At Logan, Strand weaves humor and verse

The Pulitzer Prize–winner “encouraged the audience to laugh not only at his jokes, but also at the pretentiousness of poetry writing.”

By Andrew McVea

As the crimson light of sunset spread across the Midway on October 10, a crowd packed into the eighth floor of the Logan Center for the Arts for an evening devoted to musings on sex, life, and melancholy. On this day, Pulitzer Prize–winner and former Poet Laureate Mark Strand gave a reading to a room of students, faculty, and community members.

Strand has been writing poetry for over half a century. His first book, Sleeping with One Eye Open, was published in 1964, and he has since published 12 other collections of poetry as well as multiple works of prose and children’s books. In 1999 Strand won the Pulitzer Prize for his collection Blizzard of One.

For the reading, Strand chose poems from his most recent collection Almost Invisible, which was published in 2012. He uses a free-verse style in his poetry, and his poems often read more like short stories or jokes than like Shakespearean sonnets.

Strand began the reading with the first poem in his collection, entitled “A Banker in a Brothel with Blind Women.” The poem was a humorous story of hidden identities and lust that set the tone for the rest of the reading. While there were some heavy poems sprinkled throughout, often dealing with death and feelings of melancholy, many of the poems were funny stories about love, marriage, and sex.

After the first poem, Strand went in chronological order through the book, skipping a few poems he had grown tired of reading, until he reached the final poem of the collection. Little time was spent between the readings, as he read rapid-fire, leaving the audience with only a few moments to react to each poem. Although the time between poems felt rushed at times, his readings of the poems themselves were done at a slow, deliberate pace. His voice, while not particularly loud or passionate, hung in the air and carried the weight of his words powerfully.

When Strand did take time off between poems, he often joked with the audience in a dry, self-deprecating manner concerning his past experiences and concerning poetry in general. Strand encouraged the audience to laugh not only at his jokes, but also at the pretentiousness of poetry writing; he invited the audience to see the world of poetry in a different light.

The highlight of the evening came midway through Strand’s reading of the poem “The Buried Melancholy of the Poet.” “This was the summer he wandered out into the miraculous night,” he read. “Into the sea of dark, as if for the first time, to shed his own light, but what he shed was the dark, what he found was the night.” (Strand’s poems look like paragraphs, not columns.) His deep, slow voice, combined with the dark imagery and tone, left the audience entranced by his words. Other high points of the reading were the comical piece “Those Little Legs and Awful Hands” and the poem-within-a-poem “Poem of the Spanish Poet.”

The night ended with “When I Turned a Hundred” and a short reception to meet the poet.

Mark Strand will be giving a lecture on his prose on October 11 in Classics 110.