Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Poem of the Spanish Poet

In a hotel room somewhere in Iowa an American poet, tired of his
poems, tired of being an American poet, leans back in his chair and
imagines he is a Spanish poet, an old Spanish poet, nearing the end of
his life, who walks to the Guadalquivir and watches the ships, gray and
ghostly in the twilight, slip downstream. The little waves, approaching
the grassy banks where he sits, whisper something he can't quite hear as
they curl and fall. Now what does the Spanish poet do? He reaches into
his pocket, pulls out a notebook, and writes:

Black fly, black fly
Why have you come

Is it my shirt
My new white shirt

With buttons of bone
Is it my suit

My dark blue suit
Is it because

I lie here alone
Under a willow

Cold as stone
Black fly, black fly

How good you are
To come to me now

How good you are
To visit me here

Black fly, black fly
To wish me goodbye

Mark Strand

from Salmagundi


Strand said, in the annotations for The Best of American Poetry 2011, wherein the poem above was anthologized that his next book will be a prose-poem collection. And so it is: his latest collection, Almost Invisible (which also contains this poem) is quite a departure from the Pulitzer-winning Blizzard of One. The signposts are clear; while that trademark meditative tone and the simplicity of Strand's diction are retained, the poet struggles to get out of his familiar "voice" or style and play up instead elements borrowed from fiction and culled from fables.

The very title betrays this rather-thin collection's concerns - the overarching theme that is the imminence of death. Yet the poet's speaker deftly veils the dark connotations of this "surrender" and displaces the sentiment by coming back to what most recent American poems and poetics detest: the narrative. There's plenty of humor in this book, and an even larger assortment of memorabilia and nostalgia. And - have I already said it? - an embrace of the narrative. Strand's experimentation here feels apt and even comes across as necessary, inevitable.

Maybe because he has conceded to the "empire of memory," that grand return (narrative?) that poets like Ted Kooser have been championing in their later collections. In an interview on the release of this book (his 13th collection of poems) by Robin Young, Strand said: "I mean as you get older, you tend to spend more time looking back and less time looking ahead, because there’s not much time ahead of you.”