Almost “Almost Invisible” by Mark Strand

Almost invisible Almost invisibleMark Strand; Alfred A Knopf 2012WorldCatLibraryThingGoogle BooksBookFinder 
Let’s say that night has come and the wind has died down and a male cardinal, his iconic crest and red feathers invisible in the darkness, flutters overhead in the portico rafters as you step outside and pass quickly to the garden walk beyond to avoid getting shat on, and the noise of the wings reminds you of the riffling of pages by a disappointed reader of a new book, ordered in hardcover because it was on sale at Amazon and how could you go wrong with such an author, who once served as Poet Laureate and who translated one of your favorite Spanish poets, Rafael Albertí — besides which it’s prose poetry, one of your favorite things; and let’s say that your nostrils prickle at the smell of rain and you remember as you sometimes do an incident long ago, in the 4th or 5th Grade, when the fastest runner in the school ridiculed your assertion that rain could have any kind of smell, and because you wanted to like him you said nothing, though his arrogance rankled and this very minor exchange stuck with you and continues to color the pleasure you take in the smell of rain even four decades later, adding a dash of melancholy as you unzip and begin to urinate into the darkness on the far side of the driveway and a sharper, earthier odor begins to take its place, and you recall what your girlfriend said earlier about the poet’s heavy, elephantine playfulness lurching bathetically into a kind of Dr. Zhivago-esque mood which seemed not only out-of-place but unearned, because isn’t that really how this whole spring has felt so far — the absurdly early heat wave followed by a cold April; now let’s say that there is a halogen flashlight in the house and you toy with the idea of fetching it and scanning the edge of the woods, where you’d probably pick up the eye-shine of a deer or two, or possibly a raccoon, but remembering the poet’s words, you intone the dark is my freedom and my happiness, zip up and go back inside to peer into the glowing well of your ancient and cumbersome computer.

9 Comments


  1. Wondering if this has the tone and the syntax of the subject… I like the hurt in the smell of the rain, though I also want to tap that boy sharply on the back of his head. But by now he knows. So much more than he did that day!

    Reply

    1. I did copy the syntax of one of the poems in the book, “Hermetic Melancholy” — which was also one of the dozen or so pieces in the book I liked. Tone? Maybe a little. But this is a parody.

      I guess I didn’t feel obligated to write a review since the book is on the American poetry bestseller list; it’ll score plenty of reviews in important places. It’s worth pointing out that both Amazon customer reviews so far, as well as all the reviews at Goodreads, have been laudatory. So it seems that I’m very much in the minority for feeling less than overwhelmed by 3/4ths of the prose pieces in the book. I expected more — something on a par with Simic’s The World Doesn’t End or Stephen Dunn’s Riffs and Reciprocities, both of which I loved. Too many of Stand’s prose-poems just feel tossed off, with highfalutin’ titles tacked on to make them seem more significant than they are.

      Reply

      1. Hermetic Melancholy is the title of a painting by de Chirico, it would seem. Was this the poem I accused of Zhivagoesque bathos? or is it the one I liked too? I can’t remember. (Mainly, possibly, because I recall asking not to be told the title of the one I liked in case it was as off-puttingly pompous as all the others.)

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        1. No, you liked this one. You thought it was a truthful look at the sorts of things people say to themselves when they are depressed. In general, I think, he does melancholy well in this book; it’s his attempts at humor that tend to fall flat. The poem you accused of Zhivagoesque bathos is called “Nobody Knows What is Known.”

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      2. I haven’t paid much attention to prose poems in years, so I’m glad to see what you like instead. Perhaps I’ll try the two you recommend.

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        1. It occurred to me yesterday that prose poetry is rather like videopoetry, an impure, boundary-crossing genre that can be wonderful as long as it’s re-invented each time it’s deployed.

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          1. For a long while starting in the 70’s, it seemed to me that prose poetry was dry and had a kind of blunted affect, and at the same time was in love with the cute, the tiny.

            Don’t know if that’s a fair recollection, but that sensation is probably why I haven’t read any in a long time.

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