Mark Strand is a Pulitzer Prize winning, former U.S. Poet Laureate. It’s well-deserved acclaim. I just purchased his Collected Poems. It is as good as hoped for. A massive book showcasing what the publishers call his “canonical” works. It includes my favorite:
“Keeping Things Whole” by Mark Strand
Each moment is a place
you’ve never been.
In a field
I am the absence
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.
When I walk
I part the air
The air moves in
To fill the spaces
Where my body’s been.
We all have reasons
to keep things whole.
I stumbled on him (and this poem) years ago, a lifetime ago, in a class on contemporary poetry taught by a formidable and magnificent woman named Katherine Hohlwein, who was a poet herself. She intimidated me from the first class, even though she didn’t mean to. She was published and knew famous poets, who were in textbooks. Practically a celebrity herself. But she loved her students and just wanted to expose them to poetry and how it’s made. I eventually got over being unnecessarily over-awed. Thanks to her, we did learn about poets in that class. We learned not just their verses on the page, but their inspirations and foibles. We explored their lives and their words and how the two bore on each other.
It was an open, discovering time in my life—pregnant with my first child and beginning to see how the universe moved. She gave me one of those compliments that you remember and hold close to your heart. She came upon me in a cafeteria, listening to my Walkman and writing in my journal. She asked me, “Are you a poet? You have the look of a poet.” I was almost too stunned to even answer. I think I mumbled something about sometimes getting a line or two down. That at the time I had been leaning toward the “poetry in motion” of architecture. She told me to keep writing, too.
Strand wasn’t the only poet she introduced us to, of course. The class was so rich and full, it should have been a two-year course.
Poetry inspires me, grounds me, lifts me up. It’s a special kind of language, of communication, that makes you reach inside to be able to fly.
If you think you’re not a poetry reader, you’re just wrong. There is a poem that will completely fill and define you. It might not have been written yet. It may be your work to write.