Martin Farawell, Program Director, Poetry
There are certain winter nights when the sky is so clear we can see that the Milky Way is not only spread across the sky, but has depth: layers of stars beyond the first stars we perceive. Such moments force us to stop and look. We are at once delighted by the brilliance of the stars, but also frightened that we are peering into an ever deepening dark.
Perhaps our fear is held in check by the knowledge it is a distant dark, light years away from us and our daytime lives. We know, because of the years it took the light of the visible stars to reach us, that the night sky we are looking at is already long past. This is, paradoxically, unsettling and comforting.
There is something of this feeling in reading Mark Strand’s best poems. We do have the foreboding sense that we are looking into darker places than we may typically allow ourselves to explore. (It is appropriate that one of his collections is simply titled Darker.) Yet, we are willing to look with Strand pointing the way.
We know, reading a Mark Strand poem, that it is the result of protracted and patient looking. There has been a long time invested in the making of these poems. Whatever he first saw, whether his gaze was turned inward or outward, has been examined, explored and changed. We understand his poem is not the actual darkness. It is not the winter sky. It is a made thing. But it is not assembled out of literary devices. It has emerged from the intensity and persistence of his looking. The poem is how Strand allows us to experience such looking.
A former United States Poet Laureate and MacArthur Fellow, Mark Strand’s most recent collection is New Selected Poems, which includes work from his eleven earlier collections. Visit the Poetry Foundation’s Mark Strand page for a sampling of poems and a detailed biography that reviews his entire career.
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