Best Local Poet - 2009
Mary Jo Bang
"We were going toward nothing/all along." It's an alarming sentiment, but compellingly elegant. Mary Jo Bang's voice is singularly persuasive; following it through her poems is like allowing your hand to be warmly held as you're directed somewhere near-terrifying but undeniably riveting. The author of five books of poetry — most recently, Elegy, which won a National Book Critics Circle Award in 2007 — and professor of English at Washington University, the St. Louis native has a bewildering list of estimable honors to validate her. But it's the impeccable incisiveness of her words that serve as her highest accolade. "Take comfort./You were going nowhere. You were not alone." Her assurance, even, is never without a wizened edge. It seems fitting, then, that her current work in progress is a new translation of Dante's Inferno. No doubt, Bang will re-present this old morality tale in her inimitable way, carefully rendering all things strange somewhat familiar and the well-understood freshly devastating, all the while guiding us to a better sense of, well, ever-elusive but fundamental truths.