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Keeping Things Whole

Keeping Things Whole

by Mark Strand

Identity Theme

The funny thing about the speaker of "Keeping Things Whole" is that he clearly states who he is, but it's always defined by what he's not. Although we don't get a ton of details about this guys, we get a clear, frightening portrayal of how he feels about existing in the world. His isolation from the world creates a sense of being two things at once: absent and present. He seems trapped in this cycle, and although we never get his identity in the sense of his physical appearance, the speaker uses some pretty tricky poetry moves to create a sense of his presence, er, absence, well, both, his non-place in the world, and that goes deeper than any profile picture on Facebook ever could.

Questions About Identity

  1. How does this poem use line breaks to create a sense of fragmentation and isolation in the speaker? How is the form of the poem reinforcing the speaker's feelings about existing in the world? 
  2. Although the speaker repeats, "I am" several times, he's really telling us what he is "not." In what ways is negation an element of the speaker's identity? 
  3. What imagery does the speaker use to express his identity as someone who can't be a part of the world? What effect does using such minimal language (small words, simple diction) have on our understanding of the speaker's identity?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Remember that frightening detail from movies about how vampires don't have reflections? Well, enter our speaker, and although he isn't sucking blood or growing fangs, his identity is totally defined by not being there. Spooky, no?

Please welcome on my right, I mean my left, wait, I can't find him, the speaker of this poem whose identity is non-existent because he only defines himself by what he is not, rather than what he is.

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