On Mark Doty & Potent Noticing

I’m glad Mike Henry posted “The Community Garden,” the piece that follows the title poem in Mark Doty’s fourth poetry collection, Atlantis. To me, the poem works almost as a reverse metaphor, where Doty begins his careful, sound-filled description of the real world and then jumps into connection via a question: “So what’s the use of elegy?”

In the 1990s, three of Doty’s collections confronted suffering and loss and his approach-- concentrating on a slow unraveling of beauty that is itself witness and discovery-- provides good ground for poets and prose writers alike.

In an essay describing the origins of another poem, the Doty confesses, “I need something to serve as a container for emotion and idea, a vessel that can hold what’s too slippery or charged or difficult to touch.” Me too.

Doty accomplishes his work of containing and revealing through metaphor by deploying sometimes long sentences filled with luminous adjectives parsed across regular stanzas. That’s part of what we’ll play with in the book club this Saturday (5/11 @ 10 AM) and I look forward to hearing Mike lead on the memoir collections.

But the big thing will be the man himself at the Writer’s Studio Weekend. When I heard Mark Doty read at a poetry festival in 1998, I bought Sweet Machine on the strength of two poems. One, “The Embrace,” a heartbreaking remembrance of a lover lost to AIDS and the closing poem, “The Visitation,” which calls to mind friend and neighbor Stanley Kunitz’s great poem “The Wellfleet Whale.” Doty stayed two hours, I heard, signing books, but this ain’t New Jersey, so we in the West will have the writer all to ourselves.

If you’re the type to follow along during a reading (I am!) it’s hard to say whether to buy Doty’s new and selected collection of poems, Fire to Fire, or a single classic book, like My Alexandria (1993) or Atlantis (1995). Doty is a book maker, which is to say he creates a coherent, subtle whole within his work. On the other hand, a selected provides a wide introduction to the range of Doty’s poetic powers. Regardless, there is plenty to enjoy this Saturday and next weekend. Don’t miss it.