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.

Halloween Verse

Halloween still remains my favorite holiday, no matter how old I get. I wanted to start the day off by posting some links to some autumn/Halloween-themed verse.

Here’s a link to the poem “To Autumn” by John Keats, one of the most anthologized poems in the English language.

Here is a poem entitled “Country Fair” by Charles Simic, a poet who tends to stack weird, bizarre images on top of each other, sometimes as a way to address the human condition or the atrocities of war. Here’s another poem by Simic, “Late Septemer,” and another poem in which Simic personifies death.

Mark Strand is a poet  a little similar to Simic, in the deep image, surrealist sense at least. His early poems are filled with bizarre, unsettling images. Here’s one of his poems.

And of course there’s always the work of Edgar Allan Poe, “The Raven” one of his most famous works and a perfect read for this holiday.

Happy Halloween!