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« In memory of Mark Strand [by Lera Auerbach] | Main | From the Archive: On Movies and Beauties (by Mark Strand) »

November 29, 2014


I'll see you in my dreams. . .

He was a brilliant and inspiring poet and a generous, kind man. I met him years ago in Toronto, when he came to read at IFOA: International Festival of Authors. We chatted afterwards (we talked about Elizabeth Bishop and the Maritimes), he signed his book and I asked if I could send him some of my poetry. He gave me his address. I summoned the courage to send him some work. In reply, he sent me the kindest letter I've ever received. I cherished it for years, although I stopped writing poetry for over a decade. When my first collection, Reporting from Night, was finally being published in 2011, I realized that the poems I'd sent to him were in the manuscript and wondered if he would permit me to use an excerpt from his letter as a blurb. I sent an e-mail to him at Columbia and got a reply back within an hour! He said yes. This is what he had written about my poems: "Their intensity and limpidity, their invention--all wonderful. And their narrative arc--always implicit--gives them a lovely delicacy." I will always be extremely grateful to him.

When I was in the NJ Governor's School for the Arts program, one of our instructors shared this with the group. We were the combination of awkward and unruly you'd expect of seventeen-year-olds who'd worked themselves into a program that involved going to class for a month during their last summer of high school. "Keeping Things Whole" was put in front of us, and as we all read and reread the poem, our usual smart remarks and clumsy attempts at scholarship failed us; our breathing slowed, we sat quietly for a long time, looking up to each other, then back at the page. Even now that poem puts me in a place of feeling both great and small that few other things can, and I owe Mark Strand a true debt for such a gift--one he didn't even know he gave.

Mark Strand caused a sensation when he visited Ohio University in 1972. Already enthralled with his poems, we could hardly believe his handsomeness. The one detail that charmed me most--the small rip near the elbow in his sky-blue oxford-cloth shirt. In 1983 he visited the Center for Writers in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, to give a reading. He was a cordial and gracious guest, even advising me on my (ill-conceived) romance. He gave me his best wishes that things would work out. I believe that the next time I talked to him was in 2006, in NYC. "Did things work out?" Mark asked me. "Yes, we lived together for a long time--ten years unmarried, 6 years married. Then he left me for one of my graduate students." "Men are pigs," he said.


“The Remains,” from his 1970 collection “Darker.”

Translated into Russian by Andrey Gritsman

Я расстаюсь с чужими именами. Опустошаю карманы.
Снимаю обувь и оставляю на обочине.
Ночью перевожу часы назад.
Открываю семейный альбом и смотрю на свои детские фото.
Ну и что это дает? Время делает свое дело.
Я называю свое имя. Говорю до свидания.
Все слова улетают по ветру.
Я люблю свою жену но покидаю ее.
Родители встают со своих тронов
в молочных залах облаков.
Как мне запеть? Время говорит мне кто я.
Я меняюсь но остаюсь все тем же.
Расстаюсь с жизнью но она все живет.

He told me that he wrote his poems formally, and then un-formed them. I think he was being mischievous...

Mark Strand taught me the secret to poetry. But I can't tell you. It's a secret. I have been lucky in my life to spend several nights over the past decade chatting with Mark Strand on a porch in Tennessee. One night I asked him to sign a copy of his children's book, The Night Book. He asked, "Where did you find this?" and then wrote this inscription, "Stay up late. Everything is better at night."

How many times can you actually remember the first poem you ever read by someone? "My Life by Somebody Else" was my first Mark Strand poem--I'm pretty sure it was in The New York Review of Books. What a startling and unforgettable new voice. He became the most imitated poet in America. A few years later, he felt he had reached a dead end. He said at a poetry reading, at the Blacksmith House in Cambridge, that we were listening to someone whose star had fallen. But how wrong he was.

I loved his reading style, but I couldn't afford his book, so I asked him to sign the book I had with me - Bevington's complete Shakespeare, the fourth edition - and he eyeballed me for a second, then bent over the textbook. When he passed it back, I found a speech bubble extending from the Bard's mouth on the frontispiece: "Mark Strand is a nice guy and not a bad poet. I say so. Wm. Shakespeare."

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman

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