Notes from the Phantom Realm: Mary Jo Bang Interviewed by Lynn Strongin
Mary Jo Bang has a fierce intelligence. It pierces the ordinary and draws the surreal and real together. The resulting combination rises to become a nimbus that hovers above the quotidian. This is true in her early work and on through her most recent book, A Doll for Throwing, which takes its inspiration from the Bauhaus photographer Lucia Moholy, whose large glass negatives “went missing” after she was forced to leave Germany when Hitler came to power. In fact, they were not so much “missing” as being reproduced in America, without attribution, by Walter Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus school. The book is deeply emotional and, at the same time, analytical. And profoundly referential. The endnotes are fascinating; they flash like strobe lights, briefly highlighting one detail after another. The poems ultimately construct a portrait of the woman artist, one who is not unlike the Bauhaus wurfpuppe, or “doll for throwing,” that, when thrown, lands with grace.
Where is Bang in these poems? Bang has a lot in common with Emily Dickinson, both are deeply present in their poems and, at the same time, standing at a remove. Bang even includes Dickinson’s famous disclaimer: “When I state myself, as the representative of the verse, it does not mean me, but a supposed person.” In “Tomb in Three Parts,” Bang writes, “I remove my heart from its marble casing / And grind that shell into glass dust.” The astounding image of removing a heart from its marble casing brings to mind Dickinson’s “Safe in their Alabaster Chambers – / Untouched by Morning – / And untouched by Noon – .”
As Dickinsonian as Bang is, however, her real forebearers, it seems to me, are the metaphysical poets. Like them, Bang writes, to quote Webster's, “highly intellectualized poetry marked by bold and ingenious conceits, incongruous imagery, complexity and subtlety of thought, frequent use of paradox, and often by deliberate harshness or rigidity of expression.” Gerard Manley Hopkins comes to mind. And Henry Vaughan, who saw Eternity as a “great ring of pure and endless light.” —Lynn Strongin
(Because of Covid, and because I live in Canada and Bang lives in St. Louis, this interview was conducted via daily email exchanges over the first two weeks of January of 2022.)
LS: Your books of poems are both referential, rich in references to your material, and reverential; your lyricism contains awe, which suggests revering the created world. I think especially about A Doll for Throwing
and The Last Two Seconds. Can you speak to me a bit about this, if it makes sense to you?
MJB: What I find especially interesting about this question is that I would never think to use the word “reverential” to describe my work, I think because I associate the word with religion and I am not religious, and yet, when I detach the word from religious connotations, and consider the fact that “to revere” simply means “to regard with awe, deference, or devotion,” then, yes, I can see how one would read reverence for the created world into my work, if only because of the persistent attention the poems pay to works of art.
I am in awe of some art but also of some made objects that one wouldn’t necessarily think of as art. I think I’m fascinated by all the ways in which humans manifest themselves, their distinctive personalities. We are all so concealed from one another and yet what we produce gives a glimpse of what’s hidden inside.
In terms of my work being “referential,” it is true, there are many references in the poems—some personal, some historical, some political, some that pay homage to those whose work means something to me. The references are a reflection of my mind and I use them to build a stage so the reader might better imagine the world the speaker is inhabiting while she is speaking. But it’s as if the stage is circular, because it keeps turning, now you see one scene, now you see another. Miraculously, the speaker is standing at the center of all of them. She must be continually cloning herself!
LS: In the Bauhaus book, you come out with piercing loyalty to the woman photographer. It is an exposé and a cry. The endnotes are copious and I would like to learn how they feed back and forth with the poems.
MJB: The endnotes in A Doll for Throwing are meant to do several things. One, when I adopt the title of a work of art as the title of a poem, I credit the artist who made that art and gave it that title. It’s a matter of recognizing to whom the original work belongs and drawing attention to that person’s intellectual property and talent. The failure of Walter Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus school, to credit Lucia Moholy for the photographs she took of the Bauhaus buildings in Dessau, and products that came out of the workshops there, was an act of narcissistic entitlement. Gropius built his career in the U.S. on those photographs while Lucia, a Jew who had to flee Germany after the Nazis began rounding up Communists and their sympathizers (Theodor Neubauer, a Communist Party member of the Reichstag, was arrested in her apartment), wrote to Gropius from England several times asking whether he knew what had happened to her negatives, because she needed them in order to earn a living. He ignored her questions and, at one point, suggested she photograph pictures found in magazines, which would have been so low-resolution as to be of no use whatsoever.
