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Apology for Want

Apology for Want

by Mary Jo Bang

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Winner of the 1996 Bakeless Literary Publication Prize for Poetry


Winner of the 1996 Bakeless Literary Publication Prize for Poetry

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
There is a hush to this collection, winner of the 1996 Bakeless Prize for first books of poetry sponsored by the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference. Bang asserts that "want" is insistently silent and always on the verge of being articulated. But, being a poet, she has to articulateor at least go through the motions, which she does by favoring couplets or triplets to provide a featherlike touch. In "Gretel," a retelling of the Hansel and Gretel tale, Gretel addresses her mother: "You know we were never meant/ to live here, only to learn relinquished,// forsworn, to grasp with wet hands the cold/ metal of life, then find a way to let go." Bang creates a sense of being scrubbed clean down to the barest elements: "Tomorrow we will arrive wearing a white dress,/ dark hair, clean hands. A knock will deliver us." What's enjoyable about the collection is a nice tension between the clarity of form and the open-endedness of Bang's articulated emotion. Her lines may be clean, but they exert no tyranny of meaning and so invite a second reading. (Aug.)
Library Journal
These difficult, allusive poems won the 1996 Bakeless Prize, awarded by Middlebury College and the publisher for a first book by an emerging writer. Intelligent yet insular, the title poem makes a case for art as the attempted fulfillment of spiritual desire, distinguishable from animal desire in that it can never be satisfied. There are strains of John Ashberry in the chord changes here: "I know I stand for too long, gazing/ with wistful face at the muted tints of objects/ on shelves. How smart we are all getting." Part 2 (there are four parts) escapes from the self-referential world of poems about poetry into the operating room, where the narrator, presumably a doctor or medical student, lances the abcess on an addict's arm. And it is here that the book comes to life; the next poem uses punning wordplay to transform an observed open-heart surgery into a brilliant gloss on the human condition. Several scholarly endnotes emphasize the author's interest in words and their derivations: "And things can be borrowed:/ gift comes from geve, loanword from land/ of finger-fringes coastcold, hospitable/ means act of bounty, new owner." Interesting, with occasional flashes of brilliance; for larger poetry collections.Ellen Kaufman, Dewey Ballantine Law Lib., New York

Product Details

Middlebury College Museum of Art
Publication date:
Bakeless Prize
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.29(d)

Read an Excerpt

want appropriates us,
sends us out dressed in ragged tulle,
but won't tell
where it last buried the acorn or bone.

What People are Saying About This

Edward Hirsch
"'Who wouldn't have grown into longing?' Mary Jo Bang asks in her startling first book. In the country of these poems desire is the initiating subject and words are the coinage of the realm. 'Why indelible hunger?' she asks, 'Why insatiable need?' To address--to encounter--these questions this poet has created her own stealthy syntax of the heart's expansions and contractions, its resistance and leave-takings, its oracular warnings and necessary returns. Apology for Want is, among other things, both an apology and an apologia for desire. It is dark, inventive, and unabashed."

Meet the Author

Mary Jo Bang grew up in St. Louis and was educated at Northwestern University, Westminster University (London), and Columbia University. In 1995, she received a "Discovery"/The Nation award. She is poetry co-editor at the Boston Review.

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