Best Poet

Mary Jo Bang

"We're having a party./There's dancing; there's petting/in the bedroom to the right. Inevitable light/in the morning. Who will refuse enthrallment?//To be free, Louise says, is to be undecided."

Now, isn't that fun? Mary Jo Bang's first collection, the impeccably titled Apology for Want, was selected as a first-book-award winner in 1996. The poems in that book contain a dark power, sturdily placed as they are in the known, observable, desperate world poets and readers of poetry love to inhabit. In 2001, two new volumes were published -- a feat even the prolific Carl Phillips, Bang's colleague at Washington University, hasn't pulled off yet -- The Downstream Extremity of the Isle of Swans and Louise in Love. In these books, Bang springs from the common lyric grievances into a poetry that is both exhilarating and perplexing: exhilarating in the way language can be in a craftsperson's hands, perplexing in the way dreams are. Louise is a particularly jazzy work that includes a complete dramatis personae we follow through their dalliances. "Love, love, love, love, love, love, love --/a hive hum ongoing in the hear ear./How could that be a thing of pure pleasure?"

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