Drawing from her study of the Bauhaus movement of 1930s Germany, award-winning poet Mary Jo Bang’s latest collection of poetry, A Doll for Throwing, is a carefully crafted meditation on the relationship between time and form.
Bang is a poet known for her innovate technical approaches and her ability to tease dense philosophical ideas out of unexpected places. A Doll for Throwing fulfills both expectations: The poems work within a deliberate form, and they utilize a rich historical reference point to build a moving narrative.
That historical reference point is Lucia Moholy, a Czech-born photographer and artist who became a figure in the German Bauhaus architectural movement. Bang fictionalizes details atop the bare facts of Moholy’s life, hybridizing poetry, fiction and nonfiction; when she writes, “Every day was a / twenty-four hour stand-still on a bridge from which / we discretely looked into the distance, hoping to / catch sight of the future,” we are not only hearing Moholy’s voice, but the broader lyrical “I.” The future in question is not only our future, but the past’s future—the present.
Most of the poems are tightly-wound blocks of justified text with titles lifted from Moholy’s photographs. Their shapes simultaneously suggest the blocky lines emblematic of Bauhaus and the rectangular shape of photographs, and their content borrows heavily from both disciplines while breaching into more human concerns. For example, the poem “Me, A Chronicle” starts in cold architectural language: “Shapes that begin as just one solution to a common problem / can go on to become an inflexible method.” But it develops into something more ruminative: “I see my father crossing / the room to open or close a window. My mother’s zigzag / pattern of static . . . Who hasn’t felt that in/ order to breathe, she has to splinter the first self and leave it / behind?”
Bang’s forward-thinking approach finds footing in the past to comment on our future; herein are critiques of political extremism, xenophobia and domestic trauma. A Doll for Throwing cements Bang’s poetry at the forefront of many poetic realms, all while maintaining a shape of its own.