poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

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)

Manners

Michael Blumenthal, 1949
Just because a man pulls out your chair for you
and takes your coat at an elegant restaurant 
is no guarantee that he really loves you. You know this,
and so whether he burps or farts over the dinner 
like some sort of Chinese compliment 
does not much matter to you, whether he subscribes
to the high sanctimony of the right thing 
leaves you unmoved and lonely. Once, 
like a Turkish princess, you were feted and dined
by all sorts of mannerly people, in a high castle 
on the cliffs of Scotland. Now, so many thank-yous
and sincerelies later, it's the things unsaid, 
the warm rudities of late night, that most move you 
and you are wild for slurped sounds of the truly decent,
the I-chew-with-my-mouth-open look of the one 
you will love forever. Whatever it is that might be said
for the predictable thing, the good manners 
you were taught in childhood, it's more and more
the case of the auspicious oddity that excites you now,
the cool flippancy of the one who invents 
his own decencies. Darling, I say to you, 
fall to the floor all you want, I ain't pulling 
chairs out for anyone. But what I'll whisper to you later, 
in the orderly dark that comes every night like a good butler,
 will be sweeter than all that, believe me, 
something you can write home to mom about
as if I were the man who had sent you a, dozen roses
on Valentine's Day, or smiled in the pretty picture, 
or paid you the most beautiful compliment in the world—
only more slovenly, baby, more kind. 

From Against Romance by Michael Blumenthal, published by Viking Penguin, Inc. Copyright © 1987 by Michael Blumenthal. Used by permission of the author.

From Against Romance by Michael Blumenthal, published by Viking Penguin, Inc. Copyright © 1987 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
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
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