Keeping Things Whole
by Mark Strand
Keeping Things Whole Introduction
In A Nutshell
When's the last time you read a poem with an invisible man as a speaker? We're betting never. But today's your lucky day, because that's just what you're gonna get in "Keeping Things Whole." Sure, this guy might not be totally invisible like the famous H.G. Wells character or Harry in his cloak, but it's not like he's getting noticed everywhere he goes.
After his first book was released, Strand was anything but invisible in America's poetry scene. Well-known for poems that use precise language, narrative techniques, and surreal images that revolve around the idea of absence and emptiness, Mark Strand included "Keeping Things Whole" in his 1964 debut collection Sleeping With One Eye Open.
And it might as well be the poster child for all Strand poems. Strand's narrator insists that he is "what is missing" and the short lines and plain diction create a sense of understated anxiety that looms large. Although Mark Strand has won almost every major poetry prize there is to win, this, one of his earliest poems, has all the hallmarks of his style. We guess he knew what he was doing all along, and just kept on keeping on, becoming one of the most noticed poets in contemporary poetry.
Why Should I Care?
Picture this. You're at a party where nobody talks to you, looks at you, or even notices that you're there. You move through the crowded room, and everyone fills right back in in your wake, hardly noticing as you mingle among them.
Sounds awful, right? That's one sad shindig, and Shmoop wants no part of it. But for the speaker of Strand's "Keeping Things Whole," that party is a 24/7 fact of life. He walks, talks, lives, breathes invisible loner-dom, while the rest of us do the worm in the middle of a circle of admiring onlookers. Or maybe that's just Shmoop.
Still, most of us can relate at least a little to our speaker's isolation. We've all been—at least once in our lives—the odd man out, the loser in the corner, the quiet one in the cafeteria. It's not a pleasant way to be, but for most of us, it's just temporary. And thank goodness.
Because for our speaker, it's anything but. Everywhere he goes, everything he does, "this is / always the case" (4-5). He feels like he's a disruption, who fades promptly into the background as soon as he's moved along. What a bummer to be so forgettable. It's enough to make you make sure you're remembered at that next party. Shmoop's recommendation? The worm, of course. Gets 'em every time.