Strand, Mark

Strand, Mark
born April 11, 1934, Summerside, P.E.I., Can.

Canadian-born U.S. poet and writer of short fiction.

Educated in the U.S., he taught at several American universities. His poetry, influenced by Latin American surrealism and European writers such as Franz Kafka, is known for its symbolic imagery and its minimalist sensibility. His volumes include the collections Sleeping with One Eye Open (1964), The Story of Our Lives (1973), and Blizzard of One (1998); Dark Harbor (1993), a book-length poem; and Mr. and Mrs. Baby and Other Stories (1985). He was named U.S. poet laureate in 1990.

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▪ 2000

      Canadian-born American poet Mark Strand, whose elegantly minimalist work was noted for its metaphysical quality, won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his collection Blizzard of One. The title of the collection referred to his description of a single snowflake in the poem “A Piece of the Storm,” in which he regarded the snowflake as “a solemn waking / To brevity, to the lifting and falling away of attention, swiftly, / A time between times, a flowerless funeral.” The poem typified Strand's attempt, in lyrical free verse, to distill insights from the close observation of the natural world.

      Critics lauded Strand's brief, masterful poems, which were often dark and self-alienating, though punctuated by irony and wit. His first collection, Sleeping with One Eye Open (1964), combined restlessness with a paralyzing sense of foreboding. In lines reminiscent of Wallace Stevens, whose polished, philosophical verse influenced much of Strand's work, he considered the disquieting vagaries of human identity and delved into the theme of inner separation. In “Keeping Things Whole” he wrote: “In a field / I am the absence / of field. / This is / always the case. / Wherever I am / I am what is missing.”

      Later poetry collections included Reasons for Moving (1968), Darker: Poems (1970), The Late Hour (1978), and The Continuous Life (1990). A prolific author, Strand wrote, edited, and translated numerous other works. A collection of short fiction, Mr. and Mrs. Baby and Other Stories, appeared in 1985. His books for children attracted attention, particularly for their haunting images and themes. The Night Book (1985), for example, regarded a girl's fear of the dark and the monsters she perceived within it.

      Strand was born on April 11, 1934, in Summerside, P.E.I., and was educated at Antioch College, Yellow Springs, Ohio (B.A., 1957), Yale University (B.F.A., 1959), and the University of Iowa (M.A., 1962). He later taught in Brazil and at several universities in the U.S., including the University of Chicago, whose faculty he joined in 1997. Among numerous honours he received were Guggenheim and MacArthur fellowships in 1975 and 1987, respectively, and the Yale University Library's Bollingen Prize for Poetry in 1993. He served as U.S. poet laureate in 1990–91, endeavouring to bring poetry to a wider audience. Despite his efforts, he lamented that poetry did not have popular appeal. “The junk people read is appalling,” he said. “You have to read well to read poetry, and the sad fact is that most people don't have the patience or the talent to do that.”

Stephen P. Davis

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▪ Canadian-American poet
born April 11, 1934, Summerside, Prince Edward Island, Canada

      Canadian poet, writer of short fiction, and translator whose poetry, noted for its surreal quality, explores the boundaries of the self and the external world.

      Educated at Antioch College (B.A., 1957), Yale University (B.F.A., 1959), and the University of Iowa (M.A., 1962), Strand later taught at several American universities, including Brandeis, Princeton, Yale, Harvard, and the University of Virginia. He served as American poet laureate in 1990–91.

      Strand was influenced stylistically by Latin American Surrealism and such European writers as Franz Kafka (Kafka, Franz), and his poetry, especially his earliest works, is replete with symbolic imagery and minimalist (minimalism) sensibility. Volumes of Strand's poetry include Sleeping with One Eye Open (1964), Reasons for Moving (1968), Darker (1970), The Story of Our Lives (1973), The Late Hour (1978), Selected Poems (1980), The Continuous Life (1990), Dark Harbor (1993), and Man and Camel (2006). A collection of prose pieces, Mr. and Mrs. Baby and Other Stories, was published in 1985.

      Among his translations of poetry by South American writers are 18 Poems from the Quechua (1971) and Rafael Alberti (Alberti, Rafael)'s The Owl's Insomnia (1973). Strand edited The Contemporary American Poets (1969), New Poetry of Mexico (1970), and, with Charles Simic (Simic, Charles), Another Republic: 17 European and South American Writers (1976). He also wrote several children's books as well as Hopper (1994), a study of the works of American painter Edward Hopper (Hopper, Edward), and other works of art criticism. In 1999 Strand received a Pulitzer Prize for the poetry collection Blizzard of One (1998).

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Universalium. 2010.

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