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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Poet Mark Strand Touches On Loss, Also Humor

Author Mark Strand. (Photo: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders)

By: Alex Ashlock

A long time ago, in another lifetime, at another radio station, I had to fill in as the host of our daily talk show, when the regular host called in sick.

Best thing that ever happened to me.

The guest was the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Mark Strand. I knew his name but not his poetry, but by chance I had just read a magazine piece he had written about the classic American painter, Edward Hopper.

Now, I’ve been reading Mark Strand’s latest book of poems. It’s called “Almost Invisible,” and when read in the context of Strand’s appreciation of Hopper, the poems have deeper resonance.

In a short book about Hopper, Strand described the people in Hopper’s paintings like “Nighthawks” as “characters whose parts have deserted them and now, trapped in the space of their waiting, must keep themselves company with no clear place to go, no future.”

You might say the same thing about the characters in the poetry Mark Strand is writing today. Here he reads a poem called “In The Afterlife.”

At 77, this seems like the poet in winter. As Strand told Here & Now‘s Robin Young:

“This is the story of my career. A young poet who was thrilled with what he wrote and the sparks came thick and fast. Later on they don’t come with the same force… I’m not painting a tragic picture here, it’s just the way things are… I mean as you get older, you tend to spend more time looking back and less time looking ahead, because there’s not much time ahead of you.”

Still, I shouldn’t make it sound like these new poems are all doom and gloom. There’s also lot of humor. For example, in “Almost Invisible.”

Mark Strand is now writing a memoir about his parents. It sounds like a fascinating story, as Strand told it to us:

“Everything I grew up knowing about my father was false. He spent most of his life concealing the fact that he spent time in San Quentin Penitentiary for grand theft before he met my mother. My mother never knew. I grew up hearing amazing stories of his exploits, wonderfully outrageous inventions. He said his mother died giving birth to him, which she didn’t. I think my father’s ability to fantasize and create a fiction of his life may have been the seeds of what I became.”

Book Excerpt: ‘Almost Invisible’

By: Mark Strand

A Banker in the Brothel of Blind Women

A banker strutted into the brothel of blind women. “I am a shepherd,” he announced, “and blow my shepherd’s pipe as often as I can, but I have lost my flock and feel that I am at a critical point in my life.” “I can tell by the way you walk,” said one of the women, “that you are a banker only pretending to be a shepherd and that you want us to pity you, which we do because you have stooped so low as to try to make fools of us.” “My dear,” said the banker to the same woman, “I can tell that you are a rich widow looking for a little excitement and are not blind at all.” “This observation suggests,” said the woman, “that you may be a shepherd after all, for what kind of rich widow would find excitement being a whore only to end up with a banker?” “Exactly,” said the banker.

The Everyday Enchantment of Music

A rough sound was polished until it became a smoother sound, which was polished until it became music. Then the music was polished until it became the memory of a night in Venice when tears of the sea fell from the Bridge of Sighs, which in turn was polished until it ceased to be and in its place stood the empty home of a heart in trouble. Then suddenly there was sun and the music came back and traffic was moving and off in the distance, at the edge of the city, a long line of clouds appeared, and there was thunder, which, however menacing, would become music, and the memory of what happened after Venice would begin, and what happened after the home of the troubled heart broke in two would also begin.

Poem of the Spanish Poet

In a hotel room somewhere in Iowa an American poet, tired of his poems, tired of being an American poet, leans back in his chair and imagines he is a Spanish poet, an old Spanish poet, nearing the end of his life, who walks to the Guadalquivir and watches the ships, gray and ghostly in the twilight, slip downstream. The little waves, approaching the grassy bank where he sits, whisper something he can’t quite hear as they curl and fall. Now what does the Spanish poet do? He reaches into his pocket, pulls out a notebook, and writes:

Black fly, black fly
Why have you come

Is it my shirt
My new white shirt

With buttons of bone
Is it my suit

My dark-blue suit
Is it because

I lie here alone
Under a willow

Cold as stone
Black fly, black fly

How good you are
To come to me now

How good you are
To visit me here

Black fly, black fly
To wish me goodbye

Excerpted from ALMOST INVISIBLE by Mark Strand. Copyright © 2012 by Mark Strand. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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  • http://www.ohioken.com Ken Palosi

    Ironic that I should discover the poetry of Mark Strand and Leonard Cohen within one two week period in my life. As a man of age I find delight and comfort in their poetry. Delight in hearing and reading poetry that is vibrant, alive and not bound up by all the pretensions inherent in most poetry. I find comfort in knowing that older men can still contribute to the human experience at a time when most of society is telling me that my life is basically over and has no worth to the world at large.

