8TH ANNUAL NAPOMO 30/30/30 :: DAY 16 :: LAUREN HILGER on MARK STRAND

the operating system
Apr 16 · 4 min read

Welcome to the OS’s 8th Annual NAPOMO 30/30/30 Series! This year, contributors far and wide were gathered by five incredible curators, who are also our 2019 Chapbook Poets — to learn more about this year’s amazing curators and their forthcoming chapbooks, please click here! You can also navigate to the series archive, of over 200 entries, here! This week’s curators are Kristina Darling & Chris Campanioni, authors of the forthcoming chapbook, RE: Verses.


The note said, “find him in every anthology you have here.”

It was the only line written. I took it to mean, you will find him in every anthology you have here.

I did not read it as it was meant, though I was the one who had written the words before I walked away from my desk, an imperative, a task for myself: look for him on your shelves, pull out the books.

But also the other way to read it, the way in which I am writing about Mark Strand, a writer perhaps in every anthology I have here, whom I respect deeply, who is no longer with us, who exists still with ample visibility, to whom I owe a lot.

The note tricked me again out of thinking I know what I ever mean.

Here’s what I know: I come to poetry for a few things, first is to feel small, to be reminded I’ve a lot to learn. I love being in the presence of a voice that has something to teach me — it’s why I love being an editor, stumbling upon poems that step over my head. His poems evade me even after rereading and rereading, however, even if I’m nowhere near the mystery he means, I am inside something that has welcomed me in.

“In a field
I am the absence
of field.”

Those lines. They are always with me. Another thing I know: the idea of the meadow, the field, weighs on me. I grew up with a cornfield outside my bedroom window and it sits waiting for me to return. Writing into a mythic image scares me still, but I aim to reach into that, to try to see why, to bring those questions into my work. I am attempting to step through.

Image of a hand holding a photograph of a meadow

I will not bring my own reading to Strand’s poem below, the poem is yours.

Keeping Things Whole

In a field
I am the absence
of field.
This is
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.

When I walk
I part the air
and always
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body’s been.

We all have reasons
for moving.
I move
to keep things whole.

How to follow that poem with more words? How to follow Mark Strand? If I am going to write to you, reader, under the auspices that I am a writer, I take that to mean I’ve a great responsibility: one that places reading first: paying dues, bowing down, seeking out.

But, all right, it also means I’m tasked with making something new, and my job is to bring my own DNA, my own life, and somehow try to get close to this feeling. As a writer, I desire and attempt to get near the strangeness of the letter. I can’t follow the poem below. Take it with you.

The Mysterious Arrival of an Unusual Letter

It had been a long day at the office and a long ride back to the small apartment where I lived. When I got there I flicked on the light and saw on the table an envelope with my name on it. Where was the clock? Where was the calendar? The handwriting was my father’s, but he had been dead for forty years. As one might, I began to think that maybe, just maybe, he was alive, living a secret life somewhere nearby. How else to explain the envelope? To steady myself, I sat down, opened it, and pulled out the letter. “Dear Son,” was the way it began. “Dear Son” and then nothing.


Lauren Hilger is the author of Lady Be Good (CCM, 2016.) Named a Nadya Aisenberg Fellow in poetry from the MacDowell Colony, she has also received fellowships from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Her work has appeared in BOMB, Harvard Review online, Kenyon Review online, Massachusetts Review, and elsewhere. She serves as a poetry editor for No Tokens.

The Operating System

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The Operating System

The Operating System is a peer-facilitated experiment in the redistribution of creative resources and possibility. We are committed to gathering resources for citizen action, to transparency, to a unique publishing model, and to continuous evolution. We are based in Brooklyn, NY.

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