NPM 2013 - D is for Doty

on April 4, 2013 with 0 comments » | ,

I have read couple books of poetry [1] by poet and memoirist, Mark Doty (that links to his blog; do bookmark it. Worth reading!) and a third one (The Source) is on the night-stand right now. But for me, he is forever associated with one lovely book of prose that I read some years back - Still Life with Oysters and Lemon: On Objects and Intimacy. I excerpted couple paragraphs from the book in a blog post but the book is worth buying and reading and re-reading and savoring all your life.


For today though, here are some of his poems:

A Green Crab's Shell
by Mark Doty

Not, exactly, green:
closer to bronze
preserved in kind brine,

something retrieved
from a Greco-Roman wreck,
patinated and oddly

muscular. We cannot
know what his fantastic
legs were like--

though evidence
suggests eight
complexly folded

scuttling works
of armament, crowned
by the foreclaws'

gesture of menace
and power. A gull's
gobbled the center,

leaving this chamber
--size of a demitasse--
open to reveal

a shocking, Giotto blue.
Though it smells
of seaweed and ruin,

this little traveling case
comes with such lavish lining!
Imagine breathing

surrounded by
the brilliant rinse
of summer's firmament.

What color is
the underside of skin?
Not so bad, to die,

if we could be opened
into this--
if the smallest chambers

of ourselves,
similarly,
revealed some sky. 

The Poetry Foundation profile for Mark Doty has this to say: "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."

Here is a poem he wrote, I gather, after the death of his partner, Wally. (As an aside, I remember reading some very poignant poems by him from when his partner was sick. Also, on a related note, do read his essay on whether poetry can console a grieving public.)

The Embrace
by Mark Doty

You weren't well or really ill yet either;
just a little tired, your handsomeness
tinged by grief or anticipation, which brought
to your face a thoughtful, deepening grace.

I didn't for a moment doubt you were dead.

I knew that to be true still, even in the dream.
You'd been out--at work maybe?--
having a good day, almost energetic.

We seemed to be moving from some old house

where we'd lived, boxes everywhere, things
in disarray: that was the story of my dream,
but even asleep I was shocked out of the narrative

by your face, the physical fact of your face:

inches from mine, smooth-shaven, loving, alert.
Why so difficult, remembering the actual look
of you? Without a photograph, without strain?

So when I saw your unguarded, reliable face,

your unmistakable gaze opening all the warmth
and clarity of you--warm brown tea--we held
each other for the time the dream allowed.

Bless you. You came back, so I could see you

once more, plainly, so I could rest against you
without thinking this happiness lessened anything,
without thinking you were alive again.

Such controlled emotions, edging on the sentimental but somehow succeeding in guarding against sentimentality despite the subject matter, I think. Mark Doty himself has this to say about the poem in an interview: "The Embrace .. is as plainspoken a poem as I will ever write; its mode of speech felt right for the gravity of its occasion. But I'd hate the idea that every poem ought to be that uncompromisingly plain." And here is a more detailed run-through of this simple but poignant poem: "Grief has blocked the narrator’s clear memory. It is too difficult to call the face of the dead to his conscious mind. But in dreams, that memory is possible. And the narrator is aware of this, while dreaming, and he is determined to make the best of it, to use the clarity his dream has allowed to hold the man he lost."

I was so sure I was going to post only two poems today, not only because I have not read much of Doty's poetry but also since I want these posts to be only an introduction to a poet and two poems should provide some semblance of an introduction to their oeuvre. But another poem literally begs to be shared - luminous and light but takes your breath away, just like the jellyfish!

Difference
by Mark Doty

The jellyfish
float in the bay shallows
like schools of clouds,

a dozen identical — is it right
to call them creatures,
these elaborate sacks

of nothing? All they seem
is shape, and shifting,
and though a whole troop

of undulant cousins
go about their business
within a single wave's span,

every one does something unlike:
this one a balloon
open on both ends

but swollen to its full expanse,
this one a breathing heart,
this a pulsing flower.

This one a rolled condom,
or a plastic purse swallowing itself,
that one a Tiffany shade,

this a troubled parasol.
This submarine opera's
all subterfuge and disguise,

its plot a fabulous tangle
of hiding and recognition:
nothing but trope,

nothing but something
forming itself into figures
then refiguring,

sheer ectoplasm
recognizable only as the stuff
of metaphor. What can words do

but link what we know
to what we don't,
and so form a shape?

Which shrinks or swells,
configures or collapses, blooms
even as it is described

into some unlikely
marine chiffon:
a gown for Isadora?

Nothing but style.
What binds
one shape to another

also sets them apart
— but what's lovelier
than the shapeshifting

transparence of like and as:
clear, undulant words?
We look at alien grace,

unfettered
by any determined form,
and we say: balloon, flower,

heart, condom, opera,
lampshade, parasol, ballet.
Hear how the mouth,

so full
of longing for the world,
changes its shape?



[1] Many years ago I read Atlantis and My Alexandria but do not remember what I thought of the poems. I may have revisited some of the poems from these books when I perused through his 2008 book, Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems, which collects poems from his first 7 books of poetry and has some new ones too.
Not, exactly, green: closer to bronze preserved in kind brine, something retrieved from a Greco-Roman wreck, patinated and oddly muscular. We cannot know what his fantastic legs were like-- though evidence suggests eight complexly folded scuttling works of armament, crowned by the foreclaws' gesture of menace and power. A gull's gobbled the center, leaving this chamber --size of a demitasse-- open to reveal a shocking, Giotto blue. Though it smells of seaweed and ruin, this little traveling case comes with such lavish lining! Imagine breathing surrounded by the brilliant rinse of summer's firmament. What color is the underside of skin? Not so bad, to die, if we could be opened into this-- if the smallest chambers of ourselves, similarly, revealed some sky. - See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15633#sthash.RD0VeQt1.dpuf

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