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Keeping Things Whole -- Mark Strand

Guest poem submitted by Terry Smith:
(Poem #453) Keeping Things Whole
 In a field
 I am the absence
 of field.
 This is
 always the case.
 Wherever I am
 I am what is missing.

 When I walk
 I part the air
 and always
 the air moves in
 to fill the spaces
 where my body's been.

 We all have reasons
 for moving.
 I move
 to keep things whole.
-- Mark Strand
This sparse, philosophical free verse poem is from Mark Strand's 1964 "Sleeping
With One Eye Open".  Strand teaches at the University of Chicago, and is the
Poet Laureate of the U.S. (though born a Canadian... another import we've
acquired and made our own)

I can turn the opening 3 lines around and around in my head for ages at a time,
playing with the meanings, exploring the depth of the idea.  These and the last
2 lines of that stanza are practically koans, and worthy of meditation.

The second stanza seems just a short explanation for the sake of those with too
little time for navel gazing, but the last stanza locks the poem's appeal to a
drifter like me.

A friend of mine was showing me Strand's 'Eating Poetry' in a compilation, and I
opened to this one and fell in love with his talent at expressing such grand
thoughts in so few beautiful words.

24 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Gaurav Khanna said...

hi abraham/martin:
coupla requests:
1. what does koans mean (explanation, second paragraph, last line)
2. could you pleas run "night of the scorpion" by nissim ezekiel - i
remember studying it at school and would love to read it with the notes you
guys provide
thx a ton and keep it up!

Tracy Mattingly said...

Mark Strand was the Poet Laureate in 1990-1. Robert Pinsky is the
current Poet Laureate.

Moletecles said...

Second time (it is late for a party begun at noon.)

A friend of mine --- we met in 1971 -- died (age 63) a few weeks ago; at
this year's
Birmingham Festival "City Stages" there was a hole. Spider Martin is dead,
and there is a hole no one could keep whole.

At some time this evening, I recalled the last two lines of the Mark Strand
poem, did a google search, and thankfully found this site.

Thank you.

Jane Backus said...

My favorite poem -- the justification for keeping things lively and evolving -- like I need a justification...JHB

dedalus said...

people here have commented on the wandering, vagrant feel of the speaker in
the poem, and also on the need for keeping things lively and changing. i
think that the poet is also expressing another sort of experience -- he feels
that his presence is disruptive. it's a nice play on words -- hole and whole.
he is a hole, and for him to be somewhere is to interrupt the world, to
interrupt relationships. and so he alienates himself from the world and,
presumably, from others so that they can be left complete.

They shall know well the heavenly fellowship
Of men that perish and of summer morn.
And whence they came and whither they shall go
The dew upon their feet shall manifest.
--From "Sunday Morning" by Wallace Stevens

John Sakowicz said...

I am so in love with Mark Strand's work.

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