2009 Morgan Writer-in-Residence: Mark Strand

Mark StrandMark Strand’s poems "show us, as all great poems do, how to live fully and alertly as evanescent creatures of consciousness in a mutable world." In these powerful words, Creative Writing faculty member Alan Shapiro described the work of his fellow poet and admired friend to those gathered for the 2009 Morgan Writer-in-Residence Reading on February 28 in Carroll Hall Auditorium. Strand, Pulitzer Prize-winner and former U. S. Poet Laureate, met the high expectations set as he read generously from his work, sharing poems from varying points of his 45-year career.

Strand was generous not only during that evening in Carroll Hall; he was generous with his time and attention throughout his busy week at Carolina. Students welcomed the resident New Yorker to campus with a North Carolina barbecue. In the days following, he went to Creative Writing classes, led sessions on writing that were open to all Creative Writing students, gave interviews, and enjoyed talking with students and fellow writers in informal social situations.

Strand interacted with the larger University campus as part of an interdisciplinary panel, "Music as Poetry/ Poetry as Music," which discussed the intersections of these art forms. As part of the program, the "Women’s Voices Chorus of North Carolina," directed by Allen Friedman, sang selections from "What You Are," a recent composition of three of Strand’s poems by composer Caroline Mallonnée. Joining Strand on the panel were Friedman (M.A. Music 2001); Allen Anderson, composer and Music Department faculty member; and T. J. Anderson, noted composer. The experiences and perspectives brought by the panelists to the discussion led to a spirited exchange.

The Morgan Writer-in-Residence Program extends the celebration of the literary arts into the larger community. In addition to his public reading, Strand visited Jennifer K. Taylor’s lively and well-prepared creative writing class at East Chapel Hill High School. Jennifer, a 2003 honors graduate of our Creative Writing program (poetry classes with Shapiro, Michael McFee, and Michael Chitwood) and 2004 graduate of the MAT program, developed and launched the course "Creative Writing and Literary Magazine" at East Chapel Hill High. Her fond memories of Morgan Week at Carolina weren't far from mind when she invited the current Morgan Writer into her own classroom. She reported that her students were "a bit surprised that a 'Pulitzer Prize-winning poet' would be such an interesting and funny, down-to-earth guy."

Shapiro observes that Strand's work is distinguished by "an inimitable combination of simplicity of means and complexity of effect—a clear and accessible language in service to a sensibility as indefinable and elusive as light." He is the author of numerous collections of poetry, including New Selected Poems (2007), Man and Camel (2006), Blizzard of One (1998), which won the Pulitzer Prize, Dark Harbor (1993), The Continuous Life (1990), Selected Poems (1980), The Story of Our Lives (1973), and Reasons for Moving (1968). His other published works include prose, translations, monographs on contemporary authors, and three books for children.

Established in 1993 by alumni Allen and Musette Morgan of Memphis, Tennessee, the Morgan Writer-in-Residence Program brings a writer of distinction to campus each spring. In delightful ways, Strand implemented the program’s goals of inspiring Carolina’s writing students and providing a way for the campus and town communities to join in a celebration of the literary arts.

In Shapiro's words, Strand has been a "powerful influence on world poetry, not just American poetry," and he has had "generations of followers" who have "come and gone while he and his work have kept evolving." With his visit to Carolina, Strand again exerted his considerable influence and showed that he can speak to yet another generation, a generation of talented young Carolina writers and lovers of poetry.

Pictures from top to bottom:

1. Mark Strand
2. Beverly Taylor, Chair; Strand; and faculty poets Michael McFee and Alan Shapiro (photo by Steve Exum)
3. Strand with Creative Writing students (photo by Steve Exum)
4. Creative Writing faculty members at reception honoring Strand (photo by Steve Exum)
5. Strand with Thomas Wolfe Scholars (photo by Steve Exum)
6. Strand delivering the 2009 Morgan Writer-in-Residence Reading (photo by Steve Exum)