April 17, 2011

Poets for April 17, 2011 - Mark Strand

IF someone asked me to pick just one poet as my favorite, like most people I would say that is unfair to be asked to rank or compare poets. How can one compare or rank Mary Oliver over Wallace Stevens over W. S. Merwin over Anna Akhmatova over Anne Sexton over T. S. Eliot or any of the hundreds of poets whose work one adores?!

But if they insisted and I absolutely had to choose one poet whose work I have read a lot, enjoyed a lot, and absolutely am in love with...then I'd have to admit it is the poetry of Mark Strand. If there was a desert island I had to retire to with the poems of 2 poets, I would choose Mark Strand and Wallace Stevens. Some day I may change my mind about the latter and pick someone else, but I think Mark Strand will remain as one of the two choices! I have read a lot of his work and Strand's poems have been and I trust will remain a source of much comfort and joy for me in my lifetime. I hope, really hope, that at age 77, Mark Strand is still writing and has a few more books of poetry to write in his lifetime. I'd be crushed if I were not to read another book of poetry from him.

"I think that the world is overwhelming and that people are very small. One is even impotent in dealing with one's own past, one's own history. There is obviously much more lived experience than can ever be remembered, and much more is obviously happening in the mind that can ever be verbalized at any given time. So one is always a little behind." - Mark Strand (Interview, 1977)
"When the weight of the past leans against nothing, and the sky is no more than remembered light, and the stories of cirrus and cumulus come to a close, and all the birds are suspended in flight, not every man knows what is waiting for him, or what he shall sing..." - Mark Strand (The End), 
"It's not that poetry reveals more about the world - it doesn't - but it reveals more about our interactions with the world than our other modes of expression. And it doesn't reveal more about ourselves alone in isolation, but rather it reveals that mix of self and other, self and surrounding, where the world ends and we begin, where we end and the world begins." - Mark Strand (Interview with Katharine Coles, as quoted at this post by the poet, Edward Bryne.) 

Mark Strand (Born: April 11 1934, Prince Edward Island, Canada)

Since he is so special for me, I'll post not 2 or 3 but 10 poems by Mark Strand here today. No special commentary needed. Just enjoy his poems...

The Coming of Light
by Mark Strand

Even this late it happens:
the coming of love, the coming of light.
You wake and the candles are lit as if by themselves,
stars gather, dreams pour into your pillows,
sending up warm bouquets of air.
Even this late the bones of the body shine
and tomorrow's dust flares into breath

Lines for Winter
by Mark Strand

Tell yourself
as it gets cold and gray falls from the air
that you will go on
walking, hearing
the same tune no matter where
you find yourself—
inside the dome of dark
or under the cracking white
of the moon’s gaze in a valley of snow.
Tonight as it gets cold
tell yourself
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.
And if it happens that you cannot
go on or turn back
and you find yourself
where you will be at the end,
tell yourself
in that final flowing of cold through your limbs
that you love what you are.

Keeping Things Whole
by Mark Strand

In a field
I am the absence
of field.
This is
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.

When I walk
I part the air
and always
the air moves in  
to fill the spaces
where my body’s been.

We all have reasons
for moving.
I move
to keep things whole.

My Life By Someone Else
by Mark Strand

I  have done what I could but you avoid me.
I left a bowl of milk on the desk to tempt you.
Nothing happened. I left my wallet there, full of money.
You must have hated me for that. You never came.

I sat at my typewriter naked, hoping you would wrestle me
to the floor. I played with myself just to arouse you.
Boredom drove me to sleep. I offered you my wife.
I sat her on the desk and spread her legs. I waited.

The days drag on. The exhausted light falls like a bandage
over my eyes. Is it because I am ugly? Was anyone
ever so sad? It is pointless to slash my wrists. My hands
would fall off. And then what hope would I have?

Why do you never come? Must I have you by being
somebody else? Must I write My Life by somebody else?
My Death by somebody else? Are you listening?
Somebody else has arrived. Somebody else is writing.

The Idea
by Mark Strand

For us, too, there was a wish to possess
Something beyond the world we knew, beyond ourselves,
Beyond our power to imagine, something nevertheless
In which we might see ourselves; and this desire
Came always in passing, in waning light, and in such cold
That ice on the valley’s lakes cracked and rolled,
And blowing snow covered what earth we saw,
And scenes from the past, when they surfaced again,
Looked not as they had, but ghostly and white
Among false curves and hidden erasures;
And never once did we feel we were close
Until the night wind said, “Why do this,
Especially now? Go back to the place you belong;”
And there appeared , with its windows glowing, small,
In the distance, in the frozen reaches, a cabin;
And we stood before it, amazed at its being there,
And would have gone forward and opened the door,
And stepped into the glow and warmed ourselves there,
But that it was ours by not being ours,
And should remain empty. That was the idea.

