David Calling

Mark Strand, R.I.P.

All those years ago, I was invited to teach at the Writers’ Workshop in the University of Iowa. Mark Strand was on the faculty. He looked the way poets are supposed to look, a conspicuously handsome man with humour and intelligence in his face and elegance in his dress. Clarissa and I lived round the corner from Mark and Antonia, then his wife, who was teaching Italian at the university. Playing cards and ordering pizza, the four of us would while away the severe winter nights of Iowa. The son of a literary father, I have been privileged to encounter many gifted people, but none so gifted as Mark. His poems are brilliant acts of imagination, projections of his ceaseless fantasizing about the world and himself. A genuine aesthete, he valued beauty for its own sake and was able to express it. I find his poems have a beauty that is unique. The friendship begun in Iowa lasted. We’d speak on the telephone, we exchanged our books, we discussed the merits of French wine, and one afternoon ransacked the shops of Florence in search of just the right leather jacket for a dandy. Mark was the American poet laureate; he won a Pulitzer and a Macarthur so-called “genius” award that makes a winner independent. In his view the New York Times was so biased and partisan that he refused to allow his publishers to send them review copies of any new book of his. He surely didn’t need praise or blame from such a quarter. A real great poet. Alas, R.I.P.


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