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A Tribute to Mark Strand

To celebrate the life and poetic contributions of Mark Strand—who received the Wallace Stevens Award in 2004 and served as an Academy Chancellor from 1995 to 2000—we’ve compiled the following collection of photographs and poems, including an audio version of the poet reading "From a Litany." Strand passed away on November 29, 2014.  

poem

Eating Poetry

Ink runs from the corners of my mouth. 
There is no happiness like mine. 
I have been eating poetry. 

The librarian does not believe what she sees. 
Her eyes are sad 
and she walks with her hands in her dress. 

The poems are gone. 
The light is dim. 
The dogs are on the basement stairs and coming up. 

Their eyeballs roll, 
their blond legs burn like brush. 
The poor librarian begins to stamp her feet and weep.
 
She does not understand. 
When I get on my knees and lick her hand, 
she screams. 

I am a new man. 
I snarl at her and bark. 
I romp with joy in the bookish dark. 
Mark Strand
1980
poem

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.
Mark Strand
1979
poem

The Everyday Enchantment of Music

A rough sound was polished until it became a smoother sound, which was polished until it became music. Then the music was polished until it became the memory of a night in Venice when tears of the sea fell from the Bridge of Sighs, which in turn was polished until it ceased to be and in its place stood the empty home of a heart in trouble. Then suddenly there was sun and the music came back and traffic was moving and off in the distance, at the edge of the city, a long line of clouds appeared, and there was thunder, which, however menacing, would become music, and the memory of what happened after Venice would begin, and what happened after the home of the troubled heart broke in two would also begin.

Mark Strand
2012
poem

The Coming of Light

Even this late it happens:
the coming of love, the coming of light. 
You wake and the candles are lit as if by themselves, 
stars gather, dreams pour into your pillows, 
sending up warm bouquets of air.
Even this late the bones of the body shine 
and tomorrow's dust flares into breath.
Mark Strand
2002

Mark Strand Through the Years

Mark Strand, Donald Justice
(Left to right) Louise Gluck, Daniel Halpern, and Mark Strand
Joseph Brodsky, Howard Moss, and Mark Strand
Mark Strand
Mark Strand
Mark Strand
Mark Strand
Mark Strand
Mark Strand, John Hollander, Daniel Hoffman, Rosanna Warren, Derek Walcott, and John Burt
Mark Strand, William Stafford, David Wagoner
Mark Strand
Mark Strand
poem

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.
Mark Strand
1973
poem

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."
Mark Strand
2006