Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Mark Strand's Man and Camel

I picked up Mark Strand’s Pulitzer Prize winning poetry book Man and Camel at my local library and found this to be an engaging read. This was another page turner for me as the poems seemed deceptively easy to read and therefore lent themselves to being read rather quickly. A little too quickly, I might add, so I hope you will take your time and savor them more the first time around since I made a round two of it for myself.

Mark Strand was born on Prince Edward Island, Canada, in 1934 and has quite a collection of works under his belt. Not only does he have more than a few poetry books, he also has prose, translations, art books, children’s books, and has contributed to various anthologies. Needless to say, his name is most likely familiar to you for one reason or another.

Of the many poems I enjoyed, I thought “Two Horses” was one of those poems that deserved a closer look. This poem speaks about Strand encountering two horses while drinking from a lake and how they react to him. For example, his lines read “Two horses/came up beside me to drink as well./This is amazing, I thought, but who will believe it?” and got on to say “I felt the need to respond, so I snorted, too,/but haltingly,/as though not really wanting to be heard./The horses must have sensed that I was holding back./They moved slightly away.” It ends with the idea of his perhaps being a poet in another life, and the horses may have been readers of his poems. “in another life—the one in which I was a poet./They might have even read my poems,…” What I like about this poem is how he and the horses communicate. At first through silence, then when the horses snort, Strand snorts, too. The horses sense how unnatural this is and back away, so Strand internalizes the extraordinary moment and compares it to poetry. Instead of describing the moment itself as a poem entirely focusing on the horses and the lake, Strand discusses the possibility that he may have been a poet in a previous life. It’s as though this particular poem doesn’t actually belong to him and make him a poet in this life. That struck me and made me read the poem again. How can someone write a poem and then end it in such a way as to make it sound like they aren’t actually a poet in this life but maybe a previous one? On top of that, the connection between the two horses presented as though they may have existed previously as readers of his poems in the past is something I have never seen a poet attempt. I think it is a fascinating twist for a poem to end this way, don’t you?

I also enjoyed the poem “2032” in which Death seems to have grown lazy, or at least, unfazed by his role. “where Death, who used to love me, sits/in a limo with a blanket spread across his thighs,/waiting for his driver to appear.” Death is mentioned in a previous poem, by the way, and in that poem Death is looking forward to hosting Strand and bringing him to the world of the undead. In this poem it seems that Death has tired of waiting for Strand, since he inserts the line “Death, who used to love me” to tie in from the previous poem and now Death is just waiting. “He is waiting/to be driven to the Blue Hotel,” and “Where is his driver?” being the main concern. The end is what fascinates me again because the driver is not at all whom you’d expect: “Ah, there she is,/…down the garden steps, in heels, velvet evening gown,/…blowing kisses to the trees.” For Death who is earlier described as white haired with smaller eyes to have such a vivacious and, apparently, youthful driver presents a lively contrast that captures imagination. Now why would Death require a driver, and why such a lively one in comparison? I have no answer to that, to be honest, but I do love the mental picture it presents. Perhaps Death lures the next to go by sending his driver while he waits in the limo? Or maybe she helps keep what little “youth” he has through her own energy as they go from one place to the next to collect the next soul?

This is a book I would highly recommend, especially to those who are more timid to poetry since each poem is easily read yet very entertaining.

To learn more about Mark Strand and to read some of his poems, click the link below:

Thanks for dropping in and please stop by tomorrow for more Poems Found by Poet Hound!


Talia said...

Hey now, I'll be looking for that one.

Poet Hound said...

Glad to hear it!