Mark Strand

Borges: Influence and References

Mark Strand

By James Hoff

Poet and essayist, Mark Strand was born on Prince Edward Island, Canada, but raised and educated primarily in the United States and South America. He is the author of ten books of poetry, including Reasons for Moving, The Story of our Lives, and Dark Harbor, as well as a critical analysis of the works of the American painter, Edward Hopper. He has also edited a number of anthologies, including the seminal Another Republic: 17 European and South American Writers, edited with the poet Charles Simic. Also known as a translator, Strand has rendered many Spanish language poets into English verse, and was one of the contributing translators to the newly published Selected Poems, published by Viking press in 1999. His influences are many, and include the Brazilian poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade, Wallace Stevens, and of course, Jorge Luis Borges.
Strand's style is a wonderful mixture of psychological aberration and nightmarish dream state, punctuated by a stoic, sometimes aloof resignation by the poet.

To stare at nothing is to learn by heart
what all of us will be swept into, and baring oneself
to the wind is feeling the ungraspable somewhere close by.
-- "The Night, The Porch"

Although Strand has written a collection of short stories (Mr. and Mrs. Baby) he is best known for his poems, and Borges' influence is best seen in his earliest collections, where Strand faces the nightmare implications of his self as other, and writes often of a dreamlike, sometimes circular world of Borgesian complexity, where "the worst is always waiting/ around the next corner or hiding in the dry,/ unsteady branch of a sick tree, debating,/ whether or not to fell the passerby." Srand's later work, most notably "The Story of Our Lives" and "The Untelling," is marked by a self-referentiality not unlike the pseudo-essays of Borges short stories, and often follows a recurring or reworking pattern of thought, similar to the construction of "The Library of Babel." But the most obvious and striking influence of Borges can be seen in Strand's early masterpiece, "The Man in the Mirror."
One of Borges best loved motifs, the mirror has both traditional and archetypal connotations of otherness, narcissism, and contemplation. Bioy Casares (quoting one of the heresiarchs of Uqbar) says in one of Borges' better known stories, "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbus Tertius," that "Mirrors and copulation are abominable, for they multiply the number of mankind." Similarly, in Strand's poem, the speaker's self is multiplied in the reflection of the mirror, and becomes a second self, "a huge vegetable moon/ a bruise coated with light." As with two more of Borges' better known stories, "Borges and I," and "August 25, 1983," the speaker addresses himself, saying:

You are there.
Your face is white, unsmiling, swollen.
The fallen body of your hair
is dull and out of place.

Buried in the darkness of your pockets,
your hands are motionless.
You do not seem awake.
Your skin sleeps

and your eyes lie in the deep
blue of their sockets,
impossible to reach...

Compare this to Borges' story "August 25, 1983":

In the pitiless light, I came face to face with myself. There, in the narrow iron bed -- older, withered, and very pale -- lay I, on my back, my eyes turned up vacantly toward the high plaster moldings of the ceiling. Then I heard the voice. It was not exactly my own; it was the one I often hear in my recordings, unpleasant and without modulation.
"How odd," it was saying, "we are two yet we are one. But then nothing is odd in dreams."

Asked by Wayne Dodd and Stanley Plumly if Borges were the poet that influenced him most, Strand replied "Oh yes, but not his poetry, his fiction. Borges is such a marvelous writer, certain things in particular. 'Funes, The Memorious' is a wonderful story and 'Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius' is another one I particularly like."

James Hoff
University of Massachusetts at Amherst
jameshoff@hotmail.com

Additional Information

Mark Strand Biography -- A small page from Dia Center for the Arts.

Poems by Mark Strand -- A small page from BigBadCat.com.

Selected Works by Mark Strand

Blizzard of One: Poems
Mark Strand / Hardcover / Published 1999
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Blizzard of One: Poems
Mark Strand / Paperback / Published 2000
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The Continuous Life: Poems
Mark Strand / Paperback / Published 1992
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Dark Harbor: A Poem
Mark Strand / Paperback / Published 1994
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Hopper: Writers on Art (Writers on Art)
Mark Strand / Paperback / Published 1995
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Selected Poems
Mark Strand / Paperback / Published 1990
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Another Republic: 17 European and South American Writers
Charles Simic, Mark Strand (Editor) / Paperback / Published 1985
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Mark Strand and the Poets Place in Contemporary Culture (Literary Frontiers Edition, No 35)
David K. Kirby / Paperback / Published 1990
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The Monument
Mark Strand / Paperback / Published 1991
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Reasons for Moving, Darker, and the Sargentville Notebook : Poems
Mark Strand / Paperback / Published 1992
(Publisher Out Of Stock)

Weather of Words: Writings on Poetry and the Imagination
Mark Strand / Hardcover / Published 2000
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