Mark Strand on revision


You have to read. You can’t be a good poet if you don’t have some appreciation of poetry. People who say, “Oh, I don’t want to read poetry because it’ll destroy my style or my spontaneity. My innocence is golden,” are never going to be poets. I think reading and patience and practice and keeping your eyes and ears open; paying attention is very important if you’re going to be a poet or a writer of any kind. You have to pay attention.


I wish I had some incredible rituals that I could sort of interest you in, but I don’t have any. I just sit down and I work. If I get stuck, I open up Wallace Stevens, or somebody like that, and look for a word or something. Or I’ll read a page or two of Proust.

Sometimes if friends send me a review I’ll read that, but I haven’t read the books written about me. I just can’t bear it. It doesn’t seem like they’re about me; it doesn’t have anything to do with me. It doesn’t interest me, finally. What I’m interested in is what comes out; I’m not interested in the other end. I’m very happy that people like my poems and buy my books and sometimes feel moved to write about them, but on the other hand, I don’t want to dwell on that sphere. I think one’s life is in the bedroom, the living room, and kitchen, and amongst one’s friends, and that’s where my concerns are, ultimately.


I think poetry can teach you to read. If we pay attention to the way poems work and what words can do . . . Writing is thinking; reading poems is a kind of thinking, too. That doesn’t mean necessarily, that the reading of a poem is the paraphrase of a poem. To get some workable paraphrase, that’s one thing, and understanding a poem is part of responding to a poem. The experience of a poem is something else. One can experience a poem and not necessarily understand it. One can respond to a poem. One can respond to another human being without understanding that human being. We fall in love all the time with somebody we don’t understand, and then twenty years later, after we’re married, when our understanding is complete, we get divorced. Just kidding, of course.