Authors: Mark Strand

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2017

Poet

April 11, 1934

Summerside, Prince Edward Island, Canada

November 29, 2014

New York, New York

Biography

Mark Strand began life on remote Prince Edward Island, Canada, and when he was four, he moved with his parents to the United States. Eventually he landed in Yellow Springs, Ohio, where he graduated with his BA from Antioch College in 1957. He earned his BFA from Yale University in 1959, was a Fulbright Fellow at the University of Florence (1960–61), and earned his MA from University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa, in 1962. As a visiting professor or instructor, Strand taught at the University of Rio de Janeiro (1965–66), Mount Holyoke College (1967), the University of Washington (1968), Columbia and Yale Universities (1968–70), Princeton University (1972), Brandeis University (1973), the University of California at Irvine (1977), Harvard University (1980), the University of Utah in Salt Lake City (1981–93), Johns Hopkins University (1994–98), the University of Chicago (1998–2005), and Columbia University once more (2005–14).

He received the Cook and Bergin prizes, a second Fulbright Fellowship, the Ingram-Merril Foundation grant, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, and a Rockefeller grant. He won the Academy of American Poets’ Edgar Allan Poe Award (in 1974 for The Story of Our Lives), a Guggenheim Fellowship, and an award from the National Institute of Arts and Letters. He was honored to succeed Robert Penn Warren as the poet laureate of the United States Library of Congress (1990–91). He was awarded the Bollingen Prize for Poetry from the Yale University Library in 1993. Blizzard of One won for Strand the Pulitzer Prize in poetry and the Boston Book Review Bingham Poetry Prize, 1999.

This professorial path supported his habit—creating poetry through impeccable and effortless technique. The graphic quality of Strand’s poems results from his early training as a painter; eventually he chose poetry over painting. He was considered a minimalist with a knack for dark abstractions. His restlessness exposed a brooding, introspective, nearly terrifying environment. In his first book, Sleeping with One Eye Open, Strand introduced his controlled verse and surreal imagery and explored an unsettling series of contradictions and challenges. In this collection, the stage was set for the mood and style of his subsequent work. Verse is stripped of non-essential attributes; simple actions, repeated at times, are worked into phrases of surprising strength.

Strand grabbed themes and events and then contorted them to mysterious effect. In “Poem,” from Sleeping with One Eye Open, a torturer with nail clippers slowly cuts his bedroom-bound victim into small pieces. Convinced that he has done enough, the villain expresses his gratitude to the victim for being dismissed, then leaves. Quintessential Strand, this poem responds to the nightmarish grotesquerie of life. These early works represent morbid concerns and realistic solutions; later, in Darker, Strand suggests that the best action may be no action at all.

From these earlier works of tombstone dread, the poet elevated his mood and his life’s impressions in The Continuous Life, published in 1990. Critics recognized this new view and likenened it to a countryside view from the shadow of the mountain. These poems arrived after a ten-year hiatus from poetry publications and are considered to be idiosyncratic and searching. In Dark Harbor, the overarching plot appears to be the poet’s counterlife in art, separation from family, and journey to darkness and then to the final safety of a harbor replete with poets.

Strand’s 1998 Pulitzer Prize–winning collection, Blizzard of One, is classic Strand: stylish and lyrical, yet seemingly effortless as he oscillates between the ordinary and extraordinary. He followed this work up with three more original volumes of poetry: Chicken, Shadow, Moon, and More (1999), Man and Camel (2006), and Almost Invisible (2012). Additionally, he received the Wallace Stevens Award in 2004 and the American Academy of Arts and Letters's Gold Medal for poetry in 2009.

Strand wrote in genres other than poetry. His two biographical books on artists, one on William Bailey and one on Edward Hopper, possess the Strand brand of poetic critique. His affinity for the arts—in particular, painting—drew Strand to edit Art of the Real, a collection of essays on painters. Married twice, with three children, Strand may have written his children’s books as a reflection on his family life. Even his children’s tales are woven through darkened dreams and prophesies.

Strand died following a battle with liposarcoma in New York City on November 29, 2014, at the age of eighty.

