keats or Hamsun 

Speak of and for the sake of which we can go on for 
   years almost blissful in our joylessness, it was 
A day when at least the possibility of such a thing 
   seemed possible: the deer tracks suggesting that 
Deer do, indeed, come to the edge of the woods to feed
   at dusk, and the idea of fish fucking suggesting 

A world so beautiful, so divine in its generosity 
   that even the fish make love, even the fish live 
Happily ever after, chasing each other, lustful 
   as stars through the constantly breaking water.

From Days We Would Rather Know, published by The Viking Press. Copyright © 1984 by Michael Blumenthal. Used by permission of the author.

From Days We Would Rather Know, published by The Viking Press. Copyright © 1984 by Michael Blumenthal. 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
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
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,