Coming to This
by Mark Strand

We have done what we wanted.
We have discarded dreams, preferring the heavy industry
of each other, and we have welcomed grief
and called ruin the impossible habit to break.

And now we are here.
The dinner is ready and we cannot eat.
The meat sits in the white lake of its dish.
The wine waits.

Coming to this
has its rewards: nothing is promised, nothing is taken away.
We have no heart or saving grace,
no place to go, no reason to remain.

by Mark Strand

When you see them
tell them I am still here,
that I stand on one leg while the other one dreams,
that this is the only way,

that the lies I tell them are different
from the lies I tell myself,
that by being both here and beyond
I am becoming a horizon,

that as the sun rises and sets I know my place,
that breath is what saves me,
that even the forced syllables of decline are breath,
that if the body is a coffin it is also a closet of breath,

that breath is a mirror clouded by words,
that breath is all that survives the cry for help
as it enters the stranger's ear
and stays long after the world is gone,

that breath is the beginning again, that from it
all resistance falls away, as meaning falls
away from life, or darkness fall from light,
that breath is what I give them when I send my love.

In Memory of Joseph Brodsky
by Mark Strand

It could be said, even here, that what remains of the self
Unwinds into a vanishing light, and thins like dust, and heads
To a place where knowing and nothing pass into each other, and through;
That it moves, unwinding still, beyond the vault of brightness ended,
And continues to a place which may never be found, where the unsayable,
Finally, once more is uttered, but lightly, quickly, like random rain
That passes in sleep, that one imagines passes in sleep.
What remains of the self unwinds and unwinds, for none
Of the boundaries holds – neither the shapeless one between us,
Nor the one that falls between your body and your voice. Joseph,
Dear Joseph, those sudden reminders of your having been – the places
And times whose greatest life was the one you gave them – now appear
Like ghosts in your wake. What remains of the self unwinds
Beyond us, for whom time is only a measure of meanwhile
And the future no more than et cetera et cetera ... but fast and forever.

The Garden
by Mark Strand

for Robert Penn Warren

It shines in the garden,
in the white foliage of the chestnut tree,  
in the brim of my father’s hat
as he walks on the gravel.

In the garden suspended in time  
my mother sits in a redwood chair:  
light fills the sky,
the folds of her dress,
the roses tangled beside her.

And when my father bends
to whisper in her ear,
when they rise to leave
and the swallows dart
and the moon and stars
have drifted off together, it shines.

Even as you lean over this page,  
late and alone, it shines: even now  
in the moment before it disappears.

A Piece of the Storm
by Mark Strand

From the shadow of domes in the city of domes,
A snowflake, a blizzard of one, weightless, entered your room
And made its way to the arm of the chair where you, looking up
From your book, saw it the moment it landed.
That’s all There was to it. No more than a solemn waking
To brevity, to the lifting and falling away of attention, swiftly,
A time between times, a flowerless funeral.

No more than that
Except for the feeling that this piece of the storm,
Which turned into nothing before your eyes, would come back,
That someone years hence, sitting as you are now, might say:
“It’s time. The air is ready. The sky has an opening.”

Note: I have read all Mark Strand poems since 1990 and while I have read some of the poems he has written before that, starting with Sleeping With One Eye Open, his first book in 1964, I have not read all of them. He had a quiet decade between The Late Hour in 1978 and The Continuous Life in 1990 and his decade of silence is book-ended with two good books collecting his poems - Selected Poems (1980) and New Poems (1990). While I obviously cannot tell you to read one book only of Strand's poetry, his New Poems (1990) and New Selected Poems (2007) provide a good introduction to his poems. (He had a quiet decade, with no books published But if you are ready to not get a flavor of his many poems but want to experience a small part of his ouevre but be blown away (actually you will just sit there, moved interminably and unable to move, stunned and in awe, then read his 1993 book, Dark Harbor. There are some excerpts from the poems in Dark Harbor (and other Strand poems) at this tumblr site but you really must read the whole book in one sitting, and then read it again, to enjoy it at its fullest. His 1999 Pulitzer Prize winning Blizzard of One also has amazing poems and for me, the one book that did not wow me as much as all the others is Man and Camel.  

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