Some years ago, I was dismayed to learn that the words beauty and beautiful had become unfashionable, even suspect, in certain critical and academic circles. I can only hope that those words are back in circulation, because, really, what others would one use to describe the treasures that have been collected in Mark Strand’s New Selected Poems? I suppose you could also say that the book—which spans the four-plus decades that separate the early poems in The Story of Our Lives from the most recent in Man and Camel—everywhere displays the elegant diction and music that fingerprint a poem as something that could only have been written by Mark Strand. There’s the unmistakable voice, the sly intelligence, the elegant, ruminative melancholy, the dark weather lit by lightning flashes of self-irony and wit. I suppose you could talk about the endlessly surprising precision of each word choice, accompanied by the subtlety and the sinuous invention that keeps us from being able to predict where the next line will take us, the high-jump acts that occur—with deceptive effortlessness—as each line easily vaults the bar set up by the line before. Or for that matter the high-wire act that allows the poet to address the most profound and metaphysical subjects—life and death, time and mortality, to name just a few—while nimbly sidestepping the bogs that might have mired these misty fields of inquiry. I suppose you could marvel at the way in which language, mere language, creates a kind of hush lying over a landscape in which everything is shimmering, animated, and vividly alive, or at the paradoxes of a sensibility that, like Kafka’s, strikes us as simultaneously hopeless and hilarious as it manages to note, celebrate, and regret each fleeting moment—as it were, in real time. You could try—without success, of course—to puzzle out the secrets of the art that creates the mystery that is, in turn, the definition of art. Or you could just open the book and read one poem, then another. You could simply enjoy and appreciate these remarkable poems. Beautiful, you might say.
New Selected Poems comes out from Knopf in September.