Acclaimed poet to join Hopkins program Mark Strand won a 'genius grant,' was 1990-1991 U.S. poet laureate

October 23, 1993|By Tim Warren | Tim Warren,From "Darker," by Mark Strand (1972)Book Editor

Mark Strand, the 1990-1991 American poet laureate and former winner of a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant," will join the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University as a senior professor of poetry in July 1994.

Mr. Strand's appointment was a significant addition to the Writing Seminars, the second-oldest university writing department in the country (it was founded in 1947; the University of Iowa's began in 1939).

A professor at the University of Utah since 1981, Mr. Strand, 59, has won numerous awards, including the MacArthur grant in 1987 and the prestigious Bollingen Prize for Poetry this year. His poems frequently appear in The New Yorker and other leading magazines.

"I was happy in Utah -- there was no problem there," said Mr. Strand, reached yesterday in Bellagio, Italy, where he is living under a fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation. "But my wife [Julia] and I both come from the East Coast, and we thought it was time to go back. The people at Hopkins seemed very nice, and it seemed like a community in which we could both thrive."

"Obviously, we are delighted," said John Irwin, head of the Writing Seminars. "Mark is one of the most respected poets writing in English, and his appointment on the poetry side is comparable to the appointment of Robert Stone on the fiction side." Mr. Stone, who is considered one of America's leading novelists, joined the department last year.

Mr. Irwin said Mr. Strand would teach one semester each academic year, leading an undergraduate and a graduate seminar in poetry writing. He becomes the seventh full-time member of the Writing Seminars.

Asked to describe his approach toward writing poetry, Mr. Strand said, "I want students to leave class feeling that they want to write, that it's possible -- and in a world that pays very little attention to poetry, that it's still very important."

Mr. Strand has written nine collections of poetry, the most recent being "Dark Harbor," published earlier this year by Knopf. Beginning with his first collection, "Sleeping With One Eye Open," his poetry has reflected a dark, brooding quality.

"When I was editing the Georgia Review in the mid-1970s, I published some of his poetry," Mr. Irwin said. "It has retained all of its early dreamlike power, but now it is clearly the poetry of someone who has lived into middle age and is approaching the poetry of wisdom. And there is still his wonderful feeling for language."

Mr. Strand's successor as poet laureate, Joseph Brodsky, had high praise for him when the two were appearing at separate readings in the area in March. "I admire Mark Strand greatly," Mr. Brodsky told The Sun at the time. "He's wonderful about switching -- when the pressure builds up in a poem, he can switch to the abstract so easily."

Mr. Strand also has written a novel ("Mr. and Mrs. Baby"), three children's books and three books about art (he has a degree in fine arts from Yale University). He has translated four books of poetry by Spanish-language writers.

Mr. Strand said he would come to Baltimore in January to do some house-hunting and otherwise become familiar with the area.

"I've heard that [Baltimore] is a good place for a writer to work," Mr. Strand said, "which obviously interests me very much."

'THE DRESS'

Lie down on the bright hill

with a moon's hand on your cheek,

your flesh deep in the white folds of your dress,

and you will not hear the passionate mole

extending the length of his darkness,

or the owl arranging all of the night,

which is his wisdom, or the poem

filling your pillow with its blue feathers.

But if you step out of your dress and move into the shade,

the mole will find you, so will the owl, and so will the poem,

and you will fall into another darkness, one you will find

yourself making and remaking until it is perfect.

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