Author Works Poetry: Sleeping with One Eye Open, 1964 Reasons for Moving, 1968 Darker, 1970 The Story of Our Lives, 1973 The Sargeantville Notebook, 1973 Elegy for My Father, 1973 The Late Hour, 1978 Selected Poems, 1980 Prose: Four Poems, 1987 The Continuous Life, 1990 Dark Harbor, 1993 Blizzard of One, 1998 Chicken, Shadow, Moon, and More, 1999 Man and Camel, 2006 Almost Invisible, 2012 Translations: Eighteen Poems from the Quechua, 1971 The Owl’s Insomnia: Poems by Rafael Alberti, 1973 Souvenir of the Ancient World, 1976 (of Carlos Drummond de Andrade) Long Fiction: The Monument, 1978 Short Fiction: Mr. and Mrs. Baby, and Other Stories, 1985 Nonfiction: William Bailey, 1987 Hopper, 1994, rev. 2001 The Weather of Words: Poetic Invention, 2000 Children’s/Young Adult Literature: The Planet of Lost Things, 1982 The Night Book, 1985 Rembrandt Takes a Walk, 1986 Edited Texts: The Contemporary American Poets: American Poetry Since 1940, 1969 New Poetry of Mexico, 1970 Another Republic: Seventeen European and South American Writers, 1976 (with Charles Simic) Art of the Real: Nine American Figurative Painters, 1983 The Best American Poetry, 1991, 1991 Stories and Poems, 1995 (with Tim O’Brien) The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms, 2000 (with Eavan Boland) Bibliography Aaron, Jonathan. “About Mark Strand: A Profile.” Ploughshares 21, no. 4 (Winter, 1995/1996): 202–205. This is an excellent short overview of Strand’s career, accomplishments, and sense of himself as a writer. Strand is the guest editor of this issue of the magazine. Bloom, Harold. “Dark and Radiant Peripheries: Mark Strand and A. R. Ammons.” Southern Review 8 (Winter, 1972): 133–141. This article is formally divided into four main sections: The introduction and conclusion briefly compare the poetry of Strand and Ammons, while the second section is given to Strand and the third to Ammons. Critical commentary is provided for the title poems of Strand’s first three volumes: Sleeping with One Eye Open, Reasons for Moving, and Darker. Bloom focuses upon the “dark” elements of Strand’s work. Gregorson, Linda. “Negative Capability.” Parnassus: Poetry in Review 9 (1981): 90–114. Gregorson discusses poems selected from Strand’s Selected Poems. She focuses on the rhymes and meters of the poetry, as well as the imagery. Also included are some critical analyses of the poet’s use of prosody. Her overall effort is to trace the developing forms and formats of the recognizably better poems. Howard, Richard. “Mark Strand.” In Alone with America: Essays on the Art of Poetry in the United States Since 1950. New York: Atheneum, 1980. Howard writes critically of Strand’s first two collections of poems, Sleeping with One Eye Open and Reasons for Moving. He sees the second volume as an outgrowth and continuation of the first one. Howard focuses on the duality of Strand’s nature and his inability to reconcile the different aspects of his personality. Kirby, David. Mark Strand and the Poet’s Place in Contemporary American Culture. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1990. A fascinating exploration of the public roles and stances of the poet, with Strand as the central case in point. More a study in the sociology of literature than a work of literary criticism, yet important because Strand’s public persona and his writing have a strange symbiotic relationship. Nicosia, James F. Reading Mark Strand: His Collected Works, Career, and the Poetics of the Privative. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. This work provides detailed analysis of over 70 poems by Strand. Studying the works chronologically, Nicosia makes enlightening connections between Strand’s life and his poetry. Olsen, Lance. “Entry to the Unaccounted For: Mark Strand’s Fantastic Autism.” In The Poetic Fantastic: Studies in an Evolving Genre, edited by Patrick D. Murphy and Vernon Hyles. New York: Greenwood Press, 1989. In this short article of some ten pages, Olsen interprets much of Strand’s work in terms of fantasy. He deals specifically with poems taken from Sleeping with One Eye Open and Reasons for Moving. The critic sees many elements of science fiction in Strand’s poems, as well as metafiction. Salter, Mary Jo. "S Is for Something: Mark Strand and Artistic Identity." Sewanee Review, vol. 125, no. 1, 2017, pp. 190–213. Examines common themes in some of Strand's poems, such as absence and nothingness. Strand, Mark. “Mark Strand: The Art of Poetry LXXVII.” Interview by Wallace Shawn. The Paris Review 40, no. 148 (Fall, 1998): 146–179. Strand discusses his poetic themes and writing style.

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