After more than two years of sitting on my bookshelf, Mark Strand's Blizzard of One has come down into my hands and I'm giving it a read. Today (well, technically yesterday) I read about two thirds, looked over others, some of which I remember from his reading in Montreal back in 2004. These poems provide a number of haunting moments -- all of them are finely wrought -- but I frankly don't find they have have the verve, edge or originality of those neurotic, weird, ground-breaking early poems. That may be too much to expect. "An extraordinary book by a master of the art of poetry...." says the blurb. I quite agree, but for that "extra". My hunch is that it was his reputation that won that Pulitzer, not the book itself. Nevertheless, to give him his due, so far I've read a couple of poems -- make that three poems -- that would have shone in his earlier Selected. Here's one, a personal favourite so far:
The Great Poet Returns
When the light poured down through the hole in the clouds,
We knew the great poet was going to show. And he did.
A limousine with all white tires and stained-glass windows
Dropped him off. And then, with a clear and soundless fluency,
He strode into the hall. There was a hush. His wings were big.
The cut of his suit. The width of his tie, were out of date.
When he spoke, the air seemed whitened by imagined cries.
The worm of desire bore into the heart of everyone there.
There were tears in their eyes. The great one was better than ever.
“No need to rush,” he said at the close of the reading, “the end
Of the world is only the end of the world as you know it.”
How like him, everyone thought. Then he was gone,
And the world was blank. It was cold and the air was still.
Tell me, you people out there, what is poetry anyway?
Can anyone die without even a little?
Frankly, tho, I find the last two lines of rhetorical questioning a little questionable. Are they not a false tail? They kind of resonate with the narrative voice and concern, and yes, I want to root for that implicit defence of poetry in the final line -- it's a nice sentiment, it comes out of a lifetime's dedication -- but wouldn't the poem have better ended with, "the air was still"?
There's a fair bit on Mark Strand in this blog -- including, I see, another false tail. If you're interested, click on the label below.