Over the past year I have discovered so many writers, loved so many writers, that I feel that my heart will at any moment split wide open, that my skin is not enough to contain all the thoughts and feelings that crowd through my brain, my body. Most of these writers I have happened upon by chance, or having found one, have found myself led to another, and another. The books on my shelves have multiplied until all the shelves are full and another bookcase has appeared in the living room. If I continue as I have been going on I will need shelves running between floor and ceiling, against all the walls of my room until it seems that I am surrounded on all sides by the words of writers past and present who haunt my sleeping dreams and waking life, words which seep through my skin and brand themselves into my bones.
I had begun going to the theater again, because I had begun reading Shakespeare again. That same theater sent me an advertisement for a series of poetry readings to be given over the next months, and because I have been reading poetry feverishly for over a year now I take note of the names on the cover, open it to find excerpts from these four poets whose words I am unfamiliar with but am about to discover. This is how I found the poet Mark Strand, and these are the words that drew me to him, lit a desire for more:
Sometimes there would be a fire and I would walk into it
and come out unharmed and continue on my way,
and for me it was just another thing to have done.
As for putting out the fire, I left that to others
who would rush into the billowing smoke with brooms
and blankets to smother the flames. When they were through
they would huddle together to talk of what they had seen -
how lucky they were to have witnessed the lusters of heat,
the hushing effect of ashes, but even more to have known the fragrance
of burning paper, the sound of words breathing their last.
(Fire, from Man and Camel).
I dreamt of a man who walked through fire unharmed and of words that burnt to ashes and came back as words of flame. (Bulgakov tells us, manuscripts don't burn). I wake to find a clear day, and given a day off from work find myself in the bookstore, staring at a wall of poetry that stretches to the ceiling. (Other loves have been found here). Open Man and Camel, slide into the pages and into Strand's words, into the loneliness of a king who has lost all desire to rule (in "The King," the first poem), into the loneliness of Death who is waiting for Strand to join him (in "2002"). There is a sense of distance and of longing in these poems, of something fading away into nothingness, a moment, a desire. I am curled into a chair, at a long black table piled with other books abandoned by other readers. I have drawn my world around me like a cloak of invisibility, silent except for the scratch of pen against paper, glancing up at an elderly woman sitting nearby, waiting for her companion (she wears a perfect little hat, with a flower and a feather at one side), ignoring the laughter of the man sitting to my right. I am not sure where Strand's words will take me but it will be somewhere entirely different from any place I have known before. Such is literature, such is poetry, such is life.