Mark Strand / With Only the Stars to Guide Us
Mark Strand at John Cabot University
Mark Strand / The Art of Poetry
Mark Strand / The Everyday Enchantment of Music
Mark Strand / The Coming of Light
Mark Strand / Eating Poetry
Mark Strand / From the Long Sad Party
Mark Strand / My Mother on an Evening in Late Summer
Mark Strand (born 11 April 1934) is a Canadian-born American poet, essayist, and translator. He was appointed Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1990. Since 2005–06, he has been a professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University.
by Jay Parini
Strand was born in Canada on Prince Edward Island. He studied at Antioch College, where he took a BA. He also received a BFA from Yale, where he studied painting. At the University of Iowa, he worked closely with poet Donald Justice, completing an MA in 1962. He spent a year in Italy on a Fulbright scholarship, and later taught at Iowa for three years. In 1965 he spent a year as Fulbright Lecturer at the University of Brazil, where he was deeply influenced by contemporary Latin American poets (especially the Brazilian poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade). Strand has moved around a good deal, teaching at many American universities, including Columbia, Princeton, Harvard, and the University of Utah, where he is now professor of English.
Strand's poetry is known for a clarity reminiscent of the paintings of Edward Hopper, and for a deeply inward sense of language. Many of the poems aspire to the condition of dreams, shot through with images possessing a strangely haunting vividness, as in 'The Ghost Ship', which summons a mysterious ship that floats 'Through the crowded streets ... / its vague / tonnage like wind'. He frequently invokes everyday images, as in 'The Mailman', where a wraith-like mailman visits the narrator at midnight to deliver 'terrible personal news'. In 'The Last Bus' the poet imagines Rio de Janeiro, calling the sea 'a dream' in which the city 'dies and is reborn'. The poem is surreal in a manner that combines the dreamlike quality of Pablo Neruda with aspects of nightmare that recall such European expressionists as Georg Trakl.
Strand's first book, Sleeping with One Eye Open was published in 1964. His second, Reasons for Moving (1968), attracted widespread attention from critics; it includes 'Eating Poetry' which begins: 'Ink runs from the corners of my mouth. / There is no happiness like mine. / I have been eating poetry.' This antic surrealism also animates poems like 'Moontan', 'The Man in the Tree', and 'The Marriage'. Darker (1970) was an obliquely autobiographical volume, containing such poems as 'My Life' and 'My Death'. These poems are full of a quiet, ironically pictured anguish as the poet teeters on the brink of self-consciousness in pursuit of his via negative. In 1973 Strand published The Story of Our Lives, more explicitly autobiographical than anything he had written before. It includes a striking elegy for the poet's father.
The Late Hour (1978) is among the strongest of Strand's several books, containing poems for the poet's son and daughter, and a number of poems (such as 'The Late Hour', 'Snowfall', and 'The Garden') that possess a deeply elegiac quality. In this book, Strand began writing with a freshness and simplicity that recall the poetry of ancient China.
As the Mexican poet Octavio Paz has written: 'Mark Strand has chosen the negative path, with loss as the first step towards fullness: it is also the opening to a transparent verbal perfection.' Strand's Selected Poems (New York, 1980) adds to previously published work a number of beautifully realized autobiographical poems, including 'Shooting Whales' and 'Nights in Hackett's Cove'. Strand has also published a book of short stories, several translations from European and Latin American poets, and an anthology of contemporary poetry. For criticism, see Richard Howard, Alone with American (New York, 1969).
From The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-Century Poetry in English. Ed. Ian Hamilton. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994. Copyright © 1994 by Oxford University Press.
by Jonathan Aaron
The Monument (1978) . . . showed that Strand had not lost his faith in the uses of self-mockery. A book of "notes, observations, instructions, rants, and revelations" satirizing the notion of literary immortality, it was Strand's answer to a question he'd heard asked at a translation conference: "How would you like to be translated in five hundred years?" Strand thought it a "fabulous question. It stumped everyone." The book was his answer. Harry Ford (Strand's editor then at Atheneum and now at Knopf, to whom Strand has always been devoted) turned The Monument down, thinking "it would ruin my career. I think he meant that it was bad, tasteless, and would offend my contemporaries." In its playfully barbed irreverence, the book seemed out of keeping with Strand's ostensibly more serious writing. It looked then to some like a wrong move. Today it seems a brilliantly prescient entertainment.
