cover image Purgatorio


Mary Jo Bang. Graywolf, $18 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-64445-057-4

Following the 2013 verse translation of Inferno, Bang (A Doll for Throwing) returns with a rich and propulsive adaptation of Dante's 14th-century text. While Bang's tercets maintain a casual musical cadence, her use of modern references give the text a contemporary feel, as when the speaker sees Usain Bolt: "While keeping his eyes fixed on us, he said,/ 'Fine, Mister Lightning Bolt, you go right on up.'// I now realized who he was." Elsewhere, the MGM logo appears: "He spoke not a word to us/ But let us keep coming, watching us warily,/ Like Leo the Lion posing for a close-up.// Nonetheless, Virgil kept moving toward him, asking/ If he'd please be willing to show us the best way up./ Even then, he didn't answer the question// But instead asked where we were from and what life/ Was like there." The notes on the Cantos are just as engaging, as when Bang remarks in a note for line 136 that "Virgil has no patience for this kind of self-pitying indolence." Bang's sparkling 21st-century adaptation of Dante's lesser-read masterpiece packs in rewarding surprises at every turn. (July)