Sunday, July 11, 2010

Mark Strand

Poem of the Day:
Mark Strand's "Man and Camel"
Man and Camel

As I have steered this blog through the past month and a half I have learned that poems and days are not dissimilar creatures. Most have a pacing, unique to its author, a rise and fall that often begins to fall at the end and at the night. Some days are bad, some poems are bad. Days are painful, while poems are too hard to be written.

Today I experienced the most ultimate weaving of day and poem thus far: I walked to the Longfellow National Historic Site to hear Mark Strand read. Therefore, the poem I've chosen for today is one that I also heard today, recited by the author himself.

Strand is a very tall man, striking in his elderly good looks and sense of dress. His humor is also very dry; I laughed in the summer heat.

His poem is surreal -- it reminds me very much of James Tate -- and because of this Strand seems to be warding off the age he mentions in the first line ("On the eve of my fortieth birthday/I sat on the porch having a smoke" (lines 1-2)). While the speaker enjoys his cigarette, a man and a camel happen by. Strand seems neither surprised nor amused. Only when both creatures begin to sing does he take note: "the two of them began to sing./Yet what they sang is still a mystery to me --/the words were indistinct and the tune/too ornamental to recall" (lines 6-8).

Strand's speaker attempts to bring reason to this singing, as if the song is the strangeness of the situation and must be explained. He thinks, "The wonder of their singing/its elusive blend of man and camel, seemed/an ideal image for all uncommon couples./Was this the night that I had waited for/so long?" (lines 12-16). And, we begin to sense a desperateness in the speaker's voice; why is he looking to a singing man and camel for recognition, for an "ideal image of uncommon couples" for which he "had waited for/so long."

Alas, the majesty of the man and camel is broken in the final lines when they circle back to address the speaker on his porch, saying only, "'You ruined it. You ruined it forever'" (line 21). The voice of the final line seems dual; could it be both the poet speaking to a form of himself ("You've ruined the poem") or indeed the man and camel talking to Strand's speaker, accusing him of ruining their surreal existence and action by attaching his pathetic meaning to it?

I don't need to have this question answered. I heard the poem today, from the poet, and Strand's breezy annunciations of each word brought life to something that now, seems duller when on the page.

I suggest reading poetry aloud.

A Poem A Day Audrey


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