After the war, when she saw the monographs about the Bauhaus that featured her work, without attributing it to her, she wrote to him again, saying that those books were making her think that perhaps the negatives hadn’t been destroyed in the war after all, as she’d been told by others. He then admitted that he had them but said he didn’t want to return them because he “needed them.” She then spent seven years trying to legally recover the negatives and the rest of her life attempting to be given credit for the photographs made from them. That’s the lament that you read behind the poems, the failure of a woman to be recognized for the work she did. The photograms she made with her then-husband, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, are also attributed by art historians only to him. But he knew nothing about the darkroom, that was exclusively her domain. She would later write that in those joint efforts, it never occurred to her to document who did what.
So, giving credit where credit is due is part of the role of the endnotes but they do more than that. They also trace my immersion in the world of the Bauhaus, an immersion carried out through reading books, visiting archives in both Los Angeles and Berlin, visiting Dessau, interviewing scholars, and spending three months at the American Academy in Berlin in Wannsee, just across the lake from where, in 1942, the Nazi leadership met for the Wannsee Conference and made plans for “the Final Solution”—a euphemism for the total annihilation of the Jews. The notes also track the points where my mind and historical moment meet up with the Bauhaus era.
LS: While the poem “In November We Inched Closer” has no endnotes, there seem to be many references embedded in it.
MJB: That poem was written between the election of Donald Trump in November of 2016 and his inauguration in January, 2017. The news was filled with details of the forthcoming inauguration: a top hat, a frock coat, a motorcade parade. I kept seeing parallels between what was happening in the U.S. at that time, increasing xenophobia and the steady erosion of democratic ideals and institutions, and what had happened in Germany in 1933 when Hitler came to power and the Bauhaus school was closed by the Nazis for being too “cosmopolitan,” forcing the students and teachers to scatter. The moment of the election and Trump’s installation as President felt prophetic in terms of a chilling repeat of that kind of history. The poem weds the beginning of 2017 with the mention of a train where German is spoken—shorthand for the transports that carried Jews, homosexuals, Roma, the homeless, and others designated “asocial” or “racially inferior,” to the camps—and “the clatter of knives”—referring to the purge known as the Night of the Long Knives—and “broken glass”—a reference to Kristallnacht, the night of wide-spread violent anti-Jewish attacks.
The anxieties I had then were actually corroborated on January 6th, 2021, the day the election of a new president was to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate, when something akin to Kristallnacht did happen, although on a much smaller scale. In an effort to prevent the election certification, a violent mob of Trump supporters smashed glass and breached the doors of the Capitol, forcing the sitting Vice-President and members of the Senate to hide in a safe room in the basement.
LS: How long did it take you to write A Doll for Throwing, including research?
MJB: I began writing the poems that would eventually become A Doll for Throwing in the fall of 2012, after seeing a photograph by Lucia Moholy, “Walter and Ilse Gropius’s Dressing Room,” in an exhibition titled In the Still Epiphany at the Pulitzer Foundation in St. Louis. I’d never heard of Lucia Moholy and wondered whether she might be related to Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, whose work I knew. I discovered that she was Moholy-Nagy’s first wife and a photographer and that she was responsible for most of the iconic early photographs of the Bauhaus buildings in Dessau. One of my initial online searches for examples of her work took me to the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles. There was an index of student Bauhaus work that included one of her photographs but it also listed other works by Bauhaus participants. I copied the index listing and began using the individual items on the list for poem titles, “photograph of a platter,” “a numbered graph showing how each part of the body would fit into a chair,” etc.
At the same time, I kept delving deeper into Lucia’s biography and becoming more and more interested in the story of “The Missing Negatives,” as she referred to the unauthorized use of her work in a 1983 article published in the British Journal of Photography. In 2014, I was given a summer grant to go to the Getty Institute and spend time in the archives and actually see those drawings and photographs that I’d been writing about without ever having seen them. And in 2015, I was awarded a Berlin Fellowship to spend three months at the American Academy in Berlin. The last poem, the one I spoke about earlier, was written at the very end of 2016 or in the first weeks of 2017. The book was published by Graywolf Press in August of 2017.
