Thursday, October 11, 2012

Poetry Reading with Nobel Pulitzer Prize winner Mark Strand sheds pure delight: You should have been there

“There’s no confessions in my writing. I’m sure you know that already.”
~~ Mark Strand, October 10, 2012

Pulitzer Prize winner, Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress, American poet, essayist, and translator

On Wednesday, October 10th, a near full-house audience came to the Poetry Reading with Mark Strand event held at the Heimbold Visual Arts Center Donnelley Film Theatre of Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, NY. Strand read selections from his latest work, his second Pulitzer Prize winning book, Almost Invisible (2012).

As Strand read his works, there was an awe of silence around the theatre and there is something very special about Strand’s amazing presence and natural eloquence -- from tilting his head to his hands grasping the podium and even the way he moved his feet -- he is so genuine, kind and gorgeous.

The session was followed by an informative and inspirational Q&A where Strand answered about 2 dozen audience questions.

A wide range of questions were asked which lead to intriguing digressions ranging from the impact of the Surrealist movement and Fantastic art genre, and metaphoric and metonymic writing styles to sharing the one color he doesn't include on his palette and reading a quote from one of his favorite novels.

Below are worthy take-aways.

Q. How did you become a writer? What were the contributing factors?
A. I was never a reader. My parents were readers. One day we moved to South America and I was bored. My mother said “why don’t you write letters to your friends so they can write back to you.” I started doing that but I wanted it to be more than a letter.

Q. What attributes make you feel your poem is finished?
A. A poem that finally moves and I find it exhaustible. When you put it back on the psychic shelf and never go back to it.

Q. What’s your opinion of your individual art and how its worked into your other art?
A. My visual art cleanses my mind of verbal debris that seems to paralyze me at the end of the day. I could have claimed to be a visual artist or painter or collager. My friends who are do it all day long. My collages look like miniature abstract paints but I love doing it and it makes me happy and gives me a reason to wake up and get out of bed. One of my favorite novels is Dicken's David Copperfield. I urge you all to read David Copperfield. Strand then read an excerpt about Micawber, which is also included in the contents of his latest book Almost Invisible.
"Gentlemen," returned Mr. Micawber, "do with me as you will? I am a straw upon the surface of the deep, and am tossed in all directions by the elephants--I beg your pardon; I should have said the elements." --Charles Dickens.
Strand then added "that sort of thing intrigues me."

Q. How wide is your palette?
A. My collages don’t look like collages. I have a pretty wide palette. The only color I don’t use is blue because it’s associated with the sea and sky. What’s more important than the palette is the thickness of paper.

Q. How do you deal with place and the notion that the poet doesn’t know where the poem is going. When you write poetry what is the process?
A. I’m a writer of poetry and never show anyone until the work is done. Problem with workshops is that you have all this input. The words from all the decision making become muddy. You have to go it alone and trust your own idiosyncratic thoughts. Poetry is more important than that. Poetry is more about experiencing. It has to sound like something you are glad with, but be sure it’s not something that was written by someone else.

Q. In the 1998 Wallace Shawn interview ("Mark Strand, The Art of Poetry No. 77". The Paris Review). You mentioned people don’t read poetry on the internet. Even with the internet, why do you still write longhand?
A. With longhand, you’re slowing down the process. The internet is too close to print. People who compose on the screen respond visually and not auditory. Young poets can’t detect ear and natural cadence with visual contact. Writing becomes more physical aggressive and passive when writing longhand.

Q. Why did you give up writing?
A. I gave up writing because I ran out of gas. When I say it and it sounds familiar like I’ve already done that before. When you experience that you decide to do something new. The urge to write is not a conscious decision. There’s something else besides consciousness in mind. Something else is being satisfied – an unconscious motivation.

After the Q&A, Strand was available to autograph his books.
Born on Canada’s Prince Edward Island in 1934 and raised and educated in the United Sates and South America, Strand authored numerous books of poems including Man and Camel (Alfred A. Knopf, 2006), New Selected Poems (2007), Blizzard of One (Alfred A. Knopf, 2000), which also won the Pulitzer Prize; Dark Harbor (1993); The Continuous Life (1990); Selected Poems (1980); The Story of Our Lives (1973); and Reasons for Moving (1968). In addition to his poetry, Strand is also an editor, essayist, author of children’s books and translator. His honors include the Bolligen Prize, three grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Edgar Allen Poe Prize, and a Rockefeller Foundation Award, as well as fellowships from the Academy of American Poets, the MacArthur Foundation and the Ingram Merrill Foundation. He is currently professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University (since 2005).