  • J Frog

    I really enjoyed this interview.

    • Alex Ashlock, Here and Now

      Thanks. It was really interesting to hear him speak to Robin. What a great voice.

  • http://www.facebook.com/patty.mooney1 Patty Kay Mooney

    I feel very fortunate to have met Mark Strand at the Bread Loaf Writers Conference in Vermont when I was just 18, and had won a scholarship to serve coffee to Mr. Strand and a variety of other major poets.  It was a life-defining experience.  How fascinating to see that he has only improved with age, like a great wine.

  • Bianca Jade

    Just ordered the new poetry book. Cannot wait to dive into it! Loved reading this article! (Bianca Jade of MizzFIT, mizzfit.com)

  • My Name is not Mark Strand

    If Mark Strand’s poetry is anything like his personality it would be enough to make one vomit and far from the claimed tonic of introspection his paid ads fraudulently aspire to. He is one of the most inconsiderant, stupid, obnoxious jerks I have ever met in my life. His self grandizement is an endangerment to humanity. During the entire time I encountered this idiot, he insulted and harassed me with tinges of what he insisted was mere Hitlarian comedy. I did not know he worked for KU School of Business until I encountered him in a KU search. He insisted to me he is just a secretary. That associational fraud just reinforces his garish arrogance. I certainly would never have guessed he had the ability to read poetry let alone write it. I have a strong belief most people have an ability to genuinely write poetry. In fact it is the ability to write genuinely that makes poetry so powerful. He is a fraud through and through. Although, I truly believe expression heals the mind and soul, it is likely that he has no healing ethic in his persona. If a law to bar someone from writing poetry was allowed, he would certainly be the first to earn such an award.

    While I was a guest in his home for several weeks, to entertain himself he cut himself with a razor and then smeared the mirror glass with bloody shaving cream. He then left a trail of blood to his room making it appear he was bleeding profusely. Although, I had already had more of his putrid personality than I would ever care to encounter from anyone, my natural humane compassion tempted me to knock on the door to see if he was ok. Considering his insulting behavior during my visit to his residence it was natural to think that he may have gotten the best of himself and tried to commit suicide. When I did not hear anything after I knocked lightly on the closed bedroom door that was usually locked, I imagined the worst. The door opened a little on its own. My concern over-rode my fear and I decided to investigate. I slowly opened the door. At what appeared to be the end of his bad blood trail, he had left a note that said “CANDID CAMERA, ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO BE IN MARK STRAND’s ROOM?”

    It may be past time the world took a good look in Mark Srand’s room to see whose skeletons he may be hoarding along with his own. I immediately called the police and and a body guard to assure I got away from this mad man in short order. I would not recommend his poetry where he is likely tyrannizing people while demanding everyone pretend that he has any amount of respected author in him. If he thinks his blood bath of the mind is an enticement, perhaps I will leave him to clean up his own Hitlarian bloody mess of ghost writer poets. Will the real Mark Strand please stand up!

    • What is in a name…

      The person in the article linked in this message is the Mark Strand referred to in the above comment. Someone sent a message to clarify. The truth often speaks for itself no matter how persuasively the lie demands attention.
      Upon discovering this, I listened to Mark Strand’s poem ‘The Afterlife’. I would say it would be more difficult for Mark Strand the true poet to change his name and thus I might recommend Mark Strand ‘the hateful’ change his name –however that it is just a suggestion.
      In researching Mark Strand the CAN-DID camera persona I found that coincidentlhy, the KU Business School had a groundbreaking ceremony on Friday October 18, 2013 for a new structure they are planning to build.
      I was not aware of that until I sent the comment. The message that beckons to be freed from tyranny often creates its own schedule of events as one’s reputation generally speaks for itself.
      Mark Strand the poet revealed in ‘The Afterlife’ is certainly one I will take some time to listen to and read. Poetry has always been a friend to me.
      Blessings always!

Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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