Mark Strand has died from cancer at age 80. He was one of America’s leading poets and a Pulitzer Prize winner. He was also the U.S. Poet Laureate in 1990-91, although he didn’t consider that to be much of an accomplishment, as he explained to the Associated Press about the position in 2011.
“It’s too close to the government. It’s too official. I don’t believe that poetry should be official. There are poets who aspire to such positions; I never did.”
Mark Strand wrote more than a dozen works of poetry and seven works of prose. In 1999, Strand received the Pulitzer Prize for his book, Blizzard of One. He wrote for over five decades, and was known for his concentrated, elegiac verse.
The Poetry Foundation gave a description of Strand’s poetry as “precise language, surreal imagery, and the recurring theme of absence and negation; later collections investigate ideas of the self with pointed, often urbane wit.”
Mark Strand was born in Canada in 1934, but was raised in the United States. Despite his eventual success, Strand admits that as a child he was not particularly talented at language, according to an interview he did with the Los Angeles Times.
“I was never much good with language as a child. Believe me, the idea that I would someday become a poet would have come as a complete shock to everyone in my family.”
He made his poetry debut in 1964 with the Sleeping With One Eye Open, which was characterized by “a pervasive sense of anxiety and restless foreboding,” according to the Poetry Foundation.
Strand was also an accomplished teacher, lecturing at 11 different universities including Columbia and Princeton.
Although Strand’s work is considered deeply contemplative, he was not a religious author.
His father raised him an atheist, and told him stories about heretics being burned at the stake. Strand’s own atheism had more of a sarcastic tone to it. He told the AP the reasons for his beliefs.
“I haven’t met God and I haven’t been to heaven, so I’m skeptical. Nobody’s come back to me to tell me they’re having a great time in heaven and that they’ve seen God, although there are a lot of people claiming that God is telling them what to do. I have no idea how God talks to them. Maybe they’re getting secret emails.”
Mark Strand has one daughter and one son, who lives in Seattle. The daughter, Jessica Strand, told the New York Times that her father had passed away from liposarcoma, which is a rare cancer of the fat cells. She told the AP this about her father, Mark Strand, “we weren’t religious people, but we worshipped at the foot of culture. He was always an artist.”
Some of Mark Strand’s poetry can be found here.
[Image Credit: Slowking4/Wikimedia Commons]