At most poetry readings I’ve attended, the poet gives a little introduction or anecdote between each poem, providing the audience with a unique insight into the work. Strand, on the other hand, prefaced his talk with the disclaimer that the poems are not necessarily about him, despite some being written in the first person. He mostly read his poems one by one, with the occasional break for a witty remark or to take a long drink from his water bottle. During these awkwardly silent moments, I looked around the packed room at the attendees waiting anxiously to hear him deliver his next verse. I had not arrived early enough to secure a chair, so I sat on the floor with my back against the Beinecke’s glass railing.
Though from my spot it was hard to hear Strand at times, I was lucky that my eager neighbor had purchased his book online prior to the reading. I was able to follow along with the poems on her screen while Strand was reciting them, which helped me take in the words he spoke more fully. Once I saw them laid out on the page, I was very surprised that all of the poems he read that night were actually prose poems. I had not read many prose poems or written one before this year, but I was neutral about the form before Tuesday night. I think that Strand’s work helped me understand why it existed in the first place—none of the poems he read on Tuesday would have had the same effect had they been separated into lines.
I loved his style of writing—dry, witty and not too serious, yet dealing with important ideas that can be difficult to express, like spirituality and relationships. I was a fan of the short sentences and the wry, matter-of-fact tone. Strand is also quite skilled at creating dialogue, though it is in very limited amounts. In the poems “The Students of the Ineffable,” “Provisional Eternity,” and “Nobody Knows What is Known,” he renders rhythmic and powerful dialogue between two characters that, although they appear only briefly throughout the course of a few short lines, are immensely memorable. In “The Students of the Ineffable,” he doesn’t even use quotation marks, and rather embeds the dialogue in the prose, which enhances the sort of oral story-telling feel of the poem—initiated by the first sentence, “What I am about to say happened years ago.”
Another poem that stood out to me was “Clear in the September Light.” In it, Strand describes a man experiencing intense emotions in such detail to convey to the reader that the speaker empathizes with him. However, his conscious thoughts contradict this at the end by saying that they do not have anything in common. I really enjoyed this irony because it illustrates the difference between what we feel subconsciously and instinctively and the way we try to rationalize that feeling through our overt thoughts. Overall, I thought that Strand’s poems were complex, challenging and intriguing. Next time I’m in a bookstore, I’ll be looking for Almost Invisible.