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October 04, 2013
Vol. 55 No. 5

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Poet shares advice with students

"Think of a hive made of glass, all the bees, /Theoretically at least, describable but not all at once. /That's my mind and you/are doing all the things you ever did all at once."
Senior creative writing major Deborah Gravina recited this poem written by Mary Jo Bang to introduce the poet during Bang's poetry reading and book signing that took place on Sept. 30.
As mentioned in the flier handed out before the reading, Bang has been chosen three times to be included in the Best American Poetry series and appeared on the New York Times Notable Book List in 2008.
She has five degrees in total: a bachelor's and masters in sociology, a bachelor's in photography, training as a physician's assistant and an Master in Fine Arts in creative writing. Bang is currently a professor of English and creative writing at Washington University.
Many students of the same major were assigned books such as "The Eye of the Strange Balloon" and "Elegy," two of the six poetry books written by Bang, to read as part of their curriculum. For some of those in attendance, it made a huge impact.
"I've been lucky enough to have my writing career book-ended by 'Strange Balloon' in my freshman and senior years," Gravina said. "[Bang] gives good writing techniques no matter what age. I went to lunch with her as well as the Q-and-A. She is so talented and willing to teach and provide advice."
The reading started off with a quick introduction from Bang, before she began to recite various poems from "Elegy" and "The Eye of the Strange Balloon," as well as quoting some of her work from her upcoming book, "The Last Two Seconds," which she said will be a replica of our own world in that time goes very quickly.
"Elegy" is a book with a series of elegies written by Bang during a down time of her life.
Bang said in order to get over the "funk" that she was feeling, she decided to write poems that included pop culture icons, such as "C is for Cher." This started a trend for her to write a poem for every letter in the alphabet.
"The Eye of the Strange Balloon" involves poems inspired by surreal paintings that Bang admired, such as "Mrs. Autumn and Her Two Daughters," painted by German artist Sigmar Polke. The scene portrays a mother and her two daughters, one that looks like her and one that is different, sitting on a cloud, sprinkling what appears to be snow down onto the world below them. Reflecting on the different daughter and how she relates to her, Bang said that "She is estranged, and we as writers are estranged from the world." Bang said that she wrote a poem that brought out the outlook of the lonely, different daughter.
After the poetry reading, a question and answer session was held, with those in attendance asking for advice and Bang's personal thoughts about poetry and the world around it.
"I think that poetry is a way to share among strangers things we can't normally share with strangers," Bang said. "There are very few places that we can remind ourselves that we are human beings, and poetry is one of those places."
Like many forms of traditional art, poetry is becoming less-known and buried under today's culture, mostly because it is such a free and abstract way to form one's ideas, she said.
"Poetry is built on uncertainty, which is why some people don't like it," Bang said.
Gravina said, "As a member of [Bang's] ever-growing audience,she has taught me to find comfort in loneliness, innocence in defiance and narrative in projection."

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