My friend Serena from Savvy Verse and Wit is The Poet Laureate of the Internet. Of all the thousands of book bloggers out there, Serena is poetry’s foremost champion. Her passion for the genre is contagious and her enthusiasm has introduced countless of readers (including me) to new-to-them poets and the wonder of poetry. In celebration of National Poetry Month, Serena is hosting the “Reach for Horizon” blog tour.
As the blogger for today’s stop, I’ve chosen to highlight the poetry of Mark Doty and some of his exquisite work. Mark Doty is one of those writers who could write anything and I’m convinced I would love it. He’s among my very favorites.
Paragon Park (David R. Godine, Publisher, 2012, 179 pages) includes the complete texts of Mr. Doty’s collections Turtle, Swan and Bethlehem in Broad Daylight, as well as eight of Mr. Doty’s earliest poems. In an author’s note that precedes these poems, he writes about the process of self-discovery involved in re-reading them.
“That’s one thing I liked about doing this reading, seeing what have become familiar gestures or vocal strategies emerge – suddenly there I am, becoming me. This seems mysterious – wasn’t I always myself? Yes and no. Maybe the turn of voice was there, the habit of speech or the manner of thinking, but here it is in this poem or that appearing on the page, and thus in some way concretizing a self: a manner of speaking, a means of making meaning ….I can see a style emerging in them, but also ways of thinking, rehearsals for concerns and questions that will be given a larger form later on.” (pg. 158)
Honestly, the man even seems to speak in poetry, doesn’t he? If I’m ever lucky enough to get the chance, I’m pretty certain that I could listen to Mark Doty for hours.
It makes sense that these poems are included here with Turtle, Swan (the complete text of Mark Doty’s first book of poetry, published by Godine in 1987) as well as the full collection of Bethlehem in Broad Daylight, also published by Godine, in 1991. As I’ve come to expect from Mark Doty – have I mentioned that he is probably my favorite poet and one of my very favorite writers? – these are poems that are deeply personal, reflective of a childhood, of friends and lovers and places gone too soon.
Some of my favorite images and lines, then. (I am not going to be able to go to the shore or the boardwalk again without this imagery from the poem “Paragon Park”):
“The music bounces from loudspeakers –
forties swing suggesting we might see our parents ,
freshly stepped from a snapshot, stepping
around the corner; unchanging fragrances
of sea wind, junk food, and the hot gears
of the ferris wheel.”
or this, from “A Row of Identical Cottages”:
“Traveling brings back every other summer
by the sea; our long, familiar conversations’s
all I remember …and Then …
Memory seems a kind of shoreline,
the edge between sleep and the world.
We’re never sure what we’ll wake to –
what form the past, which has no boundaries,
has chosen for its intrusion into today,
or how our random memories will match
My God, that’s gorgeous, isn’t it?
At times, Mark Doty’s verses seem to evoke Springsteen – or maybe it’s the reverse. Regardless, they both have that enviable ability to take what we think of a fun setting (“Playland”) and transform it into something fantastical, mythological and deeply spiritual.
“I’ve never seen anyone but us leave,
and I believe that everyone here
has been dead for years,
and that they not only don’t mind
but are truly happy, because here
there is no need to guard themselves,
no possibility of an aesthetic mistake,
and no one is too old, too poor
There were lines in these poems I loved and entire poems, too (“Tiara” and “A Box of Lilies”). From the latter:
“This is what I imagine it’s like,
Doug: once the mailman brought me
a box of lilies, by mistake
– shipping error, nursery packet’s
benevolent whim? –
twenty-eight pale and armored hearts,
spiky as artichokes.
Nothing was labeled
but I could guess their intentions
by their heft; some were twinned,
even two-fisted, and the instructions plain:
Dig deeper than you need to,
fertilize with a little bone,
allow to remain undisturbed for years.”
With each precise, perfect word, Mark Doty’s poetry has a way of doing that – digging deep, fertilizing those memories that may have been undisturbed for years. Quite simply, he’s a master.