When I read poetry, I want to feel myself suddenly larger … in touch with—or at least close to—what I deem magical, astonishing. I want to experience a kind of wonderment. And when you report back to your own daily world after experiencing the strangeness of a world sort of recombined and reordered in the depths of a poet’s soul, the world looks fresher somehow. Your daily world has been taken out of context. It has the voice of the poet written all over it, for one thing, but it also seems suddenly more alive… —Mark Strand, The Art of Poetry No. 77, 1998
What moves me most about the above quote is how clearly it states the power of a poem to color one’s view of the world. You can’t step in the same river twice, Heraclitus said (and Borges quoted religiously 🙂 ). Poetry, then, is a way to document what the second steps into the river – and the third, fourth, etc. – feel like. You leave a good poem different, not for any act of manipulation, but simply an act of listening and attention, words that apply to reading and prayer.
I was happy to share the following poem with my students this week. I told them one of the things I love about it is how Strand gets away with repeating “someone” and “something,” big no-no’s that I look for when I revise my own work. Usually “something” is not pointing to an ethereal wonderment, but at a lack of specificity. In Strand’s poem, the words become the very air of a party, and then the air of the universe.
From the Long Sad Party – Mark Strand
Someone was saying
something about shadows covering the field, about
how things pass, how one sleeps towards morning
and the morning goes.
Someone was saying
how the wind dies down but comes back,
how shells are the coffins of wind
but the weather continues.
It was a long night
and someone said something about the moon shedding its white
on the cold field, that there was nothing ahead
but more of the same.
a city she had been in before the war, a room with two candles
against a wall, someone dancing, someone watching.
We began to believe
the night would not end.
Someone was saying the music was over and no one had noticed.
Then someone said something about the planets, about the stars,
how small they were, how far away.