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Mark Strand

1934–2014

Mark Strand was born on Canada's Prince Edward Island on April 11, 1934. He received a BA from Antioch College in Ohio in 1957 and attended Yale University, where he was awarded the Cook prize and the Bergin prize. After receiving his BFA degree in 1959, Strand spent a year studying at the University of Florence on a Fulbright fellowship. In 1962 he received his MA from the University of Iowa.

He was the author of numerous collections of poetry, including Collected Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014); Almost Invisible (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012); New Selected Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 2007); Man and Camel (Alfred A. Knopf, 2006); Blizzard of One (Alfred A. Knopf, 1998), which won the Pulitzer Prize; Dark Harbor (Alfred A. Knopf, 1993); The Continuous Life (Alfred A. Knopf, 1990); Selected Poems (Atheneum, 1980); The Story of Our Lives (Atheneum, 1973); and Reasons for Moving (Atheneum, 1968).

He also published two books of prose, several volumes of translation (of works by Rafael Alberti and Carlos Drummond de Andrade, among others), several monographs on contemporary artists, and three books for children. He has edited a number of volumes, including 100 Great Poems of the Twentieth Century (W. W. Norton, 2005), The Golden Ecco Anthology (1994), The Best American Poetry 1991, and Another Republic: 17 European and South American Writers (with Charles Simic, 1976).

His honors included the Bollingen Prize, a Rockefeller Foundation award, three grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, a National Institute of Arts and Letters Award, the 2004 Wallace Stevens Award, the Academy of American Poets Fellowship in 1979, the 1974 Edgar Allen Poe Prize from the Academy of American Poets, as well as fellowships from the MacArthur Foundation and the Ingram Merrill Foundation.

He served as poet laureate of the United States from 1990 to 1991 and as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 1995 to 2000. He taught English and comparative literature at Columbia University in New York City. He died at eighty years old on November 29, 2014, in Brooklyn, New York.

 

Mark Strand
Photo credit: Timothy Greenfield

By This Poet

7

My Mother on an Evening in Late Summer

1

When the moon appears
and a few wind-stricken barns stand out
in the low-domed hills
and shine with a light
that is veiled and dust-filled
and that floats upon the fields,
my mother, with her hair in a bun,
her face in shadow, and the smoke
from her cigarette coiling close
to the faint yellow sheen of her dress,
stands near the house
and watches the seepage of late light
down through the sedges,
the last gray islands of cloud
taken from view, and the wind
ruffling the moon's ash-colored coat
on the black bay.


2

Soon the house, with its shades drawn closed, will send
small carpets of lampglow
into the haze and the bay
will begin its loud heaving
and the pines, frayed finials
climbing the hill, will seem to graze
the dim cinders of heaven.
And my mother will stare into the starlanes,
the endless tunnels of nothing,
and as she gazes,
under the hour's spell,
she will think how we yield each night
to the soundless storms of decay
that tear at the folding flesh,
and she will not know
why she is here
or what she is prisoner of
if not the conditions of love that brought her to this.


3

My mother will go indoors
and the fields, the bare stones
will drift in peace, small creatures --
the mouse and the swift -- will sleep
at opposite ends of the house.
Only the cricket will be up,
repeating its one shrill note
to the rotten boards of the porch,
to the rusted screens, to the air, to the rimless dark,
to the sea that keeps to itself.
Why should my mother awake?
The earth is not yet a garden
about to be turned. The stars
are not yet bells that ring
at night for the lost.
It is much too late.

From the Long Sad Party

Someone was saying
something about shadows covering the field, about
how things pass, how one sleeps towards morning
and the morning goes.

Someone was saying
how the wind dies down but comes back,
how shells are the coffins of wind
but the weather continues.

It was a long night
and someone said something about the moon shedding its
   white
on the cold field, that there was nothing ahead
but more of the same.

Someone mentioned
a city she had been in before the war, a room with two
   candles
against a wall, someone dancing, someone watching.
We began to believe

the night would not end.
Someone was saying the music was over and no one had
   noticed.
Then someone said something about the planets, about the 
   stars,
how small they were, how far away.

Man and Camel

On the eve of my fortieth birthday
I sat on the porch having a smoke
when out of the blue a man and a camel
happened by. Neither uttered a sound
at first, but as they drifted up the street
and out of town the two of them began to sing.
Yet what they sang is still a mystery to me—
the words were indistinct and the tune
too ornamental to recall. Into the desert
they went and as they went their voices
rose as one above the sifting sound
of windblown sand. The wonder of their singing,
its elusive blend of man and camel, seemed
an ideal image for all uncommon couples.
Was this the night that I had waited for
so long? I wanted to believe it was,
but just as they were vanishing, the man
and camel ceased to sing, and galloped
back to town. They stood before my porch,
staring up at me with beady eyes, and said:
"You ruined it. You ruined it forever."

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