Mark Strand, who taught poetry in the John Hopkins Writing Seminars in the mid-90s, died last week at age 80.
Strand was one of the most decorated poets of his generation, racking up pretty much every major prize over the course of his career. An NEA award? Check. Pulitzer Prize? Yep? MacArthur Genius Grant? Uh-huh. Poet laureate? Duh.
“He was an artist, a poet, an intellectual, with absolutely no pretensions about any of these,” Writing Seminars co-chair Jean McGarry told the Hopkins Hub. “He had a wild sense of humor, and was constantly at work—writing, reading, producing monotypes of isolated portions of coastal Ireland—although he acted as if he had nothing to do.”
Man and Camel
by Mark Strand
On the eve of my fortieth birthday
I sat on the porch having a smoke
when out of the blue a man and a camel
happened by. Neither uttered a sound
at first, but as they drifted up the street
and out of town the two of them began to sing.
Yet what they sang is still a mystery to me—
the words were indistinct and the tune
too ornamental to recall. Into the desert
they went and as they went their voices
rose as one above the sifting sound
of windblown sand. The wonder of their singing,
its elusive blend of man and camel, seemed
an ideal image for all uncommon couples.
Was this the night that I had waited for
so long? I wanted to believe it was,
but just as they were vanishing, the man
and camel ceased to sing, and galloped
back to town. They stood before my porch,
staring up at me with beady eyes, and said:
“You ruined it. You ruined it forever.”
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