The grandson of a Hungarian immigrant, Mark Schorr left Chicago to migrate east for graduate studies and then found something familiar and comforting about Lawrence, where he finished his teaching years at a Cambridge College branch.
“It took me 40 years of living near and then working in this town for it to reveal its secrets, because that’s what an immigrant city is: a series of well-kept secrets passed along to new arrivals,” he wrote in “Song Of My Selfies,” a memoir he published last year.
“I became a spiritual immigrant to Lawrence,” he added.
A teacher and poet, Mr. Schorr joined the board of the Robert Frost Foundation in Lawrence when the nonprofit formed in the late 1990s to commemorate Frost’s boyhood connection to the city. He went on to chair the board, serve as the foundation’s executive director, and help organize its monthly Poetry Hoots in Lawrence’s Cafe Azteca.
Mr. Schorr, who also had been a technical writer for companies including Wang Laboratories, died in Brigham and Women’s Hospital of cancer that had metastasized on Jan. 2, his 47th wedding anniversary. He was 72 and had lived in Watertown for nearly 30 years.
In 2015, he published “Bridges to Kerouac,” a chapbook that includes “O Mighty Engineer,” which he wrote in a prophetic mode inspired by the poets William Blake and Allen Ginsberg. “O Mighty Engineer” is the book’s longest poem and pays homage to Ginsberg and former US senator Paul Tsongas of Lowell, who died three months apart in 1997.
Across Route 38
downtown and around
below the city’s center
bridges to Tsongas
Mr. Schorr drew inspiration from Ginsberg and other poets, and wrote of his encounters with them in “Song Of My Selfies,” a memoir that includes poetry as well. During his graduate studies at Harvard University, Mr. Schorr met the poet Robert Lowell, and then encountered him again one snowy afternoon when they were both bound for the airport. “While everybody was waiting for the shuttle bus, he mumbled it would be easier to walk, and so we walked to the main terminals at Logan,” Mr. Schorr recalled.
“Lowell explained to me that he wrote sonnets ‘as his notebook’ during those heady times, and he advised young poets to do the same,” Mr. Schorr added. When he subsequently read Lowell’s poem “Blizzard in Cambridge” in the book “Notebook 1967-68,” Mr. Schorr wondered if he had been one of the stranded travelers Lowell depicted as staring with “wild, mild eyes.”
Born in Chicago, Mr. Schorr considered himself a “PR Man. . . as in Poem Release Man,” he wrote in his memoir. “Every year or two the phone rings with a request for a poem of some description. And the answer is usually, ‘I don’t have one in stock but I will let you know if one comes in time.’ ” Most often, one did.
For his daughter’s wedding, he wrote a poem that included lines commemorating his parents. Of his father, he wrote:
For my driving father, the single string was swing
and in the car he could not help but sing
And recalling his mother:
For my little Iris of a mother
the single string was one verse or another
Each person “has memories within him- or herself waiting to be released,” Mr. Schorr wrote. “If the right string can be plucked at the right moment, the person’s song will be released.”
For him, the song was poetry. He was the older of two sons born to Dr. Hyman Schorr, a general practitioner and first-generation Hungarian immigrant, and the former Iris Goodman.
“The impetus to read came from my mother,” Mr. Schorr wrote. She read to her boys from the 1940 book “Story and Verse for Children,” an experience that took root in Mr. Schorr’s imagination. “At home I began to sing, to my own music, the poems that my mother had read to us every night,” he recalled.
After his Chicago childhood he went to Grinnell College in Iowa, from which he graduated in 1966. He did well enough academically that he was accepted by graduate programs at Harvard and Yale universities. “It was a very difficult choice,” he wrote, and he went to Harvard because Bernard Malamud was the writer-in-residence, and because he guessed there would be more teaching opportunities near Cambridge.
Mr. Schorr graduated from Harvard with a doctorate in American literature, but never was interested in using the title. “He would joke about people who called themselves ‘Dr. So-and-So,’ ” said his wife, Natalie.
He met Natalie Gillingham while they were teachers at Milton Academy, and they also both taught in a summer program at Phillips Academy in Andover. One day in Andover, she went to buy a Sunday newspaper and found him writing in his journal, sitting under a tree. She stopped to talk. He recalled the moment in his poem “Air”:
You seemed to me at first to walk on air
with beauty matched to your good intellect
Your wide experience was matched by your knack
of pronouncing French words I could not hear
They married in 1970. She taught French for many years at Phillips Academy and had been director of world languages. Mr. Schorr took what he intended to be a one-year leave of absence from teaching at Milton to work as a technical writer, but it turned into many more.
They also had two children, Sarah of Aarhus, Denmark, and Max of Los Angeles. “He was a wonderful dad to the kids,” Natalie said. “He let them be who they were and encouraged their interests.”
Mr. Schorr, she added, “had a boundless curiosity about other people,” whether they were relatives, other poets, or students and faculty he met through her at Phillips Academy. While strolling together on the school’s grounds, he would call out to those they passed, almost always with a humorous aside. “I’d think, ‘How does he do this? How does he see people and make some little quip?’ ”
In addition to his wife and two children, Mr. Schorr leaves his younger brother, David of New York City, and three grandchildren.
The family held a gathering of remembrance a few days after Mr. Schorr died, during which his wife and children read passages from his poems and memoir.
Mr. Schorr’s poetry and prose transported readers from his Midwestern childhood to his Milton Academy classrooms to cities such as Paris that he visited with his wife. A keen observer, he could parse experiences in long stanzas or capture all he needed to say in a few words.
In the later pages of “Bridges to Kerouac,” Mr. Schorr drew connections between the writings and paintings of artists from different centuries. Taking as his model the disembodied poetics of Lowell native Jack Kerouac, he composed a haiku for the Lowell-born painter James McNeill Whistler, which included a poem that reads in full:
Have an air of sadness
Your poetry comes from it
Bryan Marquard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.