LS: Is the “doll for throwing” a metaphor for a world in which one is to be thrown at a wall for a quick, brute death?
MJB: The “doll for throwing” refers to the Wurfpuppe, a flexible braided-yarn doll with a smooth wooden head designed in 1923 by Alma Siedhoff-Buscher, a Bauhaus student. Wurfpuppe, a combination of the noun wurf (throw) and puppe (doll) has been variously translated into English as “a throw doll,” “a throwing doll,” or “a doll for throwing.” The doll would, it was said, even if thrown, always land with grace. I liked that idea as a metaphor for Lucia, who went on, in spite of being “thrown” in many ways, to do very important work. She wrote A Hundred Years of Photography 1839–1939 (London: Penguin Books, Ltd. 1939); she established a portrait studio in London; when her studio was bombed in 1945, she began to work for British intelligence at Bletchley Park. After the war ended, she set up microfilm archives and libraries in Turkey and then worked as an editor for an art-history and design publisher in Switzerland. She also wrote criticism, including a small book, Marginal Notes, about Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s work. In 1985, a monograph of her photographs was finally published.
I also liked the fact that a ventriloquist is said to “throw” their voice. I wanted these poems to be seen not as an attempt to speak for Lucia Moholy—whatever she had to say is already said—but as a ventriloquist’s doll who is speaking for anyone who struggles to make art in a world filled with stumbling blocks.
LS: You have another poem named for a month, “September Is,” in your collection Elegy. That poem feels sculpted, sad, and staged. Perhaps as you see yourself? There’s a phrase in it which interests me, “the lume of a candle,” and this line as well, “The physical things hide in the architecture / Of the event.”
MJB: Lume is the pigmented phosphorescent solution used to paint the numbers on watches. The “lume of a candle” is meant to gesture to how one can also tell time, or can at least observe that time has passed, by watching a candle shorten. This entire poem is about the passage of time. The “enigma,” a word used several times in the poem, is that while we intellectually know that time only moves forward, memory tries to persuade us that it can also go backwards. It’s a lovely, but ultimately cruel, trick the mind plays, giving us back what we lost only to take it away again. The “architecture of the event” is more or less the story we tell ourselves about how things were in the past: what happened, who we were then. It’s a mental construct and yet, it’s based on “physical things” that did once exist—flesh-and-blood people, the chairs they sat on, the dishes they ate from, everything material—and those things, the actual, hide behind the façade that we’ve erected by using the imagined and remembered. This poem has a debt to the painter Giorgio di Chirico. I took some of the language from an essay of his about enigmas and I also incorporated the title of his painting, “The Enigma of an Autumn Afternoon.” In terms of whether I see myself as sad, I was certainly sad when I wrote this poem.
LS: That poem is quite different from “February,” also in Elegy, which complains about the world being “ugly.”
MJB: Yes, the speaker in the poem “February” definitely does sound bitter, especially compared to the speaker in “September Is.” Her complaints about the cold and the flapping red flag and the “teeth line of ten building,” make it seem as if in her eyes, the world has become an open-mouthed monster. Because it’s February, she’s looking at a Valentine’s card where, in front of a circus tent, a girl in red sequins is “selling love.” The grieving speaker knows that the myth that love conquers all is simply that, a myth. In her bitterness, she overrides the Valentine’s pat happy ending by casting the boy on the card, who’s coming to buy what the girl is selling, in a new role, that of Death in Death and the Maiden: “You, over there, you, in black satin. / You be the Maiden’s Mr. Death.”
LS: In an interview in Tupelo Review, centered on your translations, you say that you tell your students that one writes about one’s obsessions and that those don’t change. Could you please tell me about your obsessions, and if, as you say in the interview, they remain the same or whether they have changed, and if so, how.
MJB: The answer to whether our obsessions change is, yes, and no. Certainly our subjects change. I’ve written books that use artworks as the primary subject (The Eye Like a Strange Balloon), a book about a Louise Brooks lookalike and her pals (Louise in Love), a book about the death of a child (Elegy), a book about the Bauhaus school and those who were in it (A Doll for Throwing), and in each, I was obsessed with the subject while I was writing the poems. But in all of those books, and in the others books I’ve written, there are themes to which I keep returning. One is that, for some of us, it’s a difficult world. And one of my obsessions is trying to understand how the mind makes sense of that world, and all the kinds of difficulty in it.
