An Introduction to Mary Jo Bang by Shane McCrae

As I write this, I’m listening to Matana Robert’s always. for the first time (I take my time getting around to the best things—I still haven’t listened to all of J. S. Bach’s cello suites, and I’ve never read an entire Faulkner novel) and drinking my last Crystal Pepsi (I gotta give it up, y’all—it’s controlling me). In other words, my senses are engaged with first and last things. Back when I was still a brand new baby—aka, in my first semester of grad school—Mary Jo Bang was, as far as I could tell, the big new thing. Louse in Love had come out just the year before, and I kept hearing her name, again and again, amongst the poetry nerds I at the time (and still, tbh, btw) desperately hoped would be my friends. So of course I didn’t read her then. I mean, why be happy?

In recent years, as I have crept toward desuetude, finally I have decided that a good life wouldn’t be such a bad thing, and so I’ve been reading Mary Jo Bang. And each time I engage with a Mary Jo Bang poem, I feel like I am engaging with a first thing and a last thing—Bang has developed toward, rather than, as is usually the case, away from—newness, so that each book is more startlingly fresh than the book before it. Each book is always her—sure, she has her own voice, but I prefer to think of it as a context; very few poets so thoroughly develop contexts—but each book is also so certainly the first her that it doesn’t seem repeatable, and thus each book is also, in its moment, the last her. These new poems, from her next book, A Doll for Throwing, are exactly the Mary Jo Bang necessary for right now, as Wall Street becomes real life except Gordon Gekko is played by your best friend’s stupidest ex-boyfriend and he’s also the president: Your tie is too tight. Your eyes are upside down. You tunnel under an avalanche. The snow doesn’t own you. What does? The stairs inside the tripling device can’t be decoded. The pane of glass flowers, becomes a cloud on its way to becoming amnesia.

They are, that is, poems for a time of first and last things.

Read an excerpt from A Doll for Throwing by Mary Jo Bang