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Blizzard of One: Poems


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Mark Strand is a former Poet Laureate of the United States. He has written eight earlier books of poems, which have brought him many honors and grants, including a MacArthur Fellowship. He is the author of a book of stories, Mr. and Mrs. Baby, several volumes and translations (of works by Rafeal Alberti and Carlos Drummond de Andrade, among others), the editor of a number of anthologies, and author of several monographs on contemporary artists (William Bailey and Edward Hopper). He was born in Summerside, Prince Edward Island, Canada, and was raised and educated in the United States and South America. He teaches currently in the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago.


Together with Robert Bly, W.S. Merwin, and other then-young poets of the 1960s, Strand created a spectral nightscape for American poetry to inhabit. Combining a loner's sensibilities with a romanticized but icy realm of moonlight, shadows, and a haunting, ever-present wind, Strand paced the uncertain borders between beauty and oblivion, longing and fulfillment, identity and assimilation. His personae embraced empty air, disappeared, became someone else ("What we desire... is the comfort/ Of being strangers at least to ourselves"). Nearly 40 years later very little has changed. Same wind, same stars, same low-key reverie occasionally broken by a wry self-chiding ("The moon shone down as it will/ On moments of deep introspection") or epiphanic statement of the obvious ("Time slips by; our sorrows do not turn into poems"). Certainly this genre of poetry boasts no more accomplished or suave a practitioner than Strand, but the novelty of its seductive surfaces dimmed long ago, and only Strand's newest or most devoted readers will find much to intrigue them here.ÄFred Muratori, Cornell Univ. Lib., Ithaca, NY

Since Yeats linked the "labor to be beautiful" with the work of poetry, no poet has taken the link more to heartÄor made handsomer, more stylish poems out of mirror-gazingÄthan former Poet Laureate Strand (Dark Harbor, etc.). Whether in the charming monologues of "Five Dogs," the moving elegy "In Memory of Joseph Brodsky" or the dream-memoir of his social circle, "The Delirium Waltz," Strand insists on the failure of poetry to preserve our reflections or to reanimate the ghosts of memory and loss. "Time slips by," he writes in "The Next Time," "our sorrows do not turn into poems,/ And what is invisible stays that way. Desire has fled,/ Leaving only a trace of perfume in its wake,/ And so many people we love have gone." The frank, elegiac brio and easy swing of lines like these have always distinguished Strand's work, and they have never sounded more seductive. Crowded with tributes to friends like Jorie Graham, Octavio Paz and the painter William Bailey, this wonderful, varied new collection also shows a wit reminiscent of John AshberyÄprivate, hard to pin down, addicted to deferrals and dying falls. If there is something scandalous in Strand's gorgeous, unabashed nostalgia or erotic melancholy, the scandal is how inescapable these modes remainÄfor us and for one of our most deeply enjoyable poets. (June)

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