8:01 PM, Nov 29, 2014 • By LEE SMITH
Mark Strand died today at the age of 80. The Montreal-born writer, who served as U.S. Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 1990-1991, was also a brilliant translator. When I was a junior editor at Ecco Press in the late 80s, Strand used to visit the editor in chief, also an excellent poet, Daniel Halpern, to work on a number of projects translating and promoting international poets, especially from Latin America and Central Europe. The women in the office swooned since Strand was far and away the most ruggedly handsome man in all of poetry, the New Yorker set’s Clint Eastwood. And it was the fact of his attractiveness that made it especially odd Strand became one of the comic masters of contemporary American poetry. People that good looking are almost never funny, in part because they don’t have to be or know how to be—and sometimes it is because they don’t want to risk undermining this thing that the world often believes, because the poets often say so, is a kind of genius: beauty.
Strand’s wit is often attributed to the fact that he started his professional career as a visual artist, whereby his poetry famously drew on visual influences like the surrealist movement. However, I’m not convinced that’s the best way to read Strand’s work, or even that he saw his work primarily in this context.
In a 2011 interview with Tablet magazine, Strand talks about being Jewish, or how he doesn’t feel very Jewish except in one key respect. “What I do think is Jewish about me is a certain sense of humor. I sometimes feel like a middle-European Jew. And I feel, of all writers, the greatest kinship with Kafka, his humor, his strangeness.”
Strand first staked out this territory in his 1964 debut collection, Sleeping with One Eye Open. Thus it’s useful to re-read what’s perhaps his most famous poem, "Keeping Things Whole” —it’s quoted in all the obituaries—in this light.
In a field
I am the absence
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.
When I walk
I part the air
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body's been.
We all have reasons
to keep things whole.
Ok, it’s a philosophical poem, clearly influenced by Strand’s other great master, Wallace Stevens, that tackles some of the big issues of 20th-century continental philosophical discourse (like presence and absence). But it’s also a really funny poem, where the poet plays a daredevil Chaplin who takes the stage without any props except his own mind.
The first thing I thought of today when I heard of Strand’s death was his riposte to Theodor Adorno’s famous question, “How can one write poems after Auschwitz?” Strand turned it on its head: “How can one eat lunch after Auschwitz?” Given the nature of the subject, the remark has been explained and clarified countless times by critics and colleagues (maybe Strand himself, too, I don’t recall) looking to smooth out its apparent roughness. But I think it goes directly to the point, as if to say, no, evil doesn’t get that, too. Evil doesn’t win. So, like Kafka, Strand was a moralist as well as a comic. May Parnassus welcome him, though none can fill the spaces where his body’s been.
David Ferry, poet of inquiry and doubt.Apr 29, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 31 • By DIANE SCHARPER
David Ferry’s latest poems look at the tantalizing possibility of life after death and the existence of God. But it’s a God that the poet doesn’t know and whose name escapes him. What he does know is that he feels a presence, and poems both hide and connect him to that presence. Or, as the 88-year-old Ferry so plaintively puts it:
From the darkness of her existence, Elizabeth Jennings comes to light.Feb 18, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 22 • By EDWARD SHORT
When John Betjeman was charged with helping find a proper recipient for the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 1977, he contacted Philip Larkin and suggested Elizabeth Jennings (1926-2001), who had befriended Larkin and Kingsley Amis when they were undergraduates together at Oxford.
T. S. Eliot on the threshold of eminence. Dec 31, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 16 • By WILLIAM H. PRITCHARD
'I don’t like reading other people’s private correspondence in print, and I do not want other people to read mine,” wrote T. S. Eliot to his mother in April 1927.
America’s coming-of-age in poetic form.
Dec 10, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 13 • By WYATT PRUNTY
The Open Door begins with Ezra Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro” and zooms from there, highlighting 100 years of modern poetry, including that of Louise Bogan, Hart Crane, e. e. cummings, H. D., T. S. Eliot, Marianne Moore, Edwin Arlington Robinson, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, and William Butler Yeats.
Earthly delights in the shade of Robert Frost.
Nov 26, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 11 • By ANN STAPLETON
Lover he was, unlonely, yet alone—
Esteemed, belittled, nicknamed, and
The genius of the poet laureate of nonsense. Nov 19, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 10 • By SARA LODGE
Just as American children grow up with Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat, British children grow up with Edward Lear’s fantastical but touching poem “The Owl and the Pussycat.”
A brave new bard for the Internet age. May 7, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 32 • By ELI LEHRER
A complete understanding of Michael Robbins’s poetry requires, in roughly equal measures, knowledge of modern academic poetry, its Romantic-era predecessors, seventies and eighties pop music, recent death metal, and au courant literary criticism. Knowing more than a little about hip-hop and Star Wars helps, too. So does having an analytic mind that loves to puzzle over some of the most interesting, engaging, and rigorous poetry being written today. And access to Google.
Feb 27, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 23 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
Barack Obama is a careful politician and a disciplined man. But when he’s on the West Coast, perhaps a little tired because of the jet lag, at a fancy fundraiser with his most glamorous and credulous supporters, he tends to let his guard down. The mask slips.
8:44 AM, Feb 16, 2012 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
Here’s President Obama, at a fundraiser last night in Los Angeles: “[T]he American people, beneath all the pain and hurt and frustration … still want to believe that that change is possible, and there's still that hope there. … Mario Cuomo once said that campaigning is poetry and governance is prose. … [W]e’ve been slogging through ‘prose’ for the last three years, and sometimes that gets people discouraged. Because people, they like the poetry.”
The Keats brothers’ saga.Jan 23, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 18 • By SARA LODGE
John Keats was to Romantic poetry as James Dean was to cinema: young, gifted, and doomed. His charisma lies in the astonishing energy, humor, and inspiration that he packed into a small physical frame and an appallingly brief time frame: He died of tuberculosis aged barely 25. His eyes were always on the skies. He is the poet of the moon, of new planets and bright stars, of clouds, gold, grey, and dun, of mist, of snow, and Blue!—’Tis the life of heaven.
The remains (in prose) of the great Greek poet.Mar 21, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 26 • By JOHN SIMON
Selected Prose Works
by Constantine Cavafy
translated and annotated by Peter Jeffreys
Michigan, 184 pp., $24.95
Constantine Cavafy is a major figure in modern poetry, repeatedly translated into English. His prose, however, remained uncollected and unpublished in English—until now.
A reader's poem, after Andrew Marvell.9:15 AM, Mar 2, 2011 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
When I was in Cambridge yesterday, a mysterious dark lady approached me in Harvard Yard. She pressed a sheet of paper into my hand, said she was a poet and a WEEKLY STANDARD reader, and asked me to share this effort, apparently based on Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress," with our readers.
I'm happy to do so.
The leader of the free world is singing a rather depressing version of a rousing and familiar tune. 12:49 PM, Feb 24, 2011 • By ANONYMOUS
From the Halls of the West Wing
To the shores of Tripoli;
I shrink from our country's battles
In the air, on land, and sea;
No need to fight for right and freedom
And to keep our honor clean;
I am proud to claim the title
Of White House college dean.
Our flag's unfurled to every breeze
From dawn to setting sun;
We have fought in every clime and place
Where we could take a gun.
In the snow of far-off Northern lands
And in sunny tropic scene;
But I really don't think it is my job,
To say anything that might sound mean.