Books

Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

The Eye Like a Strange Balloon

by Mary Jo Bang

“The language in Mary Jo Bang’s poems can seem to break free from its subjects, rising into its own realm; if Bang understands that aerial appeal, she also knows how to bring her poems back down to earth, how to link them to their subjects again.” –Stephen Burt, New York Times Book Review

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 112
  • Publication Date November 19, 2004
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-4157-6
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $13.00

About The Book

The ever-adventurous author of Louise in Love looks to the visual arts for inspiration with this astonishing fourth collection.

The poems in The Eye Like a Strange Balloon find their seed in paintings, film, video, photographs, and collage, and the end results are something more than a sum of their parts. Beginning with a painting done in 2003, the poems move backward in time to 1 B.C., where an architectural fragment is painted on an architectural fragment, highlighting visual art’s strange relationship between the image and the thing itself.

The total effect is exhilarating–a wholly original, personal take on art history coupled with Bang’s sly and elegant commentary on poetry’s enduring subjects: Love, Death, Time, and Desire. The recipient of numerous prizes and awards, Bang stands at the front of American poetry with this new work, asking more of the English language, and enticing and challenging the reader.

Praise

“The language in Mary Jo Bang’s poems can seem to break free from its subjects, rising into its own realm; if Bang understands that aerial appeal, she also knows how to bring her poems back down to earth, how to link them to their subjects again.” –Stephen Burt, New York Times Book Review

‘mary Jo Bang as a keen eye for the hang-ups and absurdities of our times, as well as a mischievous taste for eccentric grammar. . . . There’s seldom a dull moment in this irreverent book.” –Peter Thorpe, Rocky Mountain News

“In Bang’s hands, ekphrasis does what it should: erase the original piece almost completely. . . . By mid-book . . . the idea of art haunts each page until it speaks almost as authentically as the poems themselves. This is to Bang’s credit: she creates a believable world in which one art form refracts endlessly off ahistorical Others, and ‘reality” as we know it disappears. . . . These poems enact the feeling of tumbling, Alice-in-Wonderland-like, through layers and layers of imagination unglued from chronology . . . . Read this book.

” –Malinda Markham, Antioch Review

“Bang’s work in Strange Balloon is at times as challenging as contemporary poetry gets and always as exhilarating. . . . The ironic marvel of Bang’s work is that at its most incomprehensible it can still be approached and appreciated at the much simpler level of sound. . . . They’re intelligent and supremely crafted. And they sure do sound good.” –Pablo Tanguay, Nashville Scene

“Bang’s fourth collection takes ekphrasis (poetry about works of visual art) to the limit. . . . There is music in Bang’s lines, set off by the charming, poetic titles of the paintings.” –E.M. Kaufman, Library Journal

“In these wonderfully energetic and inventive poems, Mary Jo Bang re-envisions ekphrasis. Based on works by artists as diverse as Margaret Bourke-White, Sigmar Polke, Willem de Kooning, and Damien Hirst, her representations of representations implicitly ask just where the ‘real” world is–is it not ‘really” the marvelous worlds we construct from any raw material available? In short, she posits representations as every bit as real as what they represent, and allows the layers to build up into zones of intensity and ambiguity that leave the reader with a sense of vigorous promise and endless possibility.” –Cole Swenson

Excerpt

Study for a Portrait

Languor was seeping in–
to the crevice between collar and flesh.
Heads were tilting
toward and away. And everywhere ice.
He kissed her electric
in the elevator, then disappeared.
There is no logic, she said, like tha
of bricks–
each one following the next across
the sightline then falling
in at the window. Silver was the light
behind him
and a bluster of metal the curtain
that closed. The sky blued by what was
beyond it, the music blurred.
Little thunder of the wasp nest
in the window corner.
Little thunder of the heart, the sulphur vein
down the side of the neck.
The falling-in kiss
in the thural light of the later day.
She knew, did she not,
that that would be the last
blessed sacrifice for all her little errors.


How Did the Monkeys Get into My Work? (Or, Table Turning)

She sat her purse down on the kidney-shaped coffee table,
turned on the floor lamp, and called
the monkey over to have a chat.
What had he done
today? she wanted to know.

He had climbed the palm tree,
he said. She knew this wasn’t true
but didn’t press the point.
Late night he would–arm around her neck–admit
he had trampled the snowdrops.

He had chewed on his tail.
He had mindlessly compiled pictures of flamingos
cut from magazine pages
and fashioned them into an enormous collage.
He had had it framed.

He had taken slides.
He had submitted them for review at an upstart gallery.
The curve of his tail made an S-shape
as he slid from the sofa.
Sulking now he said, See

what you’ve done?
And she did see. And together they sobbed.

Copyright ” 2004 by Mary Jo Bang. Reprinted with permission from Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.