LS: You say that in the poems, you are an actor on a stage, and in your first answer, above, you talk about cloning yourself. This is fascinating. Can you elaborate on that in terms of your childhood, and throughout your life.
MJB: That is a big assignment! I think it’s very difficult to know what contributes to making us who we are. We invent stories about causality—that happened and so I became this—but so much of who we are is genetically hardwired. What I do know is that I was a very shy child who spoke very little and always felt as if I were standing in the wings, watching others on stage act out their parts with much more assurance than I ever dreamed of. Because there were so many upheavals on that stage, and because the outbursts would often spill over into the wings where I was standing, I became hypervigilant, continually watching to see whether I could anticipate threats and avoid them. I couldn’t avoid them, and yet, the constant wariness became a habit of being. I also became aware of my own emotional state, which as a child, is exhausting. In order to escape my situation, and at times myself, I think I learned a form of dissociation where I could split my mind and enter a parallel universe, that of a book or a fantasy. Later, when I became a writer, I saw that being observant, of others, of myself, of the physical world, was actually something that could be useful in terms of constructing the universe of the poem. I could invent a character, give her a costume, Cher or Mickey Mouse, it didn’t matter. I could let someone else speak for the shy girl who was afraid to say the wrong thing.
LS: I am just beginning to read Louise in Love and it strikes me that you resemble the cover photo in that you have that nineteen twenties flapper look. In Louise, are you the shy girl afraid to say the wrong thing? A persona, of course, but. . .
MJB: I’m one of countless girls or women afraid of saying the wrong thing. Louise, on the other hand, is not one of those. She says whatever she wants and doesn’t care what happens after. I invented that character to see what that might feel like. The silent screen actress Louise Brooks provided me with a template. She was a very assertive and carefree woman but one who was, unfortunately, also quite self-destructive. I invented a sister for Louise, Lydia, who was cautious and thoughtful.
In terms of the “look” that you, and sometimes others, perceive that Louise Brooks and I share, when I lived in London in the late Eighties, I used to take a picture postcard of Louise Brooks to the hair salon when I had my hair cut because that’s how I wore my hair then. But after I changed my hair style, I was surprised that people still saw a resemblance between that photo and however I appear to them.
The way the “look” works is that I am throwing my ventriloquist voice into a doll that I made to look like Louise Brooks—the actress and author of LuLu in Hollywood, memoiristic essays about film and film stars—as she looked in the photograph on the front of the book. It turns out that the photograph reminds some readers of me, the poet. To argue against having readers read Louise as me, I put a Dramatic Personae listing at the front of the book, inviting the reader to see these not as confessional poems, but as a period play, set in the Brooks era but with timeless concerns behind it (love, being, sadness, reading, art, and others).
I’m also throwing my voice into the other characters whose looks aren’t defined. One of those is only referred to as “the other”—this because I wanted to keep the gender fluid. “The other” is also the “I,” as per Rimbaud’s “Je est un autre.”
Brooks is said to have called the photograph on the book cover her “dyke photo.” That self-perception gets layered over Brooks, who is layered over the Louise persona, both of which are layered over me, whoever I am when I appear, biographically, in the poems, usually as small bits that get woven into the mix whenever I need to create a stage for the speaker to stand on and speak from.
Another place I show up is in allusions to other poets. In the poem, “Eclipsed,” in Louise in Love, a few lines of John Berryman’s “Homage to Mistress Bradstreet” are condensed and echoed in the line, “ . . . one by one. / (which is the way death takes us, he said.” The “he” is Berryman and this is what he actually said:
Sam, your uncle has had to
go fróm us to live with God. ‘Then Aunt went too?’
Dear, she does wait still.
Stricken: ‘Oh. Then he takes us one by one.’ My dear.
LS: You mention in the title poem ‘that phantom realm” and “from the mirror.” Can you elaborate on these a bit please?
