Mary Jo Bang

​Professor of English
MFA, Columbia University
research interests:
  • Contemporary Literature
  • Poetry Writing
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    • Washington University
    • CB 1122
    • One Brookings Dr.
    • St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
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    Mary Jo Bang is a nationally recognized author of seven books of poems. She has been the recipient of a Hodder Fellowship from Princeton University, a grant from the Guggenheim Foundation, and a Berlin Prize fellowship at the American Academy in Berlin.

    Professor Bang is the author of seven books of poems, the most recent of which is The Last Two Seconds (Graywolf Press, 2015). Her other books are Apology for Want (1997), which was awarded the 1996 Bakeless Prize and the 1998 Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award; Louise in Love (2001), which received the Poetry Society of America's Alice Fay di Castagnola Award for a manuscript-in-progress; The Downstream Extremity of the Isle of Swans (2001); The Eye Like a Strange Balloon (2004); Elegy (2007), which received the National Book Critics Circle Award; and The Bride of E (2009). She was the poetry co-editor at Boston Review from 1995 to 2005. She’s been the recipient of a Hodder Fellowship from Princeton University, a grant from the Guggenheim Foundation, and a Berlin Prize fellowship at the American Academy in Berlin. She has a B.A. and M.A. in Sociology from Northwestern University, a B.A. in photography from the Polytechnic of Central London, and an M.F.A. in creative writing from Columbia University. Her 2012 translation of Dante's Inferno, with illustrations by Henrik Drescher, was named a Notable Book by both the Academy of American Poets (2012) and by the American Library Association (2013).

    Writing Excerpt

         A CALCULATION BASED ON FIGURES IN A SCENE    

         There are still many marvels, you know.
         The festivals on Fridays. The divider
         in the center of the wasteland.
         On this side—flesh; on that—an iron claw

         and a new-made screw
         fallen from the factory window
         at noon. The doll doctor pushes the arm
         back into the socket. “There,” he says.

         Day is done. He wishes he could smoke
         but he gave that up long ago.
         The rubber sole of the nurse’s right shoe
         makes a squeak when she reaches the room.

         Silence surrounds the empty bed.
         The body is elsewhere.
         “When they want more,” she says, “I give it.”
         “When they want less,” she says,

         “I take it away. I always let them choose.”
         The doctor drums his fingers
         on the doll’s flat abdomen. A sea of blood
         moves back and forth to a song of no mercy.

    From The Last Two Seconds, Mary Jo Bang (Graywolf Press, 2015)

    This poem first appeared in Kenyon Review

    Courses

    • L13 522: Poetry Workshop
    • L13 424: Poetry Tutorial
    The Eye Like a Strange Balloon

    The Eye Like a Strange Balloon

    The poems in The Eye Like a Strange Balloon find their seed in paintings, film, video, photographs, and collage, and the end results are something more than a sum of their parts. Beginning with a painting done in 2003, the poems move backwards in time to 1 BC, where an architectural fragment is painted on an architectural fragment, highlighting visual art’s strange relationship between the image and the thing itself. The total effect is exhilarating—a wholly original, personal take on art history coupled with Bang’s sly and elegant commentary on poetry’s enduring subjects: Love, Death, Time and Desire. The recipient of numerous prizes and awards, Bang stands at the front of American poetry with this new work, asking more of the English language, and enticing and challenging the reader.

    The Downstream Extremity of the Isle of Swans

    The Downstream Extremity of the Isle of Swans

    This compelling book takes its title from Samuel Beckett's Ohio Impromptu. In Beckett's play, a grieving beloved seeks relief from the haunting presence of a departed lover in a place where "From its single window he could see the downstream extremity of the Isle of Swans." With a bow to Beckett's style and linguistic playfulness, Mary Jo Bang's collection of poems deals compassionately and gracefully with the tangible world.

    The Bride of E: Poems

    The Bride of E: Poems

    In her sixth collection, The Bride of E, Mary Jo Bang uses a distinctive mix of humor and directness to sound the deepest sort of anguish: the existential condition. Timeless yet tirelessly inventive, Bang fashions her examination of the lived life into an abecedarius that is as rapturous in its language and music as it is affecting in its awareness of--and yearning for--what isn't there. The title of the first poem, "ABC Plus E: Cosmic Aloneness Is the Bride of Existence," posits the collection's central problem, and a symposium of figures from every register of our culture (from Plato to Pee-wee Herman, Mickey Mouse to Sartre) is assembled to help confront it. Riddled with insight, pathos, and wit, The Bride of E is a brilliant new work by one the most compelling poets of our time.

    Louise in Love

    Louise in Love

    In this stunning new collection of poems, Mary Jo Bang jettisons the reader into the dreamlike world of Louise, a woman in love. With language delicate, smooth, and wryly funny, Louise is on a voyage without destination, traveling with a cast of enigmatic others, including her lover, Ham. Louise is as musical as she is mysterious and the reader is invited to listen. In her world, anything goes, provided it is breathtaking. Bang, whose first collection was the prize-winning Apology for Want, both parodies and pays homage to the lyric tradition, borrowing its lush music and dramatic structure to give new voice to the old concerns of the late Romantic poets. Louise in Love is a dramatic postmodern verse-novel with an eloquent free-floating narration. The poems, rife with literary allusion, take journeys to distant lands. And, like anyone on a voyage without a destination, they are endlessly questioning of the enigmatic world around them.

    Inferno: A New Translation

    Inferno: A New Translation

    Award-winning poet Mary Jo Bang has translated the Inferno into English at a moment when popular culture is so prevalent that it has even taken Dante, author of the fourteenth century epic poem, The Divine Comedy, and turned him into an action-adventure video game hero. Dante, a master of innovation, wrote his poem in the vernacular, rather than in literary Latin.

    Elegy: Poems

    Elegy: Poems

    Mary Jo Bang's fifth collection, Elegy, chronicles the year following the death of her son. By weaving the particulars of her own loss into a tapestry that also contains the elements common to all losses, Bang creates something far larger than a mere lament. Continually in search of an adequate metaphor for the most profound and private grief, the poems in Elegy confront, in stark terms and with a resilient voice, how memory haunts the living and brings the dead back to life. Within these intimate and personal poems is a persistently urgent, and deeply touching, examination of grief itself.

    Apology for Want

    Apology for Want

    Winner of the 1996 Bakeless Literary Publication Prize for Poetry