Mark Strand, a Pulitzer Prize winner and former U.S. poet laureate widely praised for his concentrated, elegiac verse, died Nov. 29 in Brooklyn. He was 80.
The cause was liposarcoma, a form of cancer, said his daughter, Jessica Strand.
Mr. Strand, whose works were translated into more than 30 languages, received numerous honors, including the Pulitzer in 1999 for “Blizzard of One,” a gold medal from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a National Book Award nomination this fall for “Collected Poems.” He was appointed poet laureate for 1990-91, although he did not count his time in Washington among his great achievements.
“It’s too close to the government. It’s too official. I don’t believe that poetry should be official,” he told the Associated Press in 2011. “There are poets who aspire to such positions. I never did.”
Mr. Strand was the author of more than a dozen books of poetry and several works of prose. In his writing, he seemed haunted by absence, loss and passage of time, sometimes peering just beyond the contents of the page and wondering what, if anything, was out there.
Some of his most famous lines appear in “Keeping Things Whole,” a poem from “Sleeping With One Eye Open,” his 1964 debut:
In a field
I am the absence
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.
Mr. Strand also wrote children’s books and art criticism, helped edit several poetry anthologies and translated the Spanish poet Rafael Alberti. He was a committed doubter, even about poetry. He went through occasional periods when he stopped writing verse and once quarreled with his publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, because he considered his 2012 collection “Almost Invisible” to be prose, not poetry.
“I don’t make the same demands of prose as I do with poetry,” he told the AP. “You don’t have to worry about sustaining a cadence. You don’t have to worry about the specific creativity of each word.”
Mark Apter Strand was born on April 11, 1934, in Prince Edward Island in Canada. His mother was a painter, and his father was a salesman whose work led to the family living in many locales, from Peru to Cleveland.
Mr. Strand thought of himself first as an artist, and would dismiss his adolescent poetry as “feverish attempts to put ‘my feelings’ on paper, and little more.”
He was a graduate of Antioch College in Ohio, in 1957, then received a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Yale University in 1959. He said he felt “stifled” in his art studies and by graduate school had decided he was better suited for writing, with Philip Larkin and Thomas Hardy among the poets he was reading.
He received a master’s degree from the University of Iowa’s prestigious Writers’ Workshop in 1962, and later taught at Iowa, Columbia University and the University of Chicago, among other schools.
The most profound absence in his work was that of God, his atheism passed down to him from his father, who had terrified his young son with stories of heretics burned at the stake.
In “Poem After the Last Seven Words,” from the 2006 collection “Man and Camel,” Strand imagined how it felt “To open the dictionary of the Beyond and discover what one suspected, that the only word in it is nothing.”
“I haven’t met God and I haven’t been to Heaven, so I’m skeptical,” he told the AP. “Nobody’s come back to me to tell me they’re having a great time in Heaven and that they’ve seen God, although there are a lot of people claiming that God is telling them what to do. I have no idea how God talks to them. Maybe they’re getting secret e-mails.”
His marriages to Antonia Ratensky and Julia Rumsey Garretson ended in divorce. Besides his daughter, from his first marriage, survivors include a son from his second marriage; a sister; and a grandson.