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How to Write Like a Painter


In the poem “The New Poetry Handbook,” Pulitzer Prize winner Mark Strand makes 21 offbeat declarations, among them:

1 If a man understands a poem,
he shall have troubles
6 If a man wears a crown on his head as he writes,
he shall be found out.
7 If a man wears no crown on his head as he writes,
he shall deceive no one but himself.

The public can learn how many of these declarations the former poet laureate himself follows, when Strand reads and discusses his work at the Robert Lowell Memorial Lecture tonight at 7:30.

Strand, who was once a painter, writes with an inwardness and a dream-like quality, and a clarity that has prompted critics to compare his poems to the paintings of Edward Hopper. In “The Coming of Light,” Strand writes:

Even this late it happens:
the coming of love, the coming of light.
You wake and the candles are lit as if by themselves,
stars gather, dreams pour into your pillows,
sending up warm bouquets of air.
Even this late the bones of the body shine
and tomorrow’s dust flares into breath.

“Mark Strand is one of the best poets alive,” says Robert Pinsky, a College of Arts and Sciences professor of English and a three-time U.S. poet laureate. “He reads his work aloud beautifully, and he writes in a way that should inspire students.”

Strand, a Columbia University professor of English and comparative literature, earned a bachelor’s degree from Antioch College, a B.F.A. from Yale, and a master’s from the University of Iowa. Since 1964, he has published several poetry collections, including the Pulitzer Prize–winning Blizzard of One, as well as the recently released New Selected Poems and Dark Harbor, which won the Bollingen Prize in Poetry. He also has written two prose books, many volumes of translation, several monographs on contemporary artists, and three children’s books.

The Robert Lowell Memorial Lectures began in 2005 to honor Robert Lowell, a former BU professor of poetry, who taught Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and George Starbuck. The series brings distinguished poets to Boston University to read alongside a member of the Creative Writing Program faculty and a recent graduate of the program.

At tonight’s lecture, Rosanna Warren, a University professor and BU’s Emma Ann MacLachlan Metcalf Professor of the Humanities, and Basil Cleveland (GRS’05), a lecturer in the College of Arts and Sciences Writing Program, will read their poetry. “A main goal of the series is to show that excellence in the art of writing is primary,” Pinsky says, “and can include poets at various stages of their life’s work.”

The Robert Lowell Memorial Lecture is tonight, October 10, at 7:30 p.m. in Room 206 of the Photonics Center, 8 St. Mary’s St. A reception and book signing will follow. Admission is free.

Rebecca McNamara can be reached at ramc@bu.edu.