Mark Strand

Mark Strand was born in 1934 in Summerside on the Canadian Prince Edward Island and he grew up in the United States and South America.  He studied at Antioch College in Ohio, at Yale University and at the University of Iowa, where he started teaching after a residence in Italy as a Fulbright Scholar. He was also a Fulbright Lecturer at the Universidade do Brasil in Rio de Janiero. Subsequently he taught in Columbia, Princeton, Harvard and at the Universities of Utah and Chicago.

Since his first volume of poetry, »Sleeping with One Eye Open« (1964), Strand’s central theme has been human transience.  His poems are characterised by popular, simple language depicting incidental scenes which are overlain by a dreamlike come nightmarish atmosphere.  Evoking irrepairable estrangement, the poems are often threatening but at the same time ironic and funny even. »I’ve always tried to be both humorous and serious at the same time«, says Strand, who thinks that a good poem moves readers and alters their attitude to the world.  »A poem is a place where the conditions of beyondness and withinness are made palpable, when to imagine is to feel what it is like to be.  It allows us to have the life we are denied because we are too busy living. Even more paradoxically, poetry permits us to live in ourselves as if we were just out of reach of ourselves.«

Whereas imagery, style and quality are maintained constant in Strand’s work, the form is variable.  It ranges from fixed forms such as the playful villanelle, to free verse and prose poetry. Since 1997 a selection of Strand’s poetry has been available in German under the title »Dunkler Hafen« (Engl: Dark Harbour).  As well as poems, the writer has also had essays on aesthetics and literature published, numerous translations from Spanish and Portuguese, children’s books and three monographs about contemporary American painters.  In »Hopper« (1994) he presents clear and unpretentious analyses about the pictures of a painter, who is often described by critics as Strand’s soulmate.  In the poems »Two de Chiricos«, written about the paintings of the pittura metafisica painter, Strand conjures up similarly remote scenes based on a visual model.  The poems are contained within the volume »Blizzard of One« (1998), for which Strand won the Pulitzer Prize. He has regularly been awarded prizes such as the Bollingen Prize and the Edgar Allan Poe Prize.  In 1990 he was chosen by the Library of Congress to be the Poet Laureate for the United States of America. Between 1991 and 2000 Strand was Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Until 2005 he worked for the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. Currently he teaches Comparative and English Literature at Columbia University, New York. In late 2007 his new volume of poetry “New Selected Poems” is going to appear.

The author died on November 29, 2014. 

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