Ene 4, 2015

Notes on Mark Strand's "My Life"

The huge doll of my body
refuses to rise.
I am the toy of women.
My mother

would prop me up for her friends.
"Talk, talk," she would beg.
I moved my mouth
but words did not come.

My wife took me down from the shelf.
I lay in her arms. "We suffer
the sickness of self," she would whisper.
And I lay there dumb.

Now my daughter
gives me a plastic nurser
filled with water.
"You are my real baby," she says.

Poor child!
I look into the brown
mirrors of her eyes
and see myself

diminishing, sinking down
to a depth she does not know is there.
Out of breath,
I will not rise again.

I grow into my death.
My life is small
and getting smaller. The world is green.
Nothing is all.


A— would love to read your take, as well as those of our fellows. this doll/man regresses in at least three ways. first, bodily position: from being propped up to lying down and finally, sinking. muteness differs too, in the first instance, there's an attempt to speak (active, but futile), in the second, no attempt at all, perhaps silencing the self, and in the last, shut up by the daughter, plugged with a nurser. his language regresses as well, his sentences simplest at the last stanza. in the third to the last stanza, it sounds like "Poor child!" could refer either to himself or to his daughter. in the penultimate, that "to a depth she does not know is there" is particularly striking. is it a depth not yet known to her? because of age? maybe never to be known to her, because of gender, because she is not her father (or this man in particular), or because she is not a poet, or because of other reasons? and what seems to me, at the outset, both off-tangent and the most depressing line on the page: "The world is green."

A— have been wondering about that "sickness of the self" and at first glance, it seems to me that the woman's so intensely inward-looking (struggling, or finding herself in a "depth" she knows all-too well) that her husband is oblivious to her. possibly beyond her as well: the daughter. maybe that's why the daughter resorts to calling her father her real doll, as opposed to her mother (which could be something else, something even less maybe)

D— Thanks for these notes. Some of these directly correspond to the man's lines as well (and not just his wife's "sickness of self"). We find despair of defiance in the lips attempting to move, that deep sense of futility in the  line "I grow into my death."

D— Norman Fairclough called that kind of "we" by a special phrase: spurious solidarity. And I fully agree that this "we" could be as you described it, adding only that her reassurance was futile, falling flat in terms of her intention (which yet contains some mystery to me) and the husband's situation.

A— hi! checked out the history and found no connection between bookstore and poet. the founder "named his bookstore after the London street where avant-garde writers like Thackeray, Dickens and Mill once gathered and interesting book publishers thrived."

D— This article gets me to thinking about the activity of the verbs in Strand's poem. The first are the women's transitives: mother / wife / daughter +  props him up / takes him / gives him a nurser. These are reinforced by their speech: beg, whisper, say.

In terms of level of activity, agency or external effect, some of the I's verbs would have match these: refuses, moves, grows. But the rest of the situation reduce the power of these "acts": the body only betrays its self. Yes it refuses, but that refusal is against rising; when it moves its lips, that proves futile (unable to answer or question those who beg, whisper, and speak to him); and when it grows, it only ever approaches diminishment.

And then there's the inherent static quality of of linking verbs he uses when referring to himself and to the world. Those, plus the passivity of lying down, looking at those who act upon his person.

D— If indeed passive aggressive, I'm very interested with a nice accounting of the "aggressive" part as (I believe) it's the part from which the poem itself "grows".

A— been wondering about his "acts" and also about the parts where he sort of takes things lying down. thinking of the poem as a whole as an act, w/c we are free to qualify if affirmative or not, if pessimistic or not, (or, as I think you're doing,) if passive-aggressive or not

D— This kind of attention is instructive, so I thought to look for a line that could use such focus.
"You are my real baby," she says.
The "my" and "real" jump out. As if there was another (mother maybe) who was less hers (the daughter's). As if there were other babies available to her, but less real. Candidates: dolls, other people, mother again, or a child that's all grown up and less needy of attention?

D— Playing out a possibility where the daughter is old enough to "mother" her father. A scenario would be a now-adult daughter taking care of a father too old to look after himself.

D— I agree. And that's still my main take. Just poking around, as there seems to be something fascinatingly unnatural with: "You are my real baby," she says. Can't put my finger on it. What is it about him? Why's it so easy to make an object (or baby) of him?

A— how apt

2 komento:

Susan Scheid ayon kay ...

This is terrific! You are such a great close-reader.

Dennis Aguinaldo ayon kay ...

Thank you.

I read, re-read, translated, rewrote this poem a couple of ways. Couldn't get my eyes off it.