Mary Jo Bang Essay, Research Paper
April 18, 1999
Mary Jo Bang :
Apology for Want
Quiet, unassuming, serene. These characteristics define the appearance of poet Mary Jo Bang. There is, however, another side to the humble St. Louis native which is not readily apparent by either her looks or her demeanor. Beneath her deceiving facade lies another person entirely, which only emerges through her poetic talents.
Although she also read from her new manuscript which has not yet gone to print, Mary Jo Bang primarily read from her collection which won the Katherine Bakeless Nason poetry prize in 1996, entitled Apology for Want. According to Edward Hirsch “Apology for Want is, a…dark [and] unabashed apology for desire.” But there’s something more to her work than confessing the yearnings of humanity, no matter how tarnished they may be. Her work is very personal, yet it touches home, inspiring a feeling of understanding and enlightenment which is very hard to accomplish.
The Desert at Hand, the first poem she read to us, although by far the one which moved me the most, seemed very confusing at first. She opens “Love is also fragment: the cheek of the moon’s fat-boy face giving itself up to be kissed, the ingredient phrase, I can’t live without you, the sum of the few words that truly invent themselves – You are.” At first, the impression of the poem’s direction and attitude seemed positive, inspiring the thought that love really is self-sufficient despite it’s fragility. Even the title The Desert at Hand seems to imply a biblical simile, that love is a test which can both test and strengthen you, just as Jesus’ 40 days in the desert was a time of great temptation and redemption for him.
Surprisingly, the poem shifts its focus off of love and to a very similar subject, although it has a slightly less favorable connotation: desire. “Tomorrow [is] getting shorter, even as we speak. In this flinty age of materialism we’ve gorown fond of witches – they embody our with to believe, to immerse ourselves…to be welcomed into imprudence, the elevated tor, unbreakable oath.” She seems to be reaching out, saying that people in general have succumbed to materialism, that the ideal of love as it was presented previously was something which is quickly becoming lost to humanity. The people will now turn to “witches,” symbolically implying that mankind will follow a false path in the hopes of his own advancement.
Although I was a bit skeptical of her poetry, not sensing a meaning behind the short choppy phrases which comprise her work, she won me over in the end. After reading some powerful poems such as Open Heart Surgery, Metaphor as Symptom of Reason’s Despair, and the poem for which the book is entitled, Apology for want, it became clearer to me what her goals and intentions were. Mary Jo Bang wasn’t making a social commentary for the sake of pointing out the sins of people and touting them as evil for the sake of exposing humanity’s weaknesses. She is acknowledging the weak nature of “man” and holding us responsible for our thoughts and actions with one purpose in mind. Her poetry is intended to open the eyes of her audience, daring them to find that weakness within themselves. Mary Jo Bang’s intention lies in the hope that she can help us to find and acknowledge that flaw of human nature within ourselves, and overcome it’s temptations to transcend the material world into one where we will be at peace with ourselves.