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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.
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Poem of the Spanish Poet
In a hotel room somewhere in Iowa an American poet, tired of his poems, tired of being an American poet, leans back in his chair and imagines he is a Spanish poet, an old Spanish poet, nearing the end of his life, who walks to the Guadalquivir and watches the ships, gray and ghostly in the twilight, slip downstream. The little waves, approaching the grassy bank where he sits, whisper something he can't quite hear as they curl and fall. Now what does the Spanish poet do? He reaches into his pocket, pulls out a notebook, and writes:
Black fly, black fly Why have you come
Is it my shirt My new white shirt
With buttons of bone Is it my suit
My dark-blue suit Is it because
I lie here alone Under a willow
Cold as stone Black fly, black fly
How good you are To come to me now
How good you are To visit me here
Black fly, black fly To wish me good-bye
From Almost Invisible by Mark Strand. Copyright 2012 by Mark Strand. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.