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

Monday, December 22, 2008

Mark Strand: "Lines for Winter"

Early Sunday morning (December 21) marked the solstice and brought the beginning of a new season. Although the bitter cold and brisk winds felt yesterday—temperatures never rising to zero, wind chill measurements in the minus-30s—and the fact I spent hours defrosting a few water pipes before they could burst certainly indicated wintry weather, today (December 22) actually represents the first full day of winter. Consequently, I suggest this date as an apt moment for readers to revisit an appropriate poem, “Lines for Winter,” that first appeared in Mark Strand’s 1978 collection, The Late Hour, which I pulled from my bookshelf again this morning to jot the following few notes.

Readers who know Mark Strand’s work will discover in this piece some characteristics familiar from a number of his other well-known poems. The voice maintains a calm, steady, and controlled tone that assumes an authoritative presence throughout the lines—sometimes sounding ominous, but at times equally soothing and reassuring. The speaker also provides evocative images that play upon readers’ overall expectations for a prevailing atmosphere, carefully suggesting a particular mood or level of emotional involvement.

Throughout the poem, one can perceive the speaker as addressing another (as the dedication insinuates) or as engaged in an exercise of self-reflexive contemplation. The second-person pronoun contributes to this since Strand often has applied it as a device with the purpose of the speaker reflecting upon his difficult state of mind, as if he is gazing into a mirror while narrating self-referential observations. Most likely, the best approach for readers would be to assume both views are intended and each option adds to the texture of the poem. Moreover, one also can question whether the individual addressed will heed the speaker’s advice and be consoled, or the result when he says “tell yourself” may merely be an attempt at self-deception, justification, rationalization, or guidance for the speaker himself in the hard times confronted during his own life.

Further, Mark Strand enjoys employing repetition of phrases in ways that create emphasis or invite varying interpretations with each appearance of a word pattern. As is often the case in Strand’s poetry, the vocabulary and syntax of the sentences seem simple, perhaps disguising their more complex and subtly provocative content. The poem opens with a plain line readers will witness three times, and on each occasion the tenor of the speaker’s meaning seems altered. In its first statement, “Tell yourself” may be an offer of friendly advice. However, later utterances of the phrase take on a different sense, perhaps as a command or even a reprimand to the person being addressed. The selected words gather strength and volume with their prominent positions as they are repeated in the poem, and the recurrence of such language excerpts adds to the settling, almost hypnotic, tone developed in the rhythm of the poem despite some unsettling content.

Likewise, the echo of “as it gets cold” implies the language could be seen as appealing to readers for separate stages of understanding, not just the physical “cold” of winter, but also the coldness that comes with loss of emotion and possibly death, or at least accompanying the sober recognition of one’s own mortality. Surely, images of winter or night frequently signal acknowledgment of one’s mortality, and the “gray” in line two hints at a common sign of aging. Even the poem’s title, “Lines of Winter,” may be seen as reference to later life’s facial lines, those wrinkles gained through age and experience, particularly for anyone who has endured a history of painful events.

Strand also asks readers to associate other repeated phrases with alternative explanations, especially given the clever locations of line breaks. When the speaker recommends to the individual addressed “you will go on,” “as you keep going,” or “go on or turn back,” readers reach the conclusion that the listener has been advised to get on with life despite any disillusionment or disappointment encountered, and not to give in to despair.

The poem appears to become a call for survival over surrender in harsh circumstances, signified by the frigid and dark images of winter scattered throughout the lines of the work. Even the lighter scene involves a “cracking white,” which also includes “a valley of snow,” and each expression can be construed as carrying negative connotations showing one facing possible pain, growing numb to emotion, being reminded of an absence of life in the winter scenery, or awaiting oncoming death. Furthermore, “the small fire” mentioned consists of “winter stars,” and it does not offer warmth to hearten one.

The poet points to the situation in which the one addressed finds herself; however, by isolating the phrase twice (“you find yourself,” “and you find yourself”) as a line of its own, Strand suggests following the speaker’s instructions might permit the listener to discover something new or reinforcing about the self and accomplish the desired goal of not only becoming better informed than “what you know which is nothing,” but of attaining the lifelong hope of more fully knowing oneself. Such awareness, we are led to believe, should direct us to personal illumination, comfort, and contentment.

Certainly, when the speaker refers to “where you will be at the end,” the journey’s destination may be death itself. Thus, the closing lines advance advice about dealing with one’s mortality by understanding one’s self and accepting, even loving, the person one has become: “tell yourself / in that final flowing of cold through your limbs / that you love what you are.”

The present condition in which you exist, as well as the lifetime of experiences and your emotional responses or actions undertaken, may be described as the “tune your bones play / as you keep going.” The introduction of music by this lyrical poet includes an active attitude that could be seen as optimistic of one evolving and adapting to circumstances, just as one has control over direction in life and may change his or her tune. Only when a final silence arrives with our own deaths would the ability to play our own tunes stop, including those hopeful tunes we regard as poetry, and only then should the aim of improvement come to an end as well.

Perhaps the poet previously has demonstrated a way of comprehending this issue. In his book of essays and commentary about poetry, The Weather of Words (Knopf, 2000), Mark Strand once remarked: “Much of what we love about poems, regardless of their subject, is that they leave us with a sense of renewal, of more life. Life, on the other hand, prepares us for nothing, and leaves us nowhere to go. It stops.”


for Ros Krauss

Tell yourself
as it gets cold and gray falls from the air
that you will go on
walking, hearing
the same tune no matter where
you find yourself—
inside the dome of dark
or under the cracking white
of the moon’s gaze in a valley of snow.
Tonight as it gets cold
tell yourself
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.
And if it happens that you cannot
go on or turn back
and you find yourself
where you will be at the end,
tell yourself
in that final flowing of cold through your limbs
that you love what you are.

—Mark Strand

For further personal commentary in “One Poet’s Notes” about Mark Strand’s poetry, readers are invited to visit the following pages: “Mark Strand: MAN AND CAMEL,” “Marking Mark Strand’s Birthday,” “Mark Strand: ‘Poem After the Seven Last Words,’” and “Giorgio de Chirico: Painting Poetic Images.”

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