After Selected Poems came out in 1980, Strand hit something of a wall. "I gave up [writing poems] that year," he says, looking back. "I didn't like what I was writing, I didn't believe in my autobiographical poems." He began to concentrate on journalism and art criticism. He wrote the sweetly freakish comedies collected in Mr. and Mrs. Baby and Other Stories (1985), which featured the likes of Glover Bartlett, who reveals to his wife that he used to be a collie, or the nameless narrator who's certain his father has returned to life as a fly, then as a horse, and finally as his girlfriend. In settings that ranged from contemporary Southern California to the Arcadia of Greek myth, Strand explored new approaches to parody and satire and, in doing so, began to work himself free of what he felt were the imaginative and stylistic limitations of dramatic self-regard. "And then," he says, "in 1985, I read Robert Fitzgerald's translation of The Aeneid. I decided I'd try a poem, and I wrote `Cento Virgilianus,' and I was off and running."
The Continuous Life, Strand's first book of poems in ten years, appeared in 1990, containing both poems and short prose narratives. More varied in dramatic scope and tone than his previous collections, its humor pointed yet ruminative, The Continuous Life offered dryly poignant views of disappearing worlds ("The Idea," "Cento Virgilianus," "Luminism," "Life in the Valley"), its prose pieces piercingly funny send-ups of various aspects of the literary enterprise ("From a Lost Diary," "Narrative Poetry," "Translation"). It signaled Strand's complete recovery of poetic purpose and poise. His most recent collection, Dark Harbor (1993), a long poem in forty-five parts, reads like a book of dreams and reports on dreams. An episodic journey full of both daily and mythical incident, it amounts to a fearful perception of the self as Dante-like in a twilit world full of beauty and menace, pervaded, finally, by a deep sense of mortality.
Copyright © 1995 by Jonathan Aaron. Excerpted from a longer profile in Ploughshares (Winter 1995-96).
Seewww.emerson.edu/ploughshares/Winter1995/Strand_Profile.html for the full profile.http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/s_z/strand/strand.htm
|Mark Strand, 1990
Photo by Denise Eagleson
About Mark Strand: A Profile
by Jonathan Aaron
Born in Summerside, Prince Edward Island, Canada, in 1934, Mark Strand spent much of his childhood in Halifax, Montreal, New York, Philadelphia, and Cleveland. As a teenager he lived in Columbia, Peru, and Mexico. Upon graduating from Antioch College, he went to Yale to study painting with Joseph Albers. Turning from painting to poetry "wasn't a conscious thing," he says. "I woke up and found that that's what I was doing. I don't think these kinds of lifetime obsessions are arrived at rationally." After spending 1960-61 in Italy on a Fulbright scholarship, studying nineteenth-century Italian poetry, Strand attended the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop for a year, and then taught there until 1965, when he went to Brazil. A year later, he and his wife and small daughter moved to New York City. He taught at Mt. Holyoke College in 1967 and at Brooklyn College from 1970-72, then held visiting professorships at various places, among them Columbia, the University of Virginia, Yale, and Harvard. In 1981 he accepted a full-time position at the University of Utah, Salt Lake, where he remained until 1993. Strand is now the Elliott Coleman Professor of Poetry at Johns Hopkins University, where he teaches in the Writing Seminars.
Strand's many books include eight volumes of poetry. He has received fellowships from the Ingram Merrill, Rockefeller, and Guggenheim foundations and from the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1974 he was awarded the Edgar Allen Poe Award by the Academy of American Poets, and in 1979 the Fellowship of the Academy of American Poets. He received a MacArthur award in 1987. In 1990 he was chosen to succeed Howard Nemerov as Poet Laureate of the United States. In 1992 he won the Bobbitt Prize for Poetry, in 1993 Yale's Bollingen Prize for Poetry.
