Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mark Strand

Having said that I prefer my poets dead and that I don’t like to meet my poets, I am now going to contradict myself. This will not be a huge self-betrayal. To say that I have “met” Mark Strand is true only in the briefest and most literal sense. He gave a reading at my undergrad alma mater, and I was momentarily introduced to him by my advisor.

Mark Strand is not a young man. The incident to which I refer was around a decade ago, by which time he was already plenty old, especially from the perspective of a college student. I knew he was old, and I went to the reading expecting your typical geriatric shuffler.

That he was not. Mark Strand has charisma in such overwhelming superabundance that I felt vaguely elated within the space of ten seconds of meeting him – which is a good thing, since that’s pretty much all I saw of him.
He was and is good looking in a very Paul Newman vein, but it was more than that. The expression on his face, both when introduced and during his reading, suggested he was battling the urge to break into mirthful laughter at the absurdity of, I don’t know, life, love, or the simple randomness of reading to a crowd of clueless undergraduates in a provincial southern city. I find this kind of cheerful swagger to be hopelessly alluring. He just twinkled. If he had been a tiny bit younger, I’m sure I would have been in love.

Ironically or not, his poetry is actually quite dark. Some of it is humorously dark, and some of it is darkly comic, but I can’t think of any of his poems that is not, at root, rather grim. I don't think this belies his sunny persona.

The foregoing is by way of observation rather than adding up to a coherent philosophy of Mark Strand or his work, so here’s a poem.

The Dress

Lie down on the bright hill
with the moon's hand on your cheek,
your flesh deep in the white folds of your dress,
and you will not hear the passionate mole
extending the length of his darkness,
or the owl arranging all of the night,
which is his wisdom, or the poem
filling your pillow with its blue feathers.
But if you step out of your dress and move into the shade,
the mole will find you, so will the owl, and so will the poem,
and you will fall into another darkness, one you will find
yourself making and remaking until it is perfect.

Mark Strand on Wikipedia

Mark Strand on

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