MJB: That first line, “Much had transpired in the phantom realm,” ends in a semi-colon and is followed by two short lines of dialogue: “Are we whole now, Louise asks. / I think we are, the other said.” That moment can be read meta-poetically as referring to the fantasy universe of the poem. You can also read the phantom realm as consciousness, that electrical-biochemical bog where interiority takes place. It’s partly in the brain but interconnects to other areas of the body. In that reading, the two characters engaged in dialogue could be two halves of the divided self.
The mirror shows up in the fourth line: “And from the mirror: no longer blue in the face, and vague.” That moment, too, can be read as embodying the idea that the poem is a mirror or it can be read metaphysically, as an existential sense of futility. Exhausted exasperation is what that idiom, “blue in the face,” means. The self may be commenting on seeing that exasperation mirrored back more clearly now, no longer “vague.”
LS: “Much had transpired in the phantom realm” reminds me of Keats’s “Much have I traveled in the realms of gold,” from “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer.” Are you at all a Keatsian?
MJB: If by Keatsian, you mean an admirer of Keats, I am that. I was reading Keats while I was writing the poems in Louise in Love. “Much had transpired in the phantom realm” is meant to echo that Keats line. His “Ode to a Nightingale” is audible behind the poem “Night and Nail” (Part 5 of “Lydia’s Suite”), which begins, “That small feathered fiend, the needle that goes through you,” and ends with “Does she wake? Or will we weep,” which echoes his ending: “Was it a vision, or a waking dream? / Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?” Between the beginning and the end, there are other words that are shared, including my “ceaseful Death” which adds a letter to his “easeful Death.”
In a later poem, “Interrupted Briefly by a Borrowed Phrase, the Scene Proceeds,” lines taken from Keats’s “Hyperion” appear at the poem’s end, unattributed but in italics, to cue the reader that they have been quoted:
But oh! how unlike marble was that face:
How beautiful, if sorrow had not made
Sorrow more beautiful than Beauty's self.
LS: David Kirby in his New York Times
review called that book “lush.” Do you see it that way? How?
MJB: It’s certainly sonically lush, with its over-the-top use of alliteration. I’d been reading the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets, particularly Ron Silliman, who said that since the broken line was a signifier of the “High Poetical,” avant garde poets must stop using it. He said there were some recent works that used the sentence in an interesting way and mentioned Lyn Hejinian’s My Life. I took to heart his core idea, which is that “You can’t say it that way any more,” to quote a John Ashbery line from his “And Ut Pictura Poesis Is Her Name.” But I also knew I loved the expressive use of sound, and loved the lyric heat sound can create in the poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Keats, and Dickinson, and also, although quite differently, in Stein, who would refuse, I feel certain, to be dictated to by anyone about how one was going to write. I decided to keep the traditional sonic, and thematic, elements but just turn the heat up under them in recognition that poetry had to keep evolving. Otherwise, there’d be no sense of urgency to it.
LS: The clone image returns to me as I read these poems. Again, rich in allusion, this book differs so from the others of yours. Can you draw a thread that runs from your earliest book to the book you’re now working on, A Film in Which I Play Everyone.
MJB: I think humor is a thread. My love of odd objects is a thread. I try to make them do more than serve as stage dressing, although they do that too. I hope gravity is a thread, I take the world seriously. Bleakness is a risk and bleakness can become one-dimensional so I try to lessen the intensity with humor or wordplay. I would never argue that life is without any charm.
LS: You say the Dramatic Personae listing was a way of urging the reader to not read these as confessional poems, but as a period play. While the book does work brilliantly as a play, I wonder whether the poems are somewhat, nonetheless, confessional?
MJB: I don’t see myself reflected in the fictional Louise’s unconstrained, happy-go-lucky manner, nor in Louise Brooks’s heedlessness, but I do see myself in both women’s desire to be amused and I certainly identify with Brooks’s ambition to be excellent at what she did. She refused to overemote in her silent films, which makes her films distinctive for the era and psychologically rich. She also took daring roles, acting in Pandora’s Box and Diary of a Lost Girl, both directed by the Austrian expressionist filmmaker G.W. Pabst. And of course, emotionally, whatever the fictional Louise knows, I know. I especially identify with her love of beauty, and of “lightning and live wire,” and “rapture and bliss.” Who doesn’t want those things?