Mark Strand's attitude toward his own writing is frank, unfussy, and wry. When he talks about himself, it's always with a sense of humor that underscores the absence of solemnity in his seriousness. Reasons for Moving (1968) and Darker (1970) gained him a national reputation as a poet. The disturbing power of their dark conundrums stemmed from the vividness of their comically incongruous details. The tenor of his work shifted in The Story of Our Lives (1973). Reflecting "an emotionally strenuous period," its poems "were more ambitious, longer, and involved than any I had written," as he said at the time. Highly rhetorical, they sought to express sorrow in elevated, passionate terms. The Late Hour followed in 1978, its poems "shorter and more lively," containing "more of the world in them and less of myself."
The Monument, published that same year, showed that Strand had not lost his faith in the uses of self-mockery. A book of "notes, observations, instructions, rants, and revelations" satirizing the notion of literary immortality, it was Strand's answer to a question he'd heard asked at a translation conference: "How would you like to be translated in five hundred years?" Strand thought it a "fabulous question. It stumped everyone." The book was his answer. Harry Ford (Strand's editor then at Atheneum and now at Knopf, to whom Strand has always been devoted) turned The Monument down, thinking "it would ruin my career. I think he meant that it was bad, tasteless, and would offend my contemporaries." In its playfully barbed irreverence, the book seemed out of keeping with Strand's ostensibly more serious writing. It looked then to some like a wrong move. Today it seems a brilliantly prescient entertainment.
After Selected Poems came out in 1980, Strand hit something of a wall. "I gave up [writing poems] that year," he says, looking back. "I didn't like what I was writing, I didn't believe in my autobiographical poems." He began to concentrate on journalism and art criticism. He wrote the sweetly freakish comedies collected in Mr. and Mrs. Baby and Other Stories (1985), which featured the likes of Glover Bartlett, who reveals to his wife that he used to be a collie, or the nameless narrator who's certain his father has returned to life as a fly, then as a horse, and finally as his girlfriend. In settings that ranged from contemporary Southern California to the Arcadia of Greek myth, Strand explored new approaches to parody and satire and, in doing so, began to work himself free of what he felt were the imaginative and stylistic limitations of dramatic self-regard. "And then," he says, "in 1985, I read Robert Fitzgerald's translation of The Aeneid. I decided I'd try a poem, and I wrote 'Cento Virgilianus,' and I was off and running."
The Continuous Life, Strand's first book of poems in ten years, appeared in 1990, containing both poems and short prose narratives. More varied in dramatic scope and tone than his previous collections, its humor pointed yet ruminative, The Continuous Life offered dryly poignant views of disappearing worlds ("The Idea," "Cento Virgilianus," "Luminism," "Life in the Valley"), its prose pieces piercingly funny send-ups of various aspects of the literary enterprise ("From a Lost Diary," "Narrative Poetry," "Translation"). It signaled Strand's complete recovery of poetic purpose and poise. His most recent collection, Dark Harbor (1993), a long poem in forty-five parts, reads like a book of dreams and reports on dreams. An episodic journey full of both daily and mythical incident, it amounts to a fearful perception of the self as Dante -- like in a twilit world full of beauty and menace, pervaded, finally, by a deep sense of mortality.
When asked what his next book will be like, he replies, "I just can't predict. I suppose Dark Harbor was a step toward what I'm doing now, which is completely cuckoo. But I don't care. I'm just amusing myself." He's a little reluctant to amplify. "I'm not sure how clear I can be on this matter, because I'm not very scrupulous in keeping track of myself. I think there's a certain evenness of tone that I used to try to establish in my poems, which I now try to disrupt. I try to fracture the poem, crowd the poem with shifts or changes which I might have found too crazy or too disturbing in the past." After a pause, he adds, his voice softer, conspiratorial, "Verbal high-jinx -- without that, there's not much of a difference between poetry and prose, is there?"
Strand aims to read all of Proust during the coming winter. Asked what poetry he reads, he replies, "I tend to read my friends -- Joseph Brodsky, Charles Simic, Charles Wright, Jorie Graham." He keeps returning to Wordsworth's The Prelude. "And the Victorians -- I don't read Browning, but I do read Tennyson, not necessarily the best poems, but I love 'Marianna.' And any number of Christina Rossetti's lyrics, which are so dark and seem to come off so well."
