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Joseph Stroud

Joseph Stroud was born in 1943 in Glendale, California, and studied at the University of San Francisco, California State University at Los Angeles, and San Francisco State University.

He is the author of five books of poetry: Of This World: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2008), recipient of the Poetry Center Book Award; Country of Light (Copper Canyon Press, 2004); Below Cold Mountain (Copper Canyon Press, 1998); Signatures (BOA Editions, 1982); and In the Sleep of Rivers (Capra Press, 1974). His honors include a Pushcart Prize and a Witter Bynner Fellowship for Poetry from the Library of Congress. He received the 2014 Lannan Literary Award for Lifetime Achievement, and in 2011, an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature.

Stroud’s poems are diverse in style, as his collections contain mixes of narrative prose poems, lyrical works, odes, contemplations, and more. There is a strong global influence in Stroud’s poetry, from the diverse poets he takes his cues from—Li Po, Federico García Lorca, William Blake, John Milton, and Pablo Neruda—to the landscapes explored in the poems, from Vietnam to Laos, India, Mexico, and Spain.

Stroud taught writing and literature at Cabrillo College in Aptos, California, for thirty-five years. He is currently retired and divides his time between Santa Cruz, California, and Shay Creek in the Sierra Nevada mountains.


Selected Bibliography

Of This World: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2008)
Country of Light (Copper Canyon Press, 2004)
Below Cold Mountain (Copper Canyon Press, 1998)
Signatures (BOA Editions, 1982)
In the Sleep of Rivers (Capra Press, 1974)

 

 

Joseph Stroud
Photo courtesy of Copper Canyon Press

By This Poet

1

The Potato

Three days into the journey
I lost the Inca Trail
and scrambled around the Andes 
in a growing panic
when on a hillside below snowline
I met a farmer who pointed the way—
Machu Picchu allá, he said. 
He knew where I wanted to go. 
From my pack I pulled out an orange.
It seemed to catch fire 
in that high blue Andean sky. 
I gave it to him.
He had been digging in a garden, 
turning up clumps of earth, 
some odd, misshapen nuggets, 
some potatoes.
He handed me one,
a potato the size of the orange
looking as if it had been in the ground
a hundred years,
a potato I carried with me 
until at last I stood gazing down 
on the Urubamba valley, 
peaks rising out of the jungle into clouds, 
and there among the mists 
was the Temple of the Sun
and the Lost City of the Incas.
Looking back now, all these years later,
what I remember most, 
what matters to me most, 
was that farmer, alone on his hillside, 
who gave me a potato,
a potato with its peasant face, 
its lumps and lunar craters, 
a potato that fit perfectly in my hand, 
a potato that consoled me as I walked, 
told me not to fear, 
held me close to the earth,
the potato I put in a pot that night,
the potato I boiled above Machu Picchu,
the patient, gnarled potato 
I ate.