Thursday, April 21, 2011

sometimes even the professionals need the rejection slip

 I haven't read a poem as lazily conceived as Mark Strand's "Ever So Many Hundred Years Hence" in years. Honestly, considering Strand's reputation as one of the best lyric poets still trying to make the unremarkable events in life truly memorable, this poem comes off as a middling sham. A poetry workshop would take an axe and a red pencil to it's corrosively cliched form.
A poet as acclaimed as Mark Strand should know better than to offer a paragraph so riddled with the hackneyed, the mundane and the hastily written. "Corridors of fog" would have sufficed by itself, a tangible image rarely encountered in poems, but which is ruined with the goofy adjective "milky". This is precisely the needless word a good workshop teacher would have pointedly crossed out, explaining, I think, that it's better to not over describe a situation for which the simplest, clearest , freshest image offers up the highest yield to the reader for their own associations.

 It turns a line that was okay to begin with into the tritest, laziest presentation, written by a writer who cannot trust his own instinct as to when he his done finessing a line. Worst of all, though, this paragraph is evidence of the worst quality a poet can exhibit, that of being tone deaf. Strand has strived to be a lyric poet during his published life and his work, I'm afraid, have nearly always had the quality of being self conscious aware of their own sensitivity. His language has always sounded borrowed, bound to a convenient template of convenient situations, emotions and perspective.

 This poem just boils it down to a hard, seared piece of drift wood , a dead branch of indistinguishable poesy; he is only a couple of steps removed from a greeting card sentimentality that offers, at best, in most situations, the easily grasped perspective Rod McKuen, an insufferable cartoon of would be wisdom. There might have been something spectacular in a poem that compresses decades of a man's life in only a few lines and winds up with with a plausible reunion with a long lost nephew, but even for an art as promiscuous with premise as poetry this strains credulity. This isn't a poem, it's a country western song, it's an agent's desperate for a movie he'd like to make, it's shaggy dog store sans the dog or the hair.

It is a boneyard of cliche.