Strand, Mark 1934–
Strand is an American poet, editor, and translator whose traditional poems interrelate dreams and reality. Not really adhering to the tenets of any one school of poetry, Strand writes with lucidity and a consistency derived from the repetition of his major themes. (See also CLC, Vol. 6, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 21-24, rev. ed.)
In Mark Strand's best poems [in Sleeping with One Eye Open] a fuzzy, peripheral, half realized terror seems about to take shape. The tension is that if the terror materializes, becomes specific, the poet will be run out of the house of himself. Mr. Strand's poems are, therefore, new houses to dwell safely in. He builds them methodically, so they have strong textural walls with no loose joints or cracks. The tone is often flat and prosy, as if to diminish and control threatening feeling. The effect though is the opposite, to release feeling. Many of these poems are admirable houses. (pp. 196-97)
A. R. Ammons, "Seven Books by Eight Poets," in Poetry (© 1966 by The Modern Poetry Association; reprinted by permission of the Editor of Poetry), Vol. CVIII, No. 3, June, 1966, pp. 191-97.∗
Mark Strand's Reasons for Moving … is a marvelously haunted book. It is not clear whether the speaker of these poems is haunted by what he is, what he is not, or the obscurity of events. But this uncertainty is precisely the dramatic effect the poet seeks, and in most of the poems he achieves it. The theme that pervades the book (which throughout is unified in tone) is given in an introductory quotation from Jorge Luis Borges: "… while we sleep here, we are awake elsewhere and … in this way every man is two men." But Strand does not work this theme in the romantic vein. He neither longs nostalgically for past experience, wishing to recapture a lost pastoral self, nor imagines an amorous and adventurous ideal to dote upon in reverie or dream. Rather, his Doppelgänger, his other self, shares his own fate: neither one of them is complete, neither is sure of his own identity. From this ghostly confrontation a beautiful pathos arises. For example, in "The Accident" the victim and the train engineer are, in effect, the same character…. If what a man does and what happens to him are, in some hidden sense, the same, then compassion and pity are also the same, and so too are responsibility and innocence. Thus the speaker and his other self are as much the victims of what they do as they are victims of what happens to them, and their identities have no fixed center. If anything is certain, it is merely the sense of "being swept away."
Another example of the inextricability of victim and victimizer, innocence and guilt, is to be found in the superbly tight poem "The Mailman." (p. 39)
The rhythms of this poem are firm. The language seems effortlessly colloquial. The spare imagery is controlled: the mailman becomes an "inkstain on my crimson couch" as if he had been created and spilled like blood in one of the speaker's letters from the "same vein." The word-plays are natural and unforced. The mailman, having brought the letter, having inflicted pain, must ask forgiveness, and the speaker—who wrote the letter that caused the mailman pain (because he has to inflict the same pain by delivering the letter)—must forgive the mailman and, by implication, himself. The cycle is completed with all its innuendo locked in. Guilt returns to forgiveness, though not through the agency of atonement or moral confrontation.
Any poetic success runs the danger of becoming mannered, and occasionally the spookiness of these poems, their mysteriousness, seems perfunctory. At those times (as in "The Man in the Tree" or "The Whole Story") I would like to shake Strand by the lapels and say, "But experience is not that uncertain; events are...
(The entire section contains 7971 words.)
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- Critical Essays