Thursday, February 26, 2009

On Wednesday night I ventured over to Carroll Hall to hear the famed Mark Strand give a free public reading of some of his poetry. I figured it isn't every day I get the opportunity to hear a former U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner.

Strand will be this year’s Morgan Writer-in-Residence at UNC. The Morgan Writer-in-Residence Program was established in 1993 to bring writers of distinction to UNC. I read up on the Morgan Writer-in-Residence program and found out that previous writers-in-resident have included Alice McDermott, Annie Dillard, Rita Dove, Robert Hass, Tim O’Brien and Robert Pinsky.

I arrived with my good friend Drew Bird, a medical resident at Duke Hospital and siddled up to the front of the auditorium looking to snatch the best seat possible. There were several rows carefully partitioned off for the distinguished guests that had come to hear the night's reading. I looked for where the commoners were offered seating and was delighted when I found a few openings on the third row. I settled in and waited for this distinguised giant of the world of poetry to take the stage.

When I first laid eyes upon him, I was taken aback by how tall he was. As he walked to the podium his long strides took him there in half the time it would have for most of the room. He peered at us from behind his glasses. He was very comfortable. Without much fanfare or preface, he began to read. I found it difficult to appreciate his poetry by merely hearing it. I don't doubt it is of the utmost quality. However, I found myself wishing I could read it simultaneously while listening to it. I wondered if I was the only one who felt that way. I looked around the room and found most everyone perched on the edge of their seat, wistfully eyeing this metaphorical and physical giant, absorbing his measured voice the way one would listen to God Himself. I felt awkward. Why wasn't I enjoying this as much as others?

I ended up enjoying the question and answer portion far more than his readings. He was asked "do you know what you are going to say before you say it?" He replied that he only starts with a word, or a theme, and then develops it into presentable prose. I have found myself employing the same technique. Hmm... maybe I'm on track to being a U.S. poet Laureate some day. He answered a few more questions (I was quite astounded at how well-read many of our students were in the audience... they not only knew Mark Strand's poetry but who had influenced Mark Strand's poetry!) Incredible.

After a rousing applause, Drew and I decided not to wait in line to speak with him, but called it a night and left. However, when I got home, I found myself strikingly moved to write some myself. So I fired up the lap top and found an old poem I wrote 10 years ago. The rest of the evening was spent lost in a world I had created some 10 years ago. That was a good night....