German art school inspires poetry reading

Loren Dickson, Entertainment Reporter

An annual poetry reading will feature Mary Jo Bang, a published author and professor at Washington University in St. Louis, at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Lecture Hall of the Doudna Fine Arts Center. It will be free and open to the public.

Bang is the author of seven books, the most recent of which is “The Last Two Seconds.” Other books include “Elegy,” which received the National Book Critics Circle Award, “The Eye Like A Strange Balloon” and “Louise In Love.”

For Wednesday’s poetry reading, Bang will mostly be reading from “The Last Two Seconds” and from her forthcoming book, “A Doll for Throwing,” to be published on August 15.

“A Doll for Throwing” was inspired by the Bauhaus, an influential modernist art school in Germany between 1919 and 1933 that was closed by the Nazis, Bang said. The school was closed because Hitler and his followers believed that art should stay traditional, which the Bauhaus didn’t represent.

“The movement made them very anxious because they didn’t want social change,” she said. “They manipulated people and the important thing to them was to hang on to old-fashioned (beliefs) of what it was to be German.”

Bang said that all of the poems in the new book are in one way or another in dialogue with that school and that art movement.

A Bauhaus photographer, Lucia Moholy, also contributed to Bang’s inspiration for “A Doll for Throwing.”

“I saw a black-and-white photograph of the art school in a museum and I didn’t recognize the name of the photographer on the plaque next to it,” she said. “I was curious and later researched the name.”

Bang spoke about the idea that women are often forgotten.

“All of the women who were associated with the Bauhaus did remarkable things,” she said. “But the fact is women do tend to get erased, especially their names and works. I began writing poems that included my thoughts about being a woman who makes art.”

As a full-time writer, author and professor, Bang has crafted her method.

“I have to say, it’s not easy,” she said. “I enjoy teaching and that means I try to be generous with giving time to my students. I think, in one way, you learn to write. You have to give up the idea that you’re going to have the luxury of sitting at a desk for two to three days writing.” She said she uses small chunks of free time to work on her writing or to brainstorm ideas for poems.

When she isn’t writing, reading or teaching, Bang said she also spends time with friends, who are all mostly poets as well.

“Poetry isn’t a hobby. Poetry is what I am. Poetry is my life,” she said.

As a young girl, Bang was not introduced to books until the age of seven, which she said could be the result of the lack of education her parents received.

“My mother only reached sixth grade, and my step-father left school after seventh grade,” she said. “Because my life was very simple, I was often bored. When I found books I felt like I had discovered a whole new world.”

Because of her background, many people are often surprised at her success as a writer.

“My advice to young writers would be to read examples of excellence,” she said. “Read pieces by writers who write really well. That gives you permission to do things you wouldn’t know were allowed in writing and can also give you a model to what engages you.”

Eastern’s English department has been hosting the annual poetry reading since 1984 in honor of the late Allen Neff, who was an English professor at Eastern from 1967 to 1977.

Neff is remembered for introducing hundreds of students to the pleasures of creative writing.

Loren Dickson can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].