He's written a book on Edward Hopper. The painters William Bailey and Neil Welliver are especially close friends. Moreover, his poems themselves are often pictures -- he makes a point of speaking through images that capture what Charles Simic, thinking of Strand, calls "the amazement of the vivid moment." So it's something of a surprise to hear him say that looking at paintings doesn't help when he feels blocked or stuck in his own writing. "No, when I can't write, I read John Ashbery, oddly enough." John Ashbery? "There's a tremendous vitality there, and he's very unpredictable. Ashbery befuddled me in the old days, because I was always looking for the wrong kind of sense in his poems. I kept trying to paraphrase him. Not that you can't paraphrase him, but if you do, you miss the point of his poems. Anyway, now that I don't try to translate Ashbery anymore, it all makes perfect sense." He laughs. " 'I'm Tense, Hortense.' That's the title of a poem I'm writing. It's very Ashberyesque, don't you think?"
Jonathan Aaron's most recent book of poems is Corridor (Wesleyan/New England). He teaches writing and literature at Emerson College.
1964: Sleeping with One Eye Open, Stone Wall Press
1968: Reasons for Moving: Poems, Atheneum
1970: Darker: Poems, including "The New Poetry Handbook", Atheneum
1973: The Story of Our Lives, Atheneum
1973: The Sargentville Notebook, Burning Deck
1978: Elegy for My Father, Windhover
1980: Selected Poems, including "Keeping Things Whole", Atheneum
1990: The Continuous Life, Knopf
1990: New Poems
1991: The Monument, Ecco Press (see also The Monument, 1978, prose)
1993: Dark Harbor: A Poem, long poem divided into 55 sections, Knopf
1998: Blizzard of One: Poems, Knopf winner of the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for poetry
1999: Chicken, Shadow, Moon & More, with illustrations by the author
1999: "89 Clouds" a single poem, monotypes by Wendy Mark and introduction by Thomas Hoving. ACA Galleries (New York)
2006: Man and Camel, Knopf
2007: New Selected Poems
2012: Almost Invisible, Random House,
978: The Monument, Ecco (see also The Monument, 1991, poetry)
1982: Contributor: Claims for Poetry, edited by Donald Hall, University of Michigan Press
1982: The Planet of Lost Things, for children
1983: The Art of the Real, art criticism, C. N. Potter
1985: The Night Book, for children
1985: Mr. and Mrs. Baby and Other Stories, short stories, Knopf
1986: Rembrandt Takes a Walk, for children
About Mark Strand's Poetry
by Richard Howard
The poems tell one story and one story only: they narrate the moment when Strand makes Rimbaud's discovery, that je est un autre, that the self is someone else, even something else; "The Mailman," "The Accident," "The Door," "The Tunnel," even "The Last Bus" with its exotic Brazilian stage-properties, all recount the worst, realizing every apprehension, relishing the things possible only in one's wildest fantasies of victimization, and then with a shriek as much of delight as of despair, fall upon the fact--
It will always be this way.
I stand here scared
that you will disappear,
scared that you will stay--
that the victimizer is, precisely, the self, and that the victim is the other, is others.
[. . . .]
Strand is both nervous and morbid, and a consideration of finality is his constant project, sustained here by shifting the responsibility for the imminent wreck from "the reaches of ourselves" to the ambiguity instinct inlanguage.
[. . . .]
Strand’s work since Reason for Moving widens his scope, even as it sharpens his focus; just as he had divided his body against itself in order to discover an identity, he now identifies the body politic with his own in order to recover a division; in a series of political prospects, "Our Death," "From a Litany," "General," and finest of all "The Way It Is," the poet conjugates the nightmares of Fortress America with his own stunned mortality to produce an apocalypse of disordered devotion:
Everyone who has sold himself wants to buy himself back.
Nothing is done. The night
eats into their limbs
like a blight.
Everything dims.The future is not what it used to be.The graves are ready. The deadshall inherit the dead.
But what gives these public accents of Strand's their apprehensive relevance is not just a shrewd selection of details ("My neighbor marches in his room, / wearing the sleek / mask of a hawk with a large beak . . . His helmet in a shopping bag, / he sits in the park, waving a small American flag"), nor any cosy contrast of the poet’s intimeries against a gaining outer darkness ("Slowly I dance out of the burning house of my head. /And who isn't borne again and again into heaven?"). Rather it is the sense that public and private degradation, outer and inner weather, tropic and glacial decors (Saint Thomas and Prince Edward Islands, in fact) are all versions and visions of what Coleridge called the One Life, and that the whole of nature and society are no more than the churning content of a single and limitless human body--the poet's own.
