Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Mark Strand at Georgetown University’s Lannan Center

Mark Strand was one of the first poets I read whose work made me think I, too, could be a poet. Like the dog in his poem Eating Poetry, I wanted to do just that. A few years ago, I taught his book Blizzard of One and had my class at George Mason University read his long, musical poem The Delirium Waltz aloud. We took turns reading sections and even though the class began at 7:30 am, we were enthralled in the sounds and rhythms of the work. I remember hearing him read at a bookstore in Amherst, Mass., when I was an undergraduate and years later at the 92 Street Y, and being moved each time. Last night was no different. 

Carolyn Forché’s lovely introduction of Mark Strand’s reading at Georgetown University’s Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice, said that Strand has described the subject of most poetry to be the poetry of loss. Later, in the Q&A, Strand said that he doesn’t think of himself as a sad poet, but rather one who thinks about being alive. And, he added, to be alive means to think about what it means not to be alive.

Mark Strand read poems, many of them humorous, from his newest book, Almost Invisible. Of this book, he said that he usually has trouble writing titles, but this book seemed to grow out of a collection of titles, instead of a collection of poems that needed titles.

When asked about what makes a good poem, Strand said that if he doesn’t mistrust a poem, then he likes it. A good poem should put him in touch with something beyond himself and increase the value of his own life. A bad poem, he said, makes him ashamed.

Mark Strand will be reading again at the Folger Shakespeare Library on Monday and he is one of the many poets featured in the Poetic Likeness exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery.

Watch the video from the Lannan Center reading

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