On the Passing of Poets

Over the last few years, some of America’s most well-known poets have passed, including Adrienne Rich, Amiri Baraka, Galway Kinnel, and now, Mark Strand, who, at 80, passed away this last week. I have certain memories associated with each poet. Adrienne Rich and Amiri Baraka, for instance, taught me how to write an effective political poem. Galway Kinnel taught about poetry’s quiet moments. Mark Strand is especially important to me, however, because his books, along with Charles Simic’s work, were loaned to me when I was an undergraduate student at West Chester University. At the time, I was writing cliché poems about spookhouses and midnight howls. My professor introduced me to the Deep Image school, namely Strand and Simic, to show  me how to effectively write a surreal poem that could have bizarre-o themes, but also some basis in reality. I took home Strand’s Selected Poems and Simic’s The Voice at 3 a.m. and read them cover to cover, while trying to decipher my professor’s notes on the margins.

It’s been a long, long time since I’ve read Strand’s work, but I did so this week. As a very young poet, I was especially drawn to his surrealist poems,  such as “The Tunnel”  and the odd twists and turns his lines and images offered. While revisiting his work this week, I was impressed by the range of his subject matter and the tone, including the familiar surreal poems I loved years ago, but also the softer, tender poems, like “The Coming of Light.”

Looking back on my early poetry workshops, I think my professor recommended Strand to show me how to write a poem that incorporates the weird and bizarre, but also one which avoids the cliché. I think she also wanted to show me how diverse a single poet’s work could be, how there should be no boundaries regarding subject matters or forms. Thank you, Mark Strand, for teaching me that.

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About Brian Fanelli

I'm a poet, teacher, music junkie and much more. My first chapbook of poems, Front Man, was published in 2010 by Big Table Publishing. My full-length book of poems, All That Remains, was published in 2013 by Unbound Content. My latest book, Waiting for the Dead to Speak, was published in the fall of 2016 by NYQ Books. My work has also been published by The Los Angeles Times, World Literature Today, Harpur Palate, Boston Literary Magazine, Kentucky Review, Verse Daily, Spillway, Portland Review, and several other publications. My poetry has also been featured on "The Writer's Almanac" with Garrison Keillor. Currently, I teach English full-time at Lackawanna College.
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