VIDA Reads with Writers — Mary Jo Bang!

What are you reading on the subway or in the waiting room today?

Sadly, there are no subways in St. Louis but there are countless waiting rooms and in those I’ve been reading the galleys of a book that will be available in October. It’s a rather amazing book called Our Emily Dickinsons by Vivian Pollak (University of Pennsylvania Press). It examines Emily Dickinson’s hold on the poetic imagination of Marianne Moore, Elizabeth Bishop and Sylvia Plath. I was actually riveted by it. I also just finished reading francine j. harris’s book of poems, Play Dead (Alice James, 2016). I love the way the pronouns in her poems often remain fluid, or stand just out of reach, as if to make room for the reader to join the speaker.

What book popped for you in 2015?lola-ridge-cover-2

Therese Svoboda’s Anything that Burns You: A Portrait of Lola Ridge, Radical Poet (Schaffner  Press). I knew next to nothing about Ridge before reading it, but it’s clear she was a major figure in American Modernism. She was forgotten almost immediately after she died in 1941 but clearly deserves to be remembered, both as a mentor to others and as a poet. Her work is equal to Hart Crane’s and countless others who were writing at the same time. Her books were read widely and won prizes. How is it that so many women are so quickly forgotten?

Whose words do you return to regularly?

Dickinson never ceases to amaze me. There are layers-upon-layers of meaning in her strange poems. So many layers that I sometimes feel like the poem is a cypher and I’m a code breaker. I feel the same about Gerard Manley Hopkins. I never tire of trying to fathom poems by these two.

Is there an author you can’t wait to read next?

Yes, Mónica de la Torre! She has a new book, The Happy End/ All Welcome, that comes out with Ugly Duckling Press this fall. And Joni Wallace. Her book, Kingdom Come Radio Show, will be out this fall with Barrow Street Press. And Jennifer Kronovet. Her book, The Wug Test, will be out, also in the fall, with Ecco Press (it won the National Poetry Series Competition). And K.A. Hays, whose third book of poems, Windthrow, will be out in January of 2017 from Carnegie Mellon Press. I’m excited about all four of these new books, all by women with very distinctive voices.

What are you working on now? What can VIDA fans look forward to from you next?

I have a poetry book coming out in August of 2017 with Graywolf Press called A Doll for Throwing. The poems are loosely inspired by the women who were part of the Bauhaus school, but especially by Lucia Moholy, the photographer who took the iconic photographs of the Bauhaus buildings in Dessau in the early twenties. Moholy also collaborated with her first husband, László Moholy-Nagy, one of the early Bauhaus teachers, on photograms, although she never received credit for those. She went on to become a portrait photographer, wrote the first popular book on photography, and eventually became an art critic. Of course, as in any life, complications ensued

I’m also working with Yuki Tanaka on translations of poems by Shuzo Takiguchi, a Japanese Modernist Surrealist poet. We are almost finished with his book, The Poetic Experiments of Shuzo Takiguchi 1927–1937. The poems sound so contemporary, it’s as if they anticipate the present moment.


The Poet Mary Jo Bang as photographed by Matt Valentine
Photo by: Matt Valentine

Mary Jo Bang is the author of seven books of poems, including Louise in Love, The Bride of E, The Last Two Seconds, and Elegy, which received the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her translation of Dante’s Inferno, with illustrations by Henrik Drescher, was published by Graywolf Press in 2012. She’s been the recipient of a Hodder Fellowship from Princeton University, a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, and a Berlin Prize Fellowship at the American Academy in Berlin. She teaches creative writing at Washington University in St. Louis.