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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.

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 And (BOA Editions, 2009), and Dusty Angel (1999), which received 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
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,