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The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Former U.S. Poet Laureate to read tonight at the City Library

By Adam Fifield

You can visit former United States Poet Laureate Mark Strand anytime.

Strand lives in Salt Lake City — in monument form, that is. Strand is always meandering through the Gallivan Plaza downtown in the very physical form of the public art work “River of Words,” where sometimes Strand whispers small phrases to choice people: “Visions of the end may secretly seduce.”

Better yet, you can listen to Strand read his words live tonight at 7 p.m. at The City Library’s main auditorium.

Strand, who taught at the U from 1981 to 1994, was a distinguished professor when he was selected as Poet Laureate of the United States in 1990 — a position he held for one year. Strand helped shape the U’s exceptional and highly ranked creative writing program.

Stand’s relationship with Salt Lake City was adoring but conflicted, he said in a 1991 interview for the Literary Journal Weber Studies.

“Utah isn’t exactly rural America, but it is far away from the urban centers of the East,” Strand said. “And in its distance, it bears some resemblance to what was rural America in the past.”

American poetry, Stand went on to say, is more rural than urban, and he gleaned some of his inspiration from Utah’s wilderness, a place where “we tend to think about survival more. Survival is a more elemental and more basic preoccupation than who’s doing what to whom, but it’s not as amusing. It’s more uplifting, but not as amusing.”

In a passage taken from section 30 of his long poem, “Dark Harbor,” published in 1993, Strand describes a wilderness experience in Utah, and the last stanza gives us a sense of this “surviving”:

But the road that winds through the canyonIs covered with snow, and the river flows Under the ice. Cross-country skiers are movingLike secrets between the trees of the glassed-in forest.The day has made a fabulous cage of cold aroundMy face. Whenever I take a breath I hear cracking.

Strand’s poems exhibit a preoccupation with death, but only because poetry often requires deep introspection, which inevitably must come to death.

His poems also portray a resiliency toward death and dying, as in his poem “Poor North,” wherein a couple walking in the cold “see how they lean/ into the wind; they turn up their collars/ and the small puffs of their breath are carried away.” The cold, harsh wilderness present in “Poor North” becomes something that illuminates the human condition — metaphorically as breath becomes visible against the cold air, and literally as it floats away into nothing.

Also a succinct essayist, Strand expressed his view of poetics in a speech extracted from Blackbird, an online literary journal: “They tend to be sad, death-haunted affairs, because if you think deeply at all about your experience, you think about your experience in time, your life, and you can’t avoid the fact that it will end in death. Everything about a poem — especially its cadence and its meter — is a reminder of time. In fact, a poem keeps time. But the amazing thing is that poems provide us with pleasure. The very words that bring loss to mind are also the source of pleasure. What we have in poems is loss without pain, loss of a different and harmless order, one that we control, that we can put aside or take up. A different actuality, different from the one which may harbor pain, is what allows a poem to be beautiful.”

Therefore, if the pressing, sometimes uncomfortable, intimacy involved in reading Strand’s poetry isn’t enough for you, attend his reading to take place in the even more terrifying real world.

After all, you can visit Strand’s books (or his Gallivan monument, for that matter) anytime.

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