Remembering poet Mark Strand

Yesterday Mark Strand died, a poet whose work I greatly admire. I first came across Strand’s poetry in my first year of university, where we read and discussed one of his most popular poems, “Keeping Things Whole.”

A couple of years later, a classmate and I went to see Strand read. It was the first time this classmate and I had spent any time together off campus, but it certainly wasn’t the last. We became very close that year and remain good friends. In a way, that night at the reading was when we became friends, or at least it marked a shift in our friendship: We moved from being school friends to becoming all-the-time friends, if that’s a thing.

On our way home that night, we talked about how cool Strand had looked and sounded on that stage. There was no other word for it: He was a cool guy. He reminded us of Clint Eastwood, or of how we imagined Clint Eastwood would be if he were reciting poetry in a dimly lit theatre in downtown Toronto.

I spent some of this weekend remembering Strand by reading some of my favourite poems of his, and I wanted to share a few here. I was reminded of how cool Strand really was and of how brilliant and beautiful his poetry is.

“Lines for Winter”

“From the Long Sad Party”

“The Idea”

“Man and Camel”

“The End” (with audio)

Following the path of a poet

I heard about the Larkin Trail a few years ago, when it was first created, but I didn’t think I’d actually explore it myself. When would I ever be in Hull? But then this year I planned to spend some time in London, and Hull was just a 2.5-hour train ride away, so it made sense to go for a few days to follow in the footsteps of my favourite poet, Philip Larkin.

Before leaving the train station, I was greeted by the poet himself. Well, I was greeted by a statue of him, at least (since Larkin died in 1985, it would have been a little creepy if he himself had been there).

statue of Philip Larkin in the Paragon station

statue of Philip Larkin in Paragon station

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Poetry NOW…and in the flesh

I like poetry, but I’m not familiar with as much contemporary work as I’d like to be. So I was glad to come across the event listing for Poetry NOW: 4th Annual Battle of the Bards, a competition featuring 20 Canadian poets.

The event was held at Harbourfront Centre last week. Each poet read for about five minutes, all hoping to win a spot at the 33rd annual International Festival of Authors and to have his or her book advertised in NOW magazine.

But it wasn’t just the exposure to some new writers that interested me. I was equally looking forward to hearing poetry out loud. Sometimes it’s nice to read poems in solitude, but other times it seems the words are meant to be listened to. And it’s certainly a treat to hear how the poet reads his or her own work.

I enjoyed the majority of the readings, but a few of the poets really made an impression on me: Linda Besner, Mark Callanan and Daniel Scott Tysdal. (Sandra Ridley ended up winning.) For your viewing (and listening) pleasure, here’s Tysdal reading “An Experiment in Form,” which is the same poem he read that night.

Philip Larkin and World Poetry Day

Philip Larkin is one of my all-time favourite poets. So I’m often reading his poems, or quoting him to other people, or trying to find out more about him. But earlier this week—on March 21, to be exact—I had Larkin on my mind more than usual.

One reason is because of World Poetry Day. I didn’t know it until this year, but March 21 was proclaimed World Poetry Day in 1999. After learning this, I thought about some of the poets I admire the most.

The Philip Larkin section from my bookshelf.

I reread a few of my favourite Larkin poems and reminisced about being in university and first encountering his work. I remember the first poem of his I ever read: “Reasons for Attendance.” It was in an introductory poetry class that all English majors had to take.

I went on to enrol in many other poetry classes throughout university. When school ended, my appreciation for Larkin remained. He’s such a skilled formal poet, and…well, his poetry is just so very English (which is a great thing, if you’re an Anglophile like I am).

But Larkin wasn’t only a poet. He was also a novelist, jazz critic and a librarian. I just recently learned that March 21 is not only World Poetry Day, but it’s also the anniversary of Larkin’s first day as a librarian at the University of Hull (he began there in 1955). So from now I’ll probably (quietly) celebrate March 21 as Philip Larkin Day.

People have different tastes. I know poetry isn’t for everyone, and I understand that even those who do enjoy it won’t necessarily be Larkin fans. But for those of you who aren’t familiar with him or his work, I wanted to introduce you to him. Maybe you’ll fall in love the same way I did, or (even better) in a way that is all your own.

Larkin reads “Going, Going”

Larkin reads “Aubade”

Year In, Year Out

The Little Book of Clichés by Alison Westwood

My brother got me this neat book of clichés for Christmas. As I flipped through it the other day, I thought about some more clichés. And then I was inspired to write a poem about the New Year. 

Year In, Year Out

2011 has almost come to a close,
And I say good riddance!
The year was satisfactory, but nothing to write home about.
There’s no use crying over spilt milk;
Out with the old and in with the new.

Put your best foot forward in 2012,
And don’t sweat the little things.
Most people aren’t happy unless they are complaining,
But I say, If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.
And always look on the bright side.

What will the new year bring? I’m champing at the bit.
But I suppose I’ll have to play it by ear.
Even though a picture is worth a thousand words, and actions speak louder than words, I’d still like to become a better writer.
You heard it straight from the horse’s mouth.

I’m wearing my heart on my sleeve.
I hope I haven’t bit off more than I can chew—I don’t want to eat humble pie later on. (That’s really not my cup of tea.)
You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but perhaps he can get better at the old ones.
I’ve got my fingers crossed.