20 December 2010

Reclaiming Mark Strand

The Planet of Lost Things
Mark Strand (William Pène Du Bois, illus.)
New York: Potter, 1982

We're a funny lot, forever going on about Jack Kerouac's French Canadian parents, clutching Dollarton squatter Malcolm Lowry to our collective bosom, while ignoring writers who were actually born in this country. I refer here not to Wyndham Lewis, brought into this world on his father's yacht off the coast of Amherst, Nova Scotia, but to those like Saul Bellow who began their lives on Canada's fertile soil.

Yes, let's look at Bellow, a man who was born and lived the first nine years of his life on the Island of Montreal. His name is not found in The Canadian Encyclopedia, The Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature or Encyclopedia of Canadian Literature. Is this Nobel Prize recipient not worthy of even a passing reference?

And what of Mark Strand? Look up his birthplace, Summerside, Prince Edward Island, on Wikipedia (that most unreliable of reference tools) and what do you find? Seven NHL players, a few singer-songwriters and an Olympic bobsleigh gold medalist. Pretty impressive for a town of just 14,000 souls. Strand was born and spent his first four years in Summerside, but we ignore that fact, just as we choose not to recognize his Pulitzer Prize or the term he spent as United States Poet Laureate... or this very fine little book. It can be found in nearly three hundred public libraries across the United States, but in Canada we must make do with one lonely copy held in the Toronto Public Library.

There's no poetry in The Planet of Lost Things... by which I mean there's no verse. A children's storybook, this is one of the oddities in Strand's bibliography. It tells the story of a young boy, Luke, who dreams of traveling the solar system in a rocket ship. When he comes across an unknown, planet, the young astronaut decides to investigate. What he finds is a building filled with lost mail, forgotten umbrellas hanging from barren trees and a park populated by lost cats and dogs.

The celestial body's only human inhabitants are the Unknown Soldier and the Missing Person, found by Luke next to a cluster of lost balloons. Together the three wander a melancholy world, breathing an atmosphere that consists largely of air that has escaped from leaking tires.

It all makes for a fun little bedtime story. The challenge for Canadian parents, of course, comes in finding a copy.

Object and Access: A sturdy hardcover with a flimsy dust jacket, the only decent volume currently listed online is being offered at US$60.


  1. Elizabeth Bishop's another writer we fail to claim, tho I learned the hard way that her publisher does not make it easy for us to claim her, as my permissions request (to include a poem of hers in my anthology of Canadian sonnets) was turned down, on the grounds that it would "cause some confusion" to have her work included in an all-Canadian anthology. With publishers like that, who needs censors.

    I published my correspondence with FSG here, if you're interested:


  2. My thanks for drawing attention to the Maisonneuve piece and the mind-numbing correspondence contained within. If nothing else, it provides more evidence in support of my argument that those charged with the care of deceased writers' works tend to be difficult, inconsistent, confused, confusing and prehensile. Most of all, it gives comfort to know that I'm not alone. It isn't just me!

    The stories I could tell about the Glassco bio permissions... and one day will.