Click Image to Visit the Pecan Grove Press Web Page for Poetry from Paradise Valley


Poetry From Paradise Valley

Pecan Grove Press has released an anthology of poems, a sampling of works published in Valparaiso Poetry Review during its first decade, from the original 1999-2000 volume to the 2009-2010 volume.

Poetry from Paradise Valley includes a stellar roster of 50 poets. Among the contributors are a former Poet Laureate of the United States, a winner of the Griffin International Prize, two Pulitzer Prize winners, two National Book Award winners, two National Book Critics Circle winners, six finalists for the National Book Award, four finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award, two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, and a few dozen recipients of other honors, such as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, etc.

Readers are encouraged to visit the Poetry from Paradise Valley page at the publisher's web site, where ordering information about the book can be found.

Best Books of Indiana 2011: Finalist. Judges' Citation: "Poetry from Paradise Valley is an excellent anthology that features world-class poetry, including the work of many artists from the Midwest, such as Jared Carter, Annie Finch, David Baker, and Allison Joseph. It’s an eclectic and always interesting collection where poems on similar themes flow into each other. It showcases the highest caliber of U. S. poetry."
—Indiana Center for the Book, Indiana State Library

Friday, March 21, 2008

Mark Strand: "Poem After the Seven Last Words"

As I mentioned last year in my review of Mark Strand’s collection of poetry, Man and Camel, the volume includes as its culmination an extended piece concerning the crucifixion of Christ. “Poem After the Seven Last Words,” commissioned by the Brentano String Quartet, originally was written to accompany a performance of Haydn’s quartet opus 51, titled “The Seven Last Words of Christ.” The poet’s contribution contains seven sections, designed so that each part would be read between the music’s movements. In Strand’s notes on the poem, he also reports the content “relies heavily on the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas.”

Certainly, if one considers poets who produce work associated with religious themes or theological philosophy, Mark Strand’s name does not naturally rise to the top of such a list. Indeed, even in this instance, the poet’s approach to his subject matter appears reverent but appropriately distant, continually controlled by an apparent attempt at gathering together a series of scenes or statements that evoke emotion and initiate thought, but which avoid any of the overly wrought language one might expect in some religious verse or the intense imagery of a vivid Mel Gibson movie version.

“Poem After the Seven Last Words,” which fills the final of this book’s three sections, displays some of the subtly lyrical and restrained meditative language Strand has demonstrated in previous volumes, although in those instances the persona spoke of incidents or relationships mostly provided by personal experience. In this piece, the poet shows readers narrative moments or dramatic situations the way a painter might set colors and shapes beside one another, arranging elements separately on a canvas then standing back to contemplate their cumulative impact. In fact, at times the imagery even seems cinematic, as if a camera has panned across a fictional landscape: “a dreamt-of place / where the muttering wind shifts over the white lawns / and riffles the leaves of trees, the high trees / that are streaked with gold and line the walkways there.”

However, the speaker concedes such scenery sometimes supplies false hope, especially in “the days of spring when the sky is filled / with the odor of lilac, when darkness becomes desire.” The poet knows nature’s beauty combined with human nature can act to conceal harsh realities, particularly our own mortality: “the world’s great gift for fiction gilds even / the dirt we walk on, and we feel we could live forever / while knowing of course that we can’t.” Indeed, although this long poem addresses the death of Christ, it also serves as a reminder to everyone of the inevitability of an end for all: “No one escapes. / Not even the man who believed he was chosen to do so.”

Therefore, in a certain sense, the narrative of this poem leads to one conclusion, already suggested in the poem’s opening lines: “The story of the end, of the last word / of the end, when told, is a story that never ends.” Although spoken about the sacrifice of Christ, Strand’s poem more importantly forces each of us to examine our own fate in the face of an uncertainty we all encounter. “Such is our plight,” the narrator declares, as we are left with the realization, “at last that nothing is more real than nothing.” By the last lines of the final section, the closing sentences of the collection, Strand’s narrator acknowledges and accepts his destined end, “what no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, what no hand / has touched, what has not arisen in the human heart. / To that place, to the keeper of that place, I commit myself.”

On this Good Friday, I present one of the most compelling sections, number six from “Poem After the Seven Last Words,” that I did not include specifically in my previous commentary:

“It is finished,” he said. You could hear him say it,
the words almost a whisper, then not even that,
but an echo so faint it seemed no longer to come
from him, but from elsewhere. This was the moment,
his final moment. “It is finished,” he said into a vastness
that led to an even greater vastness, and yet all of it
within him. He contained it all. That was the miracle,
to be both large and small in the same instant, to be like us, but more so, then finally to give up the ghost,
which is what happened. And from the storm that swirled
in his wake a formal nakedness took shape, the truth
of disguise and the mask of belief were joined forever.

Readers are invited to visit my complete review of Mark Strand’s Man and Camel.

1 comment:

Peter said...

Thanks for this. I love the section of the poem you quote here. I am going to have to get the book now.