Just over a week ago, I went to hear the poet Mark Strand at the American Cultural Center here in Jerusalem. (Thank goodness for Facebook, which is how I found out about the reading. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have known about it.)
It so happens that Mark Strand is the author of one of my very favorite poems, “Eating Poetry.” So of course I had to go!
(Click the link above and go read the poem. Then come back here for the rest of the story, if you’re so inclined. But read the poem! Please! Now!)
The reading was wonderful. Mark Strand read some of his older poems and some of his new work, which he said leaned more toward prose than poetry these days. I enjoyed it all, but throughout the reading I waited for him to read “Eating Poetry.” Finally, he announced that he would be reading the last poem of the evening, and when he began it, my heart sank a little. It was lovely, but it wasn’t the poem that I’d been waiting for.
But then – ah, saving grace! The emcee announced a question-and-answer period. I raised my hand immediately, and Mark Strand turned to me with a smile and asked, “What’s your question?”
“Not a question but a favor,” I said. “I’ve loved your poem, ‘Eating Poetry,’ for many years. I studied it in school when I was younger. Please, would you read it for us?”
Even as I asked the question, it occurred to me that I probably wasn’t the only one who asked for this poem at his readings. Perhaps he had read it thousands of times already and was tired of it. Perhaps he thought that here, in far-off Jerusalem, he would escape having to read it aloud yet again. My breath caught. I know that we American expats need hutzpah to survive around here, but had I gone too far?
There was no need to worry. Mark Strand smiled and said, “Yes,” picked up the book of his poems that he had been reading from, found the poem inside and, stepping toward me on the stage, began to read.
Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry....
I sat looking up at him, taking in every word. I can’t quite describe the feeling... it was almost as though the poem, which I was hearing from the poet himself after so many years, became a cord of light that stretched along the sound of his voice to me. I was smiling so hard that my cheeks hurt. There were tears in my eyes. I didn’t want it to end.
In that moment, there was no happiness like mine. I was being fed poetry.
Professor Strand, if you ever read this: at your reading in Jerusalem last May, you gave this American expat a gift of joy that I will always remember. Thank you, with all my heart.