Over the last few years, some of America’s most well-known poets have passed, including Adrienne Rich, Amiri Baraka, Galway Kinnel, and now, Mark Strand, who, at 80, passed away this last week. I have certain memories associated with each poet. Adrienne Rich and Amiri Baraka, for instance, taught me how to write an effective political poem. Galway Kinnel taught about poetry’s quiet moments. Mark Strand is especially important to me, however, because his books, along with Charles Simic’s work, were loaned to me when I was an undergraduate student at West Chester University. At the time, I was writing cliché poems about spookhouses and midnight howls. My professor introduced me to the Deep Image school, namely Strand and Simic, to show me how to effectively write a surreal poem that could have bizarre-o themes, but also some basis in reality. I took home Strand’s Selected Poems and Simic’s The Voice at 3 a.m. and read them cover to cover, while trying to decipher my professor’s notes on the margins.
It’s been a long, long time since I’ve read Strand’s work, but I did so this week. As a very young poet, I was especially drawn to his surrealist poems, such as “The Tunnel” and the odd twists and turns his lines and images offered. While revisiting his work this week, I was impressed by the range of his subject matter and the tone, including the familiar surreal poems I loved years ago, but also the softer, tender poems, like “The Coming of Light.”
Looking back on my early poetry workshops, I think my professor recommended Strand to show me how to write a poem that incorporates the weird and bizarre, but also one which avoids the cliché. I think she also wanted to show me how diverse a single poet’s work could be, how there should be no boundaries regarding subject matters or forms. Thank you, Mark Strand, for teaching me that.