The Daily

In Memoriam

Mark Strand, 1934–2014

November 29, 2014 | by

strand-m

A manuscript page from “A Piece of the Storm,” a poem from Blizzard of One.

When I read poetry, I want to feel myself suddenly larger … in touch with—or at least close to—what I deem magical, astonishing. I want to experience a kind of wonderment. And when you report back to your own daily world after experiencing the strangeness of a world sort of recombined and reordered in the depths of a poet’s soul, the world looks fresher somehow. Your daily world has been taken out of context. It has the voice of the poet written all over it, for one thing, but it also seems suddenly more alive … —Mark Strand, The Art of Poetry No. 77, 1998

Mark Strand died today at eighty, we were sorry to learn. When Wallace Shawn interviewed him for The Paris Review in 1998—a year before he won the Pulitzer Prize for his collection Blizzard of One—Strand described his relation to death: “It’s inevitable. I feel myself inching towards it. So there it is in my poems. And sometimes people will think of me as a kind of gloomy guy. But I don’t think of myself as gloomy at all. I say ha ha to death all the time in my poems.”

And death was arguably Strand’s great theme—few poets have written more acutely or more movingly about the chasm at the end of life. Which is not to say that he was excessively dour or bleak; the sense of isolation in his work is often leavened by light and feeling. Strand saw poetry as a humanizing influence in an increasingly inhumane world. He told Inscape a few years ago:

If every head of state and every government official spent an hour a day reading poetry we’d live in a much more humane and decent world … Poetry delivers an inner life that is articulated to the reader. People have inner lives, but they are poorly expressed and rarely known. They have no language by which to bring it out into the open. Two people deeply in love can look at each other and not have much to say except “I love you.” It gets kind of boring after awhile—after the first ten or twenty years … When we read poems from the past we realize that human beings have always been the way we are. We have technological advancements undreamt of a couple thousand years ago, but the way people felt then is pretty much the way people feel now. We can read those poems with pleasure because we recognize ourselves in them. Poetry helps us imagine what it’s like to be human. I wish more politicians and heads of state would begin to imagine what it’s like to be human.

His poem “After Our Planet,” from our Winter 1992 issue, is a perfect read for the occasion. Strand seems to be speaking from the afterlife in it, from a place of wondrous stillness, inaccessible to us:

I am writing from a place you have never been,
Where the trains don’t run, and planes
Don’t land, a place to the west,

Where heavy hedges of snow surround each house,
Where the wind screams at the moon’s blank face,
Where the people are plain, and fashions,

If they come, come late and are seen
As forms of oppression, sources of sorrow.
This is a place that sparkles a bit at 7 P.M.,

Then goes out, and slides into the funeral home
Of the stars, and everyone dreams of floating
Like angels in sweet-smelling habits,

Of being released from sundry services
Into the round of pleasures there for the asking—
Days like pages torn from a family album,

Endless reunions, the heavenly choir at the barbecue
Adjusting its tone to serve the occasion,
And everyone staring, stunned into magnitude.

Read the whole poem here.

19 COMMENTS

8 Comments

  1. Elizabeth Rogers | November 29, 2014 at 6:54 pm

    Pancakes

    These ones are mango and banana and I am frightened of what I’ve become
    The one who closes the blinds when words fall short
    When there is no more use in the blade of a knife that pulls the butter to the pan
    I turn to the beginning when the batter was still breathing

    Where there were long breathless nights without sheets, our heads in the clouds
    Storms inkling, a piece of cotton elongated over the horizon
    We flipped like surfing swans as the bird in flat 24 cuckooed ‘I need a man’s hand’
    Her throat travelling through time and space to catch the 5am light where we dangled

    Bubbles arise
    Cellular they trap the phonetics of my window’s eyes
    Closed and heavy with dust driven drapes from a 20th century novel

    When did the story rewrite itself and I became the Rapunzel with no hair
    Cropped and burned?
    The dawn rebirths and leaves my legs crossing
    Here and over there

    Mr Strand you have arrived and left all your beauty behind. Thank you.

  2. Mark Waldron | November 30, 2014 at 1:05 pm

    On Airbrushing Mark Strand Out of a Photograph

    Sunday morning, the graphics software is slow, cold
    and I remove the dead like a god from the photo
    and I couldn’t do it, except I know
    he moves on to keep things whole

  3. Carole von Schmidt | November 30, 2014 at 2:12 pm

    Will remember the generosity of Mark when he was Poet-in-Residence at U. of Utah, for he gave freely of his talents to the Granite School District writers workshop. He lectured, interacted, and inspired young writers in SLC. And despite his death themes, he lived life to the fullest, as an excellent cook, and a connoisseur of wine and women. Mark lived well. He is a talent to be missed.

  4. Valerie | December 1, 2014 at 8:51 am

    I heard him read in 1989 or 1990 when I was an undergrad at Yale, from the poems that made up The Continuous Life. It had a big effect on me, those poems that were both sad and hilarious, wistful and full of longing. And his voice!

    He was my favorite living poet. That feeling of surprise and pleasure at finding new work of his — I will miss it. Thank you for this tribute to him.

  5. Ken Chawkin | December 1, 2014 at 5:26 pm

    A fellow poet told me the sad news and included a link to the Art of Poetry interview, and his favorite poem by Mark Strand, which also seems appropriate now. Thank you for remembering him as well.

    My Name

    Once when the lawn was a golden green
    and the marbled moonlit trees rose like fresh memorials
    in the scented air, and the whole countryside pulsed
    with the chirr and murmur of insects, I lay in the grass,
    feeling the great distances open above me, and wondered
    what I would become and where I would find myself,
    and though I barely existed, I felt for an instant
    that the vast star-clustered sky was mine, and I heard
    my name as if for the first time, heard it the way
    one hears the wind or the rain, but faint and far off
    as though it belonged not to me but to the silence
    from which it had come and to which it would go.

  6. Rosalie Dwyer Kent | December 1, 2014 at 5:41 pm

    INCREDIBLY ALIVE TO LIFE AND BEYOND

  7. A. E. Hennessey | December 1, 2014 at 6:03 pm

    I have a key
    so I open the door and walk in.
    It is dark and I walk in.
    It is darker and I walk in.

  8. Md Equebal Hussain | January 19, 2015 at 6:59 am

    I did my PhD on Mark Strand and also published a book “Talking Dark” on his poetry.
    I love his poetry & am reminded of the lines: We live unsettled lives/And stay in a place/only long enough to find/We don’t belong.
    May Allah give you the comforts of a Blessed life in the world where u r now.
    Md equebal Hussain, India

11 Pingbacks

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