is a Lawyer, Psychoanalyst, Educator, Poet, Author, Editor and Translator.
Since being Copeland lecturer in poetry and Director of Creative Writing at Harvard University from 1983 to 1992, Michael has been visiting professor of literature and creative writing at numerous universities across the USA and world-wide. At present he is Visiting Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Immigration Clinic at The University of West Virginia College of Law.
"What a terrific book this is! Blumenthal at his best," This is the finest collection of poetry I've read in a very long time," are a couple of the responses to No Hurry
. I interviewed Michael about his new publication, and we chatted about himself, his work, and his view of life.
Michael didn’t start out as a writer, he went to Cornell School of Law, graduated in 1974, practiced law for 4 months and “couldn't bear it... ALL I wanted to do was write poetry.”
Why did you go to law school and when did you start writing?
I went to law school because I didn't know what to do. I started writing when I was at college. I went to Washington DC and worked there for ten years doing various jobs: TV producer, journalist, administrator. I was writing a lot of poetry during this time but never had anything published. I slowly became more serious about my writing; met with other poets, went to conferences and started to send out my work-- it was, of course, on the usual subjects: love, sex, death, nature, longing. It wasn't until late in the 70's that I had anything published.
Eventually, Michael’s book of poems, Sympathetic Magic
, 1980, won the 'Water Mark Poets of North America First Book Prize'.
Why do you think Sympathetic Magic was chosen?
I don’t know, maybe because the judge liked it. No, seriously, the judge, Charles Fishman, apparently liked it a lot! And at least that's what his long introduction would suggests
It was published by The Water Mark Press, which no longer exists.
After the success of Sympathetic Magic, Michael was offered a teaching job at Harvard where he stayed for ten years eventually becoming the Director of Creative Writing.
Other publications include Michael’s 1999 collection Dusty Angel
, winner of the Isabella Gardner Prize and his seventh book of poems, And
His novel, Weinstock Among The Dying
, 1993, presents a satirical look at academic life and was awarded the Hadassah Magazine’s Ribalow Prize for best work of Jewish fiction.
What and where are you teaching this school year?
I started teaching last week; I’m Visiting Professor of Law at the University Of West Virginia College Of Law. This is my fourth year at this University. My subject this year is Dying and the Law and I’m also busy with the Immigration Clinic. In the autumn I’m flying over to the Frankfurt Book Fair to promote 3 books I have translated and my new book of Poems, No Hurry – coming out October 20th.
No Hurry that’s an interesting title. can you tell me a little about the collection?
Yes, No Hurry is kind of a culmination of life experiences – good and bad, happy and sad that lead you to a point of thinking where you realize all the hurrying around isn’t going to bring the answers you are looking for to solve the mystery or make you understand the true meaning of your life’s journey... much less, even, will it bring you peace.
I suppose it’s for those of us who hope we have gained wisdom through our years and maybe we’re middle aged and a bit beyond but we still feel young spirited despite our advancing years and are still interested in pondering over ‘what is it all about really?’
It is also an imploration to the reader: Don't read these poems in a hurry. Take your time and let them ENTER you... don't rush to some conclusion as to what the poem is "about." It wishes to suggest that there really IS no hurry because, as the last line of the title poem says, "everything we have always been hurrying toward will eventually be ours." That is meant, in part, ironically, but it is also meant to suggest that we all share a similar destination. As the poet Philip Larkin wrote about death: "Most things will never happen. This one will."
Where did you get the inspiration to write these poems ?
I'm very informal and easy going that’s sort of my style and I think as you grow older you look around you and see a blur of people running this way and that and you’ve had enough of life’s ups and downs to make you think - what is all the rush?
You do get to a point when you REALIZE there should be no hurry – you need to stop and savour the moment, enjoy it and the ones afterwards for the good and the bad and take in the experience because that is what we are - a collection of experiences. So, I tend to take my inspiration from whatever sight or act or smell or bit of language attracts my attention and curiosity at the moment.
And also - inspiration - it’s more I’m trying to sort out my own confusions about things; I don't always know where I am going when I start writing.
Facts are easy to make up; in certain situations I’m writing about something in my life that I don’t know too much about about but usually I'm writing about something that I have a passionate concern with or interest in and it is somehow important for me to figure out, otherwise I wouldn't write about it.
I never have a message really. I usually contemplate problems. I’m too modest to think I have a ‘message’ to convey to anybody. I don’t try to do that in my work. My simple hope is to give pleasure and to suggest that life and its many moments are filled with meaning, though what that meaning is may not always be obvious.
Do you focus only one piece at a time?
No, I write a lot of different things at the same time and I go through moods. Sometimes I prefer to write essays and not poetry.
Do you consider yourself a good writer?
Yes, I do, or I wouldn't be doing it.... much less showing it off in public. No more than I would take my clothes off in front of someone if I didn't think what they saw might please them.
Besides writing poetry and teaching Michael translates works from German, French, and Hungarian. He also holds psychotherapy sessions.
Michael contributes to newspapers and periodicals, including the 'New York Times', 'Time', 'The New Yorker', the 'Harvard Review', the 'Paris Review', and the 'Norton Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry' among others. A selection of his poetry appears in the anthology: The Harvard Book of Contemporary Poetry, Harvard University Press, 1985.