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Fall 1992, Volume 9.3


Mark Strand

Mark Strand recently finished a year as Poetry Consultant to the Library of Congress and United States Poet Laureate. He was also recipient of the Utah Governer's Award in 1992 for outstanding achievement in the "Artist" category. He was born in 1934 on Prince Edward Island, Canada, and began his career as a painter, earning a bachelor's degree in fine art from Yale University. Nevertheless, he went on to earn an MA in English from the University of Iowa, and his first book of poems, Sleeping With One Eye Open, was published in 1964. During the following dozen years, he published four more books of poems—Reasons for Moving (1968), Darker (1970), The Sergeantville Notebook (1973), and The Story of Our Lives (1973) as well as three books of translation—18 Poems from The Quechua (1971), The Owl's Insomnia (Rafael Alberti, 1973), and Souvenir of the Ancient World (Carlos Drummond de Andrade, 1976). During that time, he also edited three anthologies, The Contemporary American Poets (1969), New Poetry of Mexico (1973, with Octavio Paz), and Another Republic (1976, with Charles Simic). The Late Hour, a book of poems, and The Monument, a collection of prose poems, were published in 1978.

The 1980s saw the publication of two books on art, Art of the Real (1983) and William Bailey (1987), a first book of short stories, Mr. and Mrs. Baby (1985), and three books for children, The Planet of Lost Things (1982), The Night Book (1985), and Rembrandt Takes a Walk (1986), as well as a fourth book of translations, Travelling in the Family (Carlos Drummond de Andrade, with Thomas Colchie, 1986).

Mark Strand's numerous literary and other honors include a Fulbright Scholarship to Italy, the Edgar Allen Poe Award, grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ingram Merrill Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation, along with fellowships from the National Institute of Arts and Letters, and the Academy of American Poets. He received the MacArthur fellowship in 1987 and was appointed Poet Laureate in 1990. A book of poems, The Continuous Life, appeared the same year. His latest work is a book-length poem, soon to be published by Knopf.

Read an interview with Mark Strand.


From Dark Harbor

When after a long silence one picks up the pen
And leans over the paper and says to himself:
Today I shall consider Marsyas
Whose body was flayed to an excess
Of nakedness, who made no crime that would square
With what he was made to suffer.
Today I shall consider the shredded remains of Marsyas
What do they mean as they gather the sunlight
That falls in small pieces through the trees,
As in Titian's late painting. Poor Marsyas,
A body, a body of work as it turns and falls
Into suffering, becoming the flesh of light,
Which is fed to onlookers centuries later.
Can this be the cost of encompassing pain?
After a long silence, would I, whose body
Is whole, sheltered, kept in the dark by a mind
That prefers it that way, know what I'd done
And what its worth was? Or is a body scraped
From the bone of experience, the chart of suffering
To be read in such ways that all flesh might be redeemed,
At least for the moment, the moment it passes into song.

Our friends who lumbered from room to room
Now move like songs or meditations winding down,
Or lie about, waiting for the next good thing
Some news of what is going on above,
A visitor to tell them who's writing well,
Who's falling in or out of love.
Not that it matters anymore. Just look around.
There's Marsyas, noted for his marvelous asides
On Athena's ancient oboe, asleep for centuries.
And Arion, whose gaudy music drove the Phrygians wild,
Hasn't spoken in a hundred years. The truth is
Soon the song deserts its maker,
The airy demon dies, and others come along.
A different kind of dark invades the autumn woods,
A different sound sends lovers packing into sleep.
The air is full of anguish. The measures of nothingness
Are few. The Beyond is merely beyond,
A melancholy place of failed and fallen stars.

I am sure you would find it misty here,
With lots of stone cottages badly needing repair.
Groups of souls, wrapped in cloaks, sit in the fields
Or stroll the winding unpaved roads. They are polite,
And oblivious to their bodies, which the wind passes through,
Making a shushing sound. Not long ago,
I stopped to rest in a place where an especially
Thick mist swirled up from the river. Someone,
Who claimed to have known me years before,
Approached, saying there were many poets
Wandering around who wished to be alive again.
They were ready to say the words they had been unable to say
Words whose absence had been the silence of love,
Of pain, and even of pleasure. Then he joined a small group,
Gathered beside a fire. I believe I recognized
Some of the faces, but as I approached they tucked
Their heads under their wings. I looked away to the hills
Above the river, where the golden lights of sunset
And sunrise are one and the same, and saw something flying
Back and forth, fluttering its wings. Then it stopped in mid-air.
It was an angel, one of the good ones, about to sing.