Strand’s academic career has taken him to numerous colleges and universities. Chronology below:

Teaching positions

► University of Iowa, Iowa City, instructor in English, 1962–1965
► University of Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, Fulbright lecturer, 1965–1966
► Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, MA, assistant professor, 1967
► Columbia University, New York City, adjunct associate professor, 1969–1972
► Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, New York City, associate professor, 1970–1972
► Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, Bain-Swiggett Lecturer, 1973
► Brandeis University, Hurst professor of poetry, 1974–1975
► University of Utah, Salt Lake City, professor of English, 1981–1993
► Johns Hopkins University, Elliot Coleman Professor of Poetry, 1994–c. 1998
► University of Chicago, Committee on Social Thought, 1998-c. 2005
► Columbia University, New York City, professor of English and Comparative Literature, c. 2005 - present

Visiting professor

► University of Washington, 1968, 1970
► Columbia University, 1980
► Yale University, 1969–1970
► University of Virginia, 1976, 1978
► California State University at Fresno, 1977
► University of California at Irvine, 1979
► Wesleyan University, 1979
► Harvard University, 1980

• 1964: Sleeping with One Eye Open, Stone Wall Press • 1968: Reasons for Moving: Poems, Atheneum • 1970: Darker: Poems, including "The New Poetry Handbook", Atheneum • 1973: The Story of Our Lives, Atheneum • 1973: The Sargentville Notebook, Burning Deck • 1978: Elegy for My Father, Windhover • 1978: The Late Hour, Atheneum • 1980: Selected Poems, including "Keeping Things Whole", Atheneum • 1990: The Continuous Life, Knopf • 1990: New Poems • 1991: The Monument, Ecco Press (see also The Monument, 1978, prose) • 1993: Dark Harbor: A Poem, long poem divided into 55 sections, Knopf • 1998: Blizzard of One: Poems, Knopf winner of the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for poetry • 1999: Chicken, Shadow, Moon & More, with illustrations by the author • 1999: "89 Clouds" a single poem, monotypes by Wendy Mark and introduction by Thomas Hoving, ACA Galleries (New York) • 2006: Man and Camel, Knopf • 2007: New Selected Poems • 2012: Almost Invisible Prose • 1978: The Monument, Ecco (see also The Monument, 1991, poetry) • 1982: Contributor: Claims for Poetry, edited by Donald Hall, University of Michigan Press • 1982: The Planet of Lost Things, for children • 1983: The Art of the Real, art criticism, C. N. Potter • 1985: The Night Book, for children • 1985: Mr. and Mrs. Baby and Other Stories, short stories, Knopf • 1986: Rembrandt Takes a Walk, for children • 1987: William Bailey, art criticism, Abrams • 1993: Contributor: Within This Garden: Photographs by Ruth Thorne-Thomsen, Columbia College Chicago/Aperture Foundation • 1994: Hopper, art criticism, Ecco Press • 2000: The Weather of Words: Poetic Invention, Knopf • 2000: With Eavan Boland, The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms, Norton (New York) Poetry translations • 1971: 18 Poems from the Quechua, Halty Ferguson • 1973: The Owl's Insomnia, poems by Rafael Alberti, Atheneum • 1976: Souvenir of the Ancient World, poems by Carlos Drummond de Andrade, Antaeus Editions • 2002: Looking for Poetry: Poems by Carlos Drummond de Andrade and Rafael Alberti, with Songs from the Quechua • 1993: Contributor: "Canto IV", Dante's Inferno: Translations by Twenty Contemporary Poets edited by Daniel Halpern, Harper Perennial • 1986, according to one source, or 1987, according to another source: Traveling in the Family, poems by Carlos Drummond de Andrade, with Thomas Colchie; translator with Elizabeth Bishop, Colchie, and Gregory Rabassa) Random House Editor • 1968: The Contemporary American Poets, New American Library • 1970: New Poetry of Mexico, Dutton • 1976: Another Republic: Seventeen European and South American Writers, with Charles Simic, Ecco • 1991: The Best American Poetry 1991, Macmillan • 1994: Golden Ecco Anthology, Ecco Press • 1994: The Golden Ecco Anthology • 2005: 100 Great Poems of the Twentieth Century, W. W. Norton
► 1960–1961: Fulbright Fellowship
Source: (unless otherwise indicated). .

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  1. Hey Gloria,
    Sounds like it was a really great experience. Sorry I missed it. He sounds like someone I should read.... absolutely cannot write poems on computer.... always on envelopes, scraps, menus anything but must be written out, not tapped out....
    Thank you for the article!

    1. Just saw this, thank you so much for your inspiring comment!

  2. Reading and listening to poetry is two entirely different things in my eyes and mind. Having someone read you poetry can make meaning that you never experienced just by reading it.

  3. I have always associated blue with emotions such as trust and a soothing feeling. Meanings of sea and sky are a bit far for me

  4. I would have loved to go see Mark Strand I am one of the biggest fans but sadly I wasn't able to attend

  5. "Blizzard of One" is simply awesome! I wish I could get my copy autographed