Mark Strand is one of the most prominent figures in contemporary American poetry, and yet his poems are often considered some of the most elusive. Much of his work encompasses dark themes and macabre scenarios that shift quickly from the physical to the metaphysical, usually placing people and animals in bizarre situations. Why, then, has Strand won numerous awards and fellowships for his poetry, been sought as a teacher, lecturer, and reader at universities across the country and across the world, and been selected Poet Laureate of the United States? The answer lies in how readers approach Strand's work, and "Eating Poetry" provides us ample opportunity to delve into it, get caught up in it, and come out knowing we have experienced something unusually intriguing. Strand's second collection, Reasons for Moving (1968) contains the poem "Eating Poetry," and this collection earned him national recognition as a poet.
Just the title "Eating Poetry" piques curiosity. The first assumption may be that this is only an interesting metaphor for the notion of really enjoying verse, but Strand does not stop there. This poem features a character literally eating poetry. All in the span of 18 lines, a man gobbles up poems in a library, mystifies the librarian, turns into a dog, and terrifies the librarian. This is obviously not a poem we go into looking for a concrete exploration of human experience. It is, however, an abstract and sensuous look at one experience in particular—that of truly and completely fulfilling an attraction, in this case, to poetry. "Eating Poetry" also exemplifies Strand's tendency to taint even light or comical situations with an eerie and gruesome flavor. For this reason, we are often left not quite sure of a poem's overall intent, but we are sure our minds have ventured some place new.