poem index

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

About this poet

Mary Jo Bang was born on October 22, 1946 in Waynesville, Missouri, and grew up in Ferguson, which is now a suburb of St. Louis. She received a BA and an MA in Sociology from Northwestern University, a BA in photography from the Polytechnic of Central London, and an MFA in creative writing from Columbia University

Bang is the author of seven books of poems, including The Bride of E: Poems (Graywolf Press, 2009) and Elegy (Graywolf Press, 2007), which won the 2007 National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry and was a 2008 New York Times Notable Book. Her first book, Apology for Want (Middlebury College, 1997), was chosen by Edward Hirsch for the 1996 Bakeless Prize.

About her collection Elegy, which traces the aftermath of her son's death, Wayne Koestenbaum writes: "Mary Jo Bang's remarkable elegies recall the late work of Ingeborg Bachmann—a febrile, recursive lyricism. Like Nietzsche or Plath, Bang flouts naysayers; luridly alive, she drives deep into aporia, her new, sad country. Her stanzas, sometimes spilling, sometimes severe, perform an uncanny death-song, recklessly extended—nearly to the breaking point."

Bang's work has been chosen three times for inclusion in the Best American Poetry series. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including a "Discovery"/The Nation award, a Pushcart Prize, a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation, and a Hodder Award from Princeton University. Her books Louise in Love (Grove Press, 2001) and Elegy both received the Poetry Society of America's Alice Fay di Castagnola Award for a manuscript-in-progress.

Bang was the poetry coeditor of the Boston Review from 1995 to 2005. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri, where she is Professor of English and Director of the Creative Writing Program at Washington University.


Bibliography

The Bride of E: Poems (Graywolf Press, 2009)
Elegy (Graywolf Press, 2007)
The Eye Like a Strange Balloon (Grove Press, 2004)
The Downstream Extremity of the Isle of the Swans (University of Georgia Press, 2001)
Louise in Love (Grove Press, 2001)
Apology for Want (Middlebury College, 1997)

 

You Know

Mary Jo Bang, 1946
You know, don't you, what we're doing here?
The evening laid out like a beach ball gone airless. 

We're watching the spectators in the bleachers.
The one in the blue shirt says, "I knew, 

even as a child, that my mind was adding color 
to the moment." 

The one in red says, "In the dream, there was a child 
batting a ball back and forth. He was chanting

that awful rhyme about time that eventually ends
with the body making a metronome motion."

By way of demonstration, he moves mechanically 
side to side while making a clicking noise. 

His friends look away. They all know 
how a metronome goes. You and I continue to watch 

because we have nothing better to do. 
We wait for the inevitable next: we know the crowd

will rise to its feet when prompted and count—
one-one-hundred, two-one-hundred, 

three-one-hundred—as if history were a sound 
that could pry apart an ever-widening abyss 

with a sea on the bottom. And it will go on like this. 
The crowd will quiet when the sea reaches us.

Copyright © 2010 by Mary Jo Bang. Used with permission of the author.

Copyright © 2010 by Mary Jo Bang. Used with permission of the author.

Mary Jo Bang

Mary Jo Bang

Mary Jo Bang's work has been chosen three times for inclusion in the Best American Poetry series

by this poet

poem

             The rhinestone lights blink off and on.
Pretend stars. 
I’m sick of explanations. A life is like Russell said 
of electricity, not a thing but the way things behave. 
A science of motion toward some flat surface, 
some heat, some cold. Some light
can leave some
poem
                She slept through the earthquake in Spain. 
The day after was full of dead things. Well, not full but a few.
Coming in the front door, she felt the crunch of a carapace

under her foot. In the bathroom, a large cockroach 
rested on its back at the edge of the marble surround; the dead 
antennae
poem

 

Click the icon above to listen to this audio poem.