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Mark Doty

Since the publication of his first volume of verse, Turtle, Swan, in 1987, Mark Doty has been recognized as one of the most accomplished poets in America. Hailed for his elegant, intelligent verse, Doty has often been compared to James Merrill, Walt Whitman and C.P. Cavafy. His syntactically complex and aesthetically profound free verse poems, odes to urban gay life, and quietly brutal elegies to his lover, Wally Roberts, have been hailed as some of the most original and arresting poetry written today. The recipient of numerous grants and fellowships, Doty has also won a number of prestigious literary awards, including the Whiting Writer’s Award, the T. S. Eliot Prize, the National Poetry Series, the Los Angeles Times Book Award, the National Book Critics’ Circle Award, the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for first nonfiction, and the National Book Award for Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems (2008). A long-time resident of Provincetown, Massachusetts, Doty teaches at Rutgers University in New Jersey…

Though increasingly successful as a memoirist, Doty has continued to publish award-winning collections of poetry. His volumes following Atlantis, including Sweet Machine (1998), Source (2001) and School of the Arts (2005) have all been highly praised. In a review for the Progressive, Joel Brouwer stated: “In Sweet Machine, we see an already masterful poet refusing to lapse into nostalgia or to unthinkingly reuse the poetic strategies that have served him so well in the past. Instead, we find Mark Doty exploring new territories and questioning himself at every turn.” Ruth Padel described Doty as a “poet of glow” in her review of Source in the New York Times. Admitting that Doty’s work has “always celebrated surfaces and lyric glitter,” Padel maintained that “the surface glow does not merely delight us, but also leads us deeper in, to insight. The important variety in Doty is not rhythm or vocabulary but situation: all that iridescence is there to tell us something about being human…”

In an interview with poet Mark Wunderlich published in the Cortland Review, Doty was asked why he thought poetry endured as an art form. He answered: “My guess is that somehow poetry is a vessel for the expression of subjectivity unlike any other; a good poem bears the stamp of individual character in a way that seems to usher us into the unmistakably idiosyncratic perceptual style of the writer. I think we’re hungry for singularity, for those aspects of self that aren’t commodifiable, can’t be marketed. In an age marked by homogenization, by the manipulation of desire on a global level…poetry may represent the resolutely specific experience. The dominant art forms of our day—film, video, architecture—are collaborative arts; they require a team of makers. Poems are always made alone, somewhere out on the edge of things, and if they succeed they are saturated with the texture of the uniquely felt life…”

(This is just bits and pieces from Doty’s bio on Poetry Foundation. It’s an interesting read.)

I found this poem in the book Poems To Read: A New Favorite Poem Project Anthology edited by Robert Pinsky and Maggie Dietz. The poems were submitted by the people who loved them. This is what Seth Ammerman (44, Pediatrician, San Francisco, California) had to say about Mark Doty’s Coastal:

As a pediatrician, I learn a lot from children. This poem expresses how a child may have more insight about life than an adult might think.

I loved it for the same reason. I think it’s a prime example of what the Bible means when it says in Isaiah 11:6 that a “little child shall lead them.” Sometimes I think our first biggest mistake in life is forgetting how to be a little child…



Cold April and the neighbor girl
—our plumber’s daughter—
comes up the west street

from the harbor carrying,
in a nest she’s made
of her pink parka,

a loon. It’s so sick,
she says when I ask.
Foolish kid,

does she think she can keep
this emissary of air?
Is it trust or illness

that allows the head
—sleek tulip—to bow
on its bent stem

across her arm?
Look at the steady,
quiet eye. She is carrying

the bird back from indifference,
from the coast
of whatever rearrangement

the elements intend,
and the loon allows her.
She is going to call

the Center for Coastal Studies,
and will swaddle the bird
in her petal-bright coat

until they come.
She cradles the wild form.
Stubborn girl.


Picture Source: Poetry Foundation (Mark Lacy)