Monday, December 1, 2014

Gorgeous, cunning poet Mark Strand is dead at 80

I hated hearing the news that the Pulitzer-winning former U.S. poet laureate Mark Strand had died on Saturday. Reports said he was at his daughter's home in Brooklyn, and that the illness was liposarcoma, cancer of the fat cells. He was 80.

I love Strand's poetry for its cunning and its dream-like magic, its confiding voice, its chair-and-pillow imagery. And he was wonderful to look at -- with his angular face and tall, lean frame.

I was at the Bread Loaf writers' colony near Middlebury, Vt., one August in the late 1970s when he was teaching there. I have a clear memory of him lazing on his side on a picnic blanket with a beautiful young woman whose single blonde braid trailed her back. The late-summer Vermont air shimmered around them, and all else fell away.

In a letter home, I wrote: "Mark Strand is breaking hearts right and left."

I also remember him in the classroom. He was wickedly brutal on  student poems, even occasionally sarcastic. I was surprised. But when I read his poetry, which I do again and again, year after year, he becomes pure, disembodied voice. Here is one of my favorites:

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.

I deeply regret there will be no more new Mark Strand poems. But if you're looking for one of  his books, I'd recommend his 2007 collection, "New Selected Poems," which the New Yorker's Dan Chiasson called "a necessary book," and named it "among the best work by any living poet."


Anonymous said...

nice try granny ...

that pic is clint eastwood from dirty harry 35 yrs ago ...

Anonymous said...

Gotta watch these slick geezers. They get caught a lot shoplifting small books, candy, nail polish, make up, lipstick or anything that fits in purses. They love small jelly bean bags. Stores always on the lookout.
This one def looks like a jellybean and paper back book thief.
When caught they always claim it was planted and pretend to cry. We throw em in the slammer anyway.

John Clark/Dialectic Voyeur said...

I'm guessing, Dannye, if I wrote a commentary after, for example, Sharon Olds died and commented on her looks and how sexy she was, I bet I'd receive a number of slaps on the wrist.

Unknown said...

John -- You're probably right. You'll just have to forgive me on this one. He was exceptional. And, of course, that is his photo and not Clint Eastwood's.