From Alone With America: Essay on the Art of Poetry in the United States since 1950. New York: Atheneum, 1980. Copyright © 1980 by Richard Howard.
by Samuel Maio
In his short collection of idiosyncratic musings in verse form, The Sargeantville Notebook (1973), Strand included the following curious statement:
The ultimate self-effacementis not the pretense of the minimal,but the jocular considerations of the maximalin the manner of Wallace Stevens.
Strand admittedly has long admired Stevens's work, and read Stevens even before beginning to write his own poetry. (He once remarked to Wayne Dodd: "I discovered I wasn't destined to be a very good painter, so I became a poet. Now it didn't happen suddenly. I did read a lot, and I had been a reader of poetry before. In fact, I was much more given to reading poems than I was to fiction and the book that I read a lot, and frequently, was The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens") Perhaps Strand, in commenting on what constitutes the "ultimate self-effacement," regards Stevens as a belated Romantic poet, as does Harold Bloom, in that the ostensibly private reflection, which is the subject of the poem, expresses emotions or ideologies that are in fact diffuse. I make this parallel by suggesting that Strand means "the minimal" to be the private, or individual, concern so that a pretense of such occurs when a poet argues for his own life experiences as reflective of a larger than personal theme, and that his phrase "the jocular considerations of the maximal" means the viewing of global concerns with some degree of wit, with a touch of the absurd. A poet betrays his "pretense of the minimal" when he tries to be an impartial observer, a chronicler of an event he has witnessed or of a landscape he has seen; his presence in the poem--his personal "I" speaker--negates his intended impartiality, or objectivity, towards his subject. . . .
Strand reads Stevens, however, as having successfully avoided such pretense by constructing poems that begin about another's concerns, then move outward to embrace universal questions: "Peter Quince at the Clavier," "Le Monocle de Mon Oncle," and "The Paltry Nude Starts on a Spring Voyage" are a few examples from his early work. These jocular titles lead us to poems of "maximal" subject matter; in each, Stevens’s presence is not visible. Each poem concentrates on the individual named in its title; consequently, Stevens's discussion of universal matters is filtered through his representation of these paltry and jocular characters. Yet these poems of Stevens employ a particular individual--Peter Quince, the "Oncle," the Nude--(and none acting as a persona) in order to achieve his measure of self-effacement. In this sense, these figures are like dramatis personae. Yet Strand's objective is to achieve the same extent of impartiality, and impersonality, while using an "I" speaker that is neither a persona (that is, a representative "I" speaking in behalf of all) nor one that is entirely confessional.
[. . . .]
The resulting self-effacing voice aids Strand in his personal inquiry into the constitution, the definition, of an individual in a contemporary world to which he feels no relationship or role other than that of filling a void. Such an inquiry--and tentative answers--could not have been effected without his use of the self-effacing voice, for, as we have seen, this voice cannot be distinguished from the self portrayed--and defined--in these poems, whoever it is Strand would have us believe is their author.
From Creating Another Self: Voice in Modern American Personal Poetry. Kirksville, MO: Thomas Jefferson University Press, 1995. Copyright © 1995 by Thomas Jefferson University Press.
by Harold Bloom
The irreality of Borges, though still near, is receding in Darker, as Strand opens himself more to his own vision. These poems instantly touch a universal anguish as no "confessional" poems can, for Strand has the fortune of writing naturally and almost simply (though this must be supreme artifice) out of the involuntary near solipsism that always marks a central poetic imagination in America. An uncanny master of tone, Strand cannot pause for mere wit or argument but generally moves directly to phantasmagoria, a mode so magically disciplined in him as to make redundant for us almost all current questers after the "deep image."
From Southern Review (1972)
by Linda Gregerson
When Mark Strand reinvented the poem, he began by leaving out the world. The self he invented to star in the poems went on with the work of divestment: it jettisoned place, it jettisoned fellows, it jettisoned all distinguishing physical marks, save beauty alone. It was never impeded by personality. Nor was this radical renunciation to be confused with modesty, or asceticism. The self had designs on a readership, and a consummate gift for the musical phrase.
From Parnassus: Poetry in Review (1981)