Art, Writing & Poetry Create Comfort, Meaning & Humanity

Art, Writing & Poetry Create Comfort, Meaning & Humanity

Collage by Mark Strand. Source: The cover of "Mystery and Solitude in Topeka"
Collage by Mark Strand, artist and poet. Source: The cover of “Mystery and Solitude in Topeka” by Mark Strand, published by Monk Books.

April is “National Poetry Month,” the largest literary celebration in the world!

And today, April 11 is the birthday of Mark Strand (1934-2014), best known as a Pulitzer Prize winning writer/poet and U.S. poet laureate.

As a young man Strand wanted, however, to become an artist and studied under color theorist/painter Josef Albers at the Yale School of Architecture.

Ultimately, during Strand’s time at Yale “he decided that his talent lay in his writing, not painting.”  He eventually received a master’s degree from the University of Iowa’s writer’s workshop.

My late husband Charles liked to discuss a person’s ability and/or interest to be both painter and writer. He paraphrased one of his favorite writers Charlotte Brontë who said something like, “if one can paint it, one should be able to write it.”

Hitler’s closing of the art schools in Czechoslovakia during World War II interfered with Charles’ desire to “become an artist.” He established himself as a mechanical and civil engineer, but like Strand was “always an artist” painting and sculpting throughout his life and in retirement graduating with an MFA in painting from art school at the age of 65 and writing his memoir from ages 72 to 79.

I’ve read that Strand (like Charles) throughout his life, found comfort in art and that Strand enjoyed creating collages as Charles enjoyed painting. After her father’s death Strand’s daughter Jessica said “We weren’t religious people, but we worshipped at the foot of culture. He was always an artist.”

Strand even took a break from writing poetry in 1980 and wrote children’s books and a book of short stories.

I have never seen Strand’s collages in person or read his children’s books or short stories, but I have read his poetry and find meaning and humor in it.

Strand saw poetry as a humanizing influence in an increasingly inhumane world. In an interview with Inscape Magazine in September 2013, Strand spoke about the function of poetry in today’s society:

“It’s not going to change the world, but I believe if every head of state and every government official spent an hour a day reading poetry we’d live in a much more humane and decent world. . .

When we read poems from the past we realize that human beings have always been the way we are. We have technological advancements undreamt of a couple thousand years ago, but the way people felt then is pretty much the way people feel now. We can read those poems with pleasure because we recognize ourselves in them.

Poetry helps us imagine what it’s like to be human. I wish more politicians and heads of state would begin to imagine what it’s like to be human. They’ve forgotten, and it leads to bad things. If you can’t empathize, it’s hard to be decent; it’s hard to know what the other guy’s feeling. They talk from such a distance that they don’t see differences; they don’t see the little things that make up a life. They see numbers; they see generalities. They deal in sound bytes and vacuous speeches; when you read them again, they don’t mean anything.”

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