Last fall—on November 30, 2018—Washington University Libraries’ Julian Edison Department of Special Collections hosted an event to celebrate poet, professor, and artist Mary Jo Bang’s collection of manuscripts in the Modern Literature Collection. The event was called “Self-Portrait with Others” and featured talks and readings of Bang’s work by six poets: Mark Bibbins, Aaron Coleman, Cassie Donish, Timothy Donnelly, Aditi Machado, and Justin Phillip Reed. The Spectacle asked Bang, as well as Bibbins and Donnelly, two of her closest friends, for poetry to publish alongside a piece of Bang’s artwork.
Mary Jo Bang has published eight poetry collections, including A Doll for Throwing, The Last Two Seconds, and Elegy, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, and an acclaimed translation of Dante’s Inferno. She has won numerous awards and fellowships, including a Hodder Fellowship from Princeton University, a grant from the Guggenheim Foundation, and a Berlin Prize fellowship at the American Academy in Berlin. She teaches at Washington University in St. Louis.
Read more about the event, read an interview with Bang about her manuscripts, or explore the Mary Jo Bang Papers.
Some Identical Twin Sister, One Step Ahead
Mary Jo Bang
The day shimmers with silver bouncing off the surface of a pond-size July—some identical twin sister, one step ahead, looking back without stopping. Can time keep capturing an animal even after it’s turned itself in? Cellblock of an instant, mug shot of an afternoon faun, a disappearance at the border of a forest, a bed of narrow-gauge needles. A sparkling pool at the park’s edge, a botanical garden defined by the never-ending echo of a Deco clock. The ornamental myth of floral love, carried over moment by moment, repeating ad infinitum. You point to something: the doll in the side yard, her plastic teeth perfect in moonlight. You open your mouth to let the hush in. You and she dressed alike in visible luminous blue. When asked you’ll make manifest your ideal smile, your adaptable funhouse face. Punishment will find you when a fever fractures into pieces the durable rod of your long-standing spine. A coat slips from your shoulders: in its pocket, the magical half-tab you’re waiting to take. Rimbaud to Verlaine, in ink in a folded letter, ‘You have to be a seer to see.’ What you really want is to be is a camera, documenting the height you’re about to fall from.
Next Person Singular
Though I would like to find out how many new emotions were published today I have never known exactly where to look. Next door in a room adorned with sketches of fruits and bees a man won’t stop talking. He wants the world so much he might crush it between his teeth. Go ahead it’s already yours I ought to tell him but how would he hear me. I put something on the floor and now I can’t see or reach it so I wait with the dark to remember what it was. Should anyone who finds me care to know which way I am facing they will have to touch my shoes.
Flamin’ Hot Cheetos
When I sensed I might belong, I drew the cotton duck drape that hung before the patio door to the residency’s clean white space to seal me in, to seal me in, but my hand had been where it had been, and the stain it made is blazon of my house.
Mark Bibbins’s fourth collection of poems, 13th Balloon, is forthcoming from Copper Canyon Press in 2020. He lives in New York City and teaches in the graduate writing programs at The New School and Columbia University, and in NYU’s Writers in Florence program.
Timothy Donnelly is the author of The Problem of the Many (Wave Books, forthcoming 2019), The Cloud Corporation (Wave Books, 2010), which won the 2012 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, and Twenty-seven Props for a Production of Eine Lebenszeit (Grove, 2003). He is Director of Poetry in the Writing Program at Columbia University’s School of the Arts and lives in Brooklyn with his family.