From the Archive: Mark Strand

Writers Read is busy organizing our media files to bring you fresh content. We found this recording of a reading featuring Mark Strand from November 12, 2004.

Here is an account of that event:

People packed the De Sève Cinema on Nov. 12 to hear a reading by celebrated poet Mark Strand. A tall man with white hair dressed in a black turtleneck, Strand chatted easily with the audience between poems, creating an intimate atmosphere.

Mark Strand was born in Prince Edward Island, and lived in Halifax and Montreal before moving to the United States at the age of four with his parents. He studied art in university, but it was poetry at which he excelled.

“I woke up at 40, and realized this is what I’d been doing, so I was stuck with it.”

While poetry may have chosen Strand instead of the other way around, there is no doubt that the American poet revels in his work. In “Eating Poetry” he ends up on his knees licking the hand of a librarian. “Ink runs from the corners of my mouth./There is no happiness like mine./I have been eating poetry.”

One of the things poets do is take a familiar thing and make it new again. Strand does this superbly throughout his work, writing of everyday things like pot roasts and elevators, but he does this even with the process of making a poem.

Though he does not paint any more, he still uses canvases to write on. He begins at the top left hand corner with the draft and by the time he’s at the bottom right hand corner, he’s finished the final version of the poem.

His creative routine involves writing for a couple of hours while still in his pyjamas. Then he gets on with his day, circling back in the afternoon to see what he wrote earlier.

Strand was named poet laureate of the United States in 1990 and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1999. He’s philosophical. “Prizes seem more valuable when you’re not winning them. You feel good for 10 minutes, then it’s back to your same old self.”

For many who attended the reading, Strand is a poet to look up to, but he has his own heroes, including James Merrill (“No one is that skilled”) and the late Joseph Brodsky.

Over several years, Strand wrote New Year cards to Brodsky. “I never knew if he received any of my cards because he never replied. Then I met him when he came to the States. I introduced myself as the writer of those notes and to my surprise he recited, line for line, one of my poems I had sent him. I got down my knees and kissed his pant leg.”

Asked what advice he would give young poets, Strand simply said, “Read.”

Strand’s appearance was sponsored by Writers Read at Concordia and the Blue Metropolis Foundation. Both Concordia and the Foundation have had separate reading series for many years.

With funding from the Faculty of Arts and Science and Heritage Canada, the Writers Read series has been able to broaden the scope of their program to include more international writers as well as offer master classes in the English Department.

Lovers of literature can look forward to future guests Ibi Kaslik on Nov. 23, Michael Redhill on Feb. 4, and a panel discussion on March 18 featuring Concordia alumni Nino Ricci, Carmine Starnino, Mansel Robinson and Catherine Kidd.

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