Mark Strand: the handsomest poet ever?

Mark Strand (Yale, Iowa) is best known for poems which affect a kind of strange existentialism—and we don’t believe they are aging too well.   When first published, they had a haunting quality, but they are losing their dimensionality with time, and now seem rather flat on the page, like a person dressed up in a ghost costume in the dark who now just seems like a person dressed up in a ghost costume in the light.

Dove reprints two of his poems and both seem the same, and both seem rather dull.  This one is called “The Prediction:”

That night the moon drifted over the pond,
turning the water to milk, and under
the boughs of the trees, the blue trees,
a young woman walked, and for an instant

the future came to her:
rain falling on her husband’s grave, rain falling
on the lawns of her children, her own mouth
filling with cold air, strangers moving into her house,

a man in her room writing a poem, the moon drifting into it,
a woman strolling under its trees, thinking of death,
thinking of him thinking of her, and the wind rising
and taking the moon and leaving the paper dark.

This seems excessively flat, even pointless.  It must have horrified Strand when he first wrote it, imagining a woman (he probably loved) thinking of her future death—but the poem has no moral or formal interest whatsoever.  It’s just somebody saying, “boo!”  the wind rising and taking the moon and leaving the paper dark.   Strand is being intentionally banal, in keeping with some late 20th century fad (probably cooked up at Iowa).

Cornelius Eady (b. 1954) has 3 poems in Dove’s anthology.  According to Dove, Cave Canem, which Eady co-founded, is “an organization fostering emerging African-American poets that has become an instrumental force in twenty-first century American poetry.”


Off go the crows from the roof.
The crows can’t hold on.
They might as well
Be perched on an oil slick.

Such an awkward dance,
These gentlemen
In their spottled-black coats.
Such a tipsy dance,
 As if they didn’t know where they were.
Such a humorous dance,
As they try to set things right,
As the wind reduces them.
Such a sorrowful dance.
How embarrassing is love
When it goes wrong
In front of everyone.
The poem has punch, bouyancy, immediacy.
Eady’s poem violates beginner’s rules: don’t write “such” or “how” for emphasis.
But this doesn’t hurt the poem at all.
Eady 65, Strand 59
The first round is over for the North Bracket.
One more bracket to go for the first round of play: the West.  Stay tuned!

1 Comment

  1. noochinator said,

    April 13, 2012 at 1:07 pm

    Yes, crows and men
    Are in continual fluxus—
    So ridiculously attired
    In funereal tuxes.

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