Study Guide

Keeping Things Whole

By Mark Strand

Keeping Things Whole Introduction

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.

What is Keeping Things Whole About and 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.

Keeping Things Whole Resources

Websites

Keeping Things Legit
The Poets.org page for Mark Strand is all-you-can-eat: links to poems, audio files, and a picture of the man himself rocking the classic poet turtleneck.

Reasons Mark Strand is Amazing
This website has so much cool stuff we couldn't possibly pass up including a link: copies of handwritten poems, copies of paintings, handwritten letters, and more. It's like an all-access pass to this dude's desk drawer.

Strand's the Man
This site's got it all, and then some: a complete bibliography of a seemingly endless list of everything Strand has written.

Video

Mark Strandimation
Here's an animated video to accompany "Keeping Things Whole." You tell us what it means.

Moving Through the Mad World
Mark Strand + Black and White Video + Gary Jules = This video rules. A cool mix of music, poetry, and video.

Audio

Strand Reads to Keep Things Whole
Don't we all?

Images

Hello There
Strand is one dapper dude.

Do you feel lucky? Well do ya, punk?
Mark Strand looking a little like Clint Eastwood with his collar popped.

Articles and Interviews

Strandmania
The ever-awesome Paris Review gives us an insightful interview.

Strand on Strand
Here's a brief interview with Mark Strand and an awesome link to some of translations. Yep This guy translates poems, too. Dude does it all.

Books

Selected Poems
More Mark? Don't mind if we do. And FYI, "Keeping Things Whole" can be found on page 10.

Movies and TV

Mark the Movie Star
Well, Mark Strand isn't a movie star but he appears in Ethan Hawke's 2001 film Chelsea Walls about the infamous Chelsea Hotel in New York City. Alas, he doesn't play a poet or a painter, but an aging journalist.

Poet on the Big Screen
Here's a short article from The New Yorker about Mark Strand's debut in film.