reviewed by Stephanie Burt
Coldly beautiful and relentlessly quotable, this eighth collection from Mary Jo Bang (who won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Elegy, published by Graywolf Press in 2007) is also her first to consist wholly of prose poems, and her second, after The Eye Like a Strange Balloon (Grove Press, 2004), to take its bearings from modern art. Many of its pages respond to the life and work of Lucia Moholy, the photographer whose Bauhaus-era images were later used without her consent. Looking back at us “like someone looking into a box of scattered catastrophes,” Moholy may be one type of the neglected artist, or the woman kept down by patriarchy; other characters, silhouettes, and imagined faces surface amid Bang’s bleak, almost Beckett-like aphorisms and terse exclamations. Bang’s speakers, framed on their pages like black-and-white stills, refuse our drive toward story, our wish for relief: “I have zero desire for what has been buried after having been done with like that one that was once.” Instead, her blocks of streamlined prose portray doomed types, targets of patriarchy who fight back, eyes that resist being seen: “I communicate through showing how an object acts on me,” she writes. “I’m either in it or I’m behind it.” Bang’s abstraction blends or bleeds into protest, her protest into terse resignation at the one-way course of a life and the uncontrollability of art: “there is no turning back to be someone I might have been. Now there will only ever be multiples of me.”
This review originally appeared in American Poets, Fall-Winter 2017.