Wednesday, April 18, 2007

I'd Walk a Mile for a Camel

Man and Camel
by Mark Strand

On the eve of my fortieth birthday
I sat on the porch having a smoke
when out of the blue a man and a camel
happened by. Neither uttered a sound
at first, but as they drifted up the street
and out of town the two of them began to sing.
Yet what they sang is still a mystery to me-
the words were indistinct and the tune
too ornamental to recall. Into the desert
they went and as they went their voices
rose as one above the sifting sound
of windblown sand. The wonder of their singing,
its elusive blend of man and camel, seemed
an ideal image for all uncommon couples.
Was this the night that I had waited for
so long? I wanted to believe it was,
but just as they were vanishing, the man
and camel ceased to sing, and galloped
back to town. They stood before my porch,
staring up at me with beady eyes, and said:
"You ruined it. You ruined it forever."

Excerpt from MAN AND CAMEL. © 2006 by Mark Strand.
Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.

Edward Byrne on Strand's "Man And Camel":

"The title poem fits into the first section as a typical surrealist piece in which humor and absurdity are employed for effect and the poem closes with a final phrase or sentence akin to a punch line. In this poem a speaker who pauses to smoke a cigarette on his porch is approached by a man and a camel. ... On occasions like this, Strand seems to suggest readers should enjoy imagined art for what it presents rather than analyzing for underlying layers of messages or self-fulfillment. Nevertheless, an irony presents itself, as no poet’s poems invite such scrutiny any more than Mark Strand’s surrealist lyrics. Yet, Strand’s comical and self-mocking poems, whether they are funny fables or bizarre vignettes, frequently seem to me the least engaging upon repeated readings, sounding almost like old jokes told a second time. Even the elliptical phrases from the first section that at times appear reminiscent of Wallace Stevens’s poetry do not linger as long or as well as the more meditative and introspective monologues later in the collection might. In fact, one wishes this volume’s title instead spotlighted an example of the more substantial poems from the last two sections of the book."

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