NBCC Awards Finalists in Poetry: Mary Jo Bang’s “Elegy”


This is the tenth in a series of blog posts by NBCC board members covering the finalists for the NBCC awards. The awards will be announced on March 6, 2008, at the New School.

Mary Jo Bang, “Elegy,” Graywolf Press.

Mary Jo Bang’s “Elegy” is a harrowing book, a chronicle of the year following the death of the poet’s son.  It is also a book-length meditation on the nature of loss, on the inability of poetry or art to bring the dead back to us, and on the frustrations of pain that transforms over time, but never lessens. In “Elegy,” we follow the always shifting associations of a lively, philosophic mind, one that considers the passage of a time “an abstraction that dissolves / of its own accord” or desire “the hardwire argument given / to the mind’s unstoppable mouth.”  But, more than this, Mary Jo Bang’s poems are musically virtuosic, fearlessly revealing, and achingly sad, as the author always searches for meaning, solace, and understanding in the wake of a loss she can never completely articulate or even understand.  “Would it ever go away?” she writes late in the collection:

Married to the inexhaustible
Need to be accurate,
Were twenty little questions like,

Is this who he was? Who
Wants to know? And she,
Because she couldn’t erase herself, was left
Only with her love of precision

And her lack.

Mary Jo Bang is the author of four other books of poetry, among them “Louise in Love” and the ekphrastic collection “The Eye Like a Strange Balloon.”  She lives in St. Louis, Missouri and teaches at Washington University.—Kevin Prufer

Kevin Prufer’s newest books are “National Anthem” (Four Way, 2008) and “Fallen from a Chariot” (Carnegie Mellon, 2005). With Wayne Miller, he is Editor of both “New European Poets” (Graywolf, 2008) and Pleiades: A Journal of New Writing. Read his poem “Seeds” here.

Review of “Elegy” in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Review in “Rattle.”

Poems from “Elegy” here and here.