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Joel Whitney on Mark Strand’s Almost Invisible
American poetry’s recognition of the prosaicness — if not profanity — of our age and culture takes many forms. Poets embrace pop or pursue the workings of the mind with what Robert Bly called associative leaping. They examine rhetoric by mashing up archaisms with the hypernew. They resist poetry’s traditional resistance to technology, fashion, advertising or fad — or they follow someone like Ashbery into poetic abstraction.
Mark Strand’s Almost Invisible leans on yet older forms, veiling its poetry in a fabulistic shell. The book consists of 47 deadpan, mildly absurdist parables on aging, failure and incapacity. While Strand has done this before, the poems bank on the possibility that the reader will appreciate how his form has matured.
In his classes at Columbia, the poet and critic Richard Howard has often described a major poet as one whose work has a distinguishable beginning, middle and late period. While Strand may be the most successful American at bringing inklings of Kafka’s DNA into verse (Jesse Ball is a recent exemplar in fiction), this was already Strand’s project four decades ago in his best books. By Howard’s standard, Strand — an acknowledged self-imitator who rarely reads new poets — would seem to have long given up the anxiety of his own influence. Almost Invisible offers small treasures of wry amusement, elegance, effortlessness and pleasure in contradiction. But in asking us to indulge so much well-trod territory, it may be asking a bit too much.
Go read it all, including the middle!, after the jump.