Saturday, November 17, 2007

Mark Strand reads at Son of the Pony

Mark Strand was the featured reader at Cornelia Street Cafe last night. His reading was unhurried, unfussy and unshowy, relying on the precision and valence of words ordered well. Reading in a basement, he chose poems that resonated in the subterranean. They were funny, yearning, compassionate. They were also highly conscious of traditional forms. He read a ballad about a couple who met in an underground train station. He read "Black Sea" when someone in the audience shouted out the request. The poem blew the top off my head. Looking at it on the page, now, I just realized that it is a Shakespearian sonnet.

Black Sea

One clear night while the others slept, I climbed
the stairs to the roof of the house and under a sky
strewn with stars I gazed at the sea, at the spread of it,
the rolling crests of it raked by the wind, becoming
like bits of lace tossed in the air. I stood in the long,
whispering night, waiting for something, a sign, the approach
of a distant light, and I imagined you coming closer,
the dark waves of your hair mingling with the sea,
and the dark became desire, and desire the arriving light.
The nearness, the momentary warmth of you as I stood
on that lonely height watching the slow swells of the sea
break on the shore and turn briefly into glass and disappear . . .
Why did I believe you would come out of nowhere? Why with all
that the world offers would you come only because I was here?

(Text from Random House, which published Man and Camel in which this poem appears)

One of its many beauties: the changes rung on the verb and theme "become." The first quatrain ends with "becoming." The third quatrain begins with "became desire." The couplet opposes "you would come" with the inevitable "would you come."

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