LS: A review of your first book, Apology for Want, states that “ ‘want’ is insistently silent and on the verge of being articulated.” Is this a signature in your work, articulating what’s on the verge?
MJB: Desire is a through line in my work, and frustration with the fact that desire can never be satisfied. In the title poem of that book, the speaker—who’s been staring so long at a shelf in a grocery store that the stock boys begin to think she’s considering stealing something—says, “There are few ways / to free the body from desire, all end in anarchy.” There’s also, in my work, the insistent desire to know, to comprehend a world that is unknowable because it’s always in flux. Perhaps that is why the speaker is always on the “verge” of articulating, because want is fluid: now you want an apple, now you’re sorry you ate the apple because you didn’t know before you ate it that with a single bite, Eden would immediately turn into a wasteland. Desire is also psychologically complicated, and in order to preserve its complexity, I try not to reduce it to the over-obvious.
LS: Yours is indeed, as a reviewer wrote of The Bride of E, “a loss-inflected world.” As you say above, “bleakness” carries a danger. And yet, taking the world seriously doesn’t necessarily mean making it bleak. Can you please explain how this tension functions across your work?
MJB: I think “bleakness” might be one of those things that is in the eye of the beholder. We all have different appetites for looking at the difficult side of life. Some people only want to see sunlight and flowers, even if the light is artificial and the flowers are plastic, others know that while real flowers are beautiful, part of that beauty is in their pathetic brevity. I prefer dead or dying flowers to everlasting plastic ones but sometimes a clown with a bouquet of plastic flowers is just what the poem needs to offset a heart-breaking picture of irreparable loss. I want my poems to show the magnitude of both the real and the imagined world.
LS: You have been called “pessimistic” in your conclusions (in a review of The Last Two Seconds), yet I find a romantic streak that I don’t connect with doom. Serious, yes, but also enthralled, even at the idea of losing all that is art, all that is awe-inspiring. Could you comment on whether you see yourself as a romantic in some ways? If so, does this conflict with “pessimistic”?
MJB: I’m afraid I’m a quite pessimistic at this point in history where it becomes clearer by the day that the urgent problems that humans have created through greed and indifference have caught up with us. That book is deeply concerned with the precipice we now find ourselves on. To be a romantic, as I understand it, is to be idealistic, even to the point of being unrealistic. I would have to say that I am not unrealistic in terms of the difficulties we are now facing. And I’m not unrealistic in terms of hoping that there will be anything like a quick fix. There are too many people who feel threatened by changes that often have nothing to do with them. They don’t want a pluralistic society because they fear their group will have less power if power is shared equally. The one place where I am a romantic is my love of the imagination. Out of the imagination comes art and literature, music and dance, science and medicine, even plumbing and electricity! The imagination allows an escape from the vexations of the real world and it can also suggest new approaches to living in the world. Unfortunately, the imagination often frightens those who are overinvested in a desire to have the entire world look exactly like their back yard, and never like anything other than that.
Lynn Strongin, the author of twelve books of poems, was born in New York City. Polio at age twelve left her paralyzed from the waist down. This challenge, which landed her in a wheelchair, inspired her to work at musical composition and academic studies all the harder. She has a B.A. in English from Hunter College and an M.A. in English and American Literature from Stanford University. Her book Spectral Freedom: Selected Poetry, Prose and Criticism (an expose of childhood hospital life, 1951) was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. She is also the editor of The Sorrow Psalms: A Book of Twentieth Century Elegy, published by the University of Iowa Press in 2006. She’s been the recipient of an NEA fellowship, a grant from the American Association of University Women, and awards from the PEN American Center. She taught at the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University (now LIU Post), Mills College, and University of New Mexico. For the past thirty years, she has lived in British Columbia.
Mary Jo Bang is the author of eight books of poems, including Elegy, which received the National Book Critics Circle Award. She has translated Dante’s Inferno, illustrated by Henrik Drescher, and Purgatorio. She has received a Hodder Fellowship from Princeton University, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a fellowship at the American Academy in Berlin. Her translation of Colonies of Paradise, poems by the German novelist/poet Matthias Göritz, is forthcoming in 2022 from TriQuarterly Books, an imprint of Northwestern University Press. She teaches creative writing at Washington University in St. Louis.