Tag Archives: Mark Doty

Theory of Beauty (Grackles on Montrose)

February’s Animal Poem: “Theory of Beauty (Grackles on Montrose)” by Mark Doty, from the new section in Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems (2009).

“Theory of Beauty (Grackles on Montrose)” is a thoroughly satisfying descriptive poem (it is of course redundant to say Doty poem and great description in the same sentence), full of sounds. Not all that many poems have a lot of noises, necessarily. Car horns and dog snoring and through-the-wall radio ads and all the rest — it’s noticeable when a poem really pays attention to them.

“Theory of Beauty (Grackles on Montrose)” begins with a place-setting, “Eight o’clock, warm Houston night /  and in the parking lot the grackles / hold forth royally, in thick trees.” (This, by the way, is what a grackle looks like.) Three lines and the scene is set, complete with the beginning of the birds’ characterization, with “hold forth royally.”

The main delight of this poem is, of course, Continue reading


White / Arthur / Willis

Brief reviews of The Salt Ecstasies by James L. White (1982), Charms Against Lightning by James Arthur (2012), and Blood Sisters of the Republic by Wendy Willis (2012).

James L. White’s The Salt Ecstasies is a gorgeous book full of beautiful, difficult longing. Its artful passion is simply excellent. The poems are both explicit and humble, (“Sometimes I’m their first. / Sweet, sweet men. / I light candles, burn the best incense. / Make them think it’s some kind of temple / and it rather is.”) and the general passion and exquisite human feeling speaks through them all (“In this joyous season I know my heart won’t die / as you and the milk pods open their centers / like a first snow in its perfection of light. // Good love is like this. / Even the smell of baked bread won’t make it better, / this being out of myself for a while.”).  Continue reading

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Elizabeth Bishop is the most important poetry god.

The most important in my personal pantheon, I mean.

And more generally, I don’t think you can love poetry and not love Elizabeth Bishop.

I’ve touched on most of my other major gods in this blog before (Mark Doty, Yusef Komunyakaa, and the most recent addition, Larry Levis), but haven’t said much yet about her. One must tread lightly when analyzing one’s gods, after all. But I’ve been writing Poetry Dork posts for exactly a year now, so it’s about time I paid Bishop some attention here.

Doty, Komunyakaa, Levis, and Bishop are poets who “are it” for me. They do what poetry is supposed to do, what I want it to do. They write poems that are and do what poems are and do when they are at their best. Continue reading

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Mark Doty

Mark Doty is frequently lauded as one of the best American poets writing today, and I certainly concur. His manner of looking at the world is that of regard, an intellectual gaze that insists on detail and beauty, and taking the time to examine. He’s prolific, with about seven is it? eight? volumes of poetry, not including his award-winning New and Selected (which is a great place to start). And three books of memoir (centering around the death of his partner from AIDS, growing up gay, and dogs and loss, respectively). And a meditation about art history. And a little poetics book too (one of Graywolf Press’s lovely “Art Of” series). And an occasional blog.

When Doty annoys, which can happen every once in a while, it’s because of an overdosing of description, a too-mannered-ness. “Dammit, too much elegance!” one perhaps wants to yell on occasion. Or maybe, sometimes, “Cut to the chase!” But mostly he’s wonderful.

My Alexandria was my introduction to Doty (his third, I think, collection, published in 1993). The first poem in it has been one of my favorites since I read it (freshman or sophomore year of college), “Demolition,” which watches a building being taken down by a backhoe, its shy metal scoop, “a Japanese monster tilling its yellow head / and considering what to topple next.” That poem has one of my favorite poet-profound lines, “We love disasters that have nothing to do / with us.” Continue reading


Weekend Getaway

Gas up the car, put on some poetic tunes, and head to the coast to get to know some fish or crustaceans.

Or head inland, if you like, to a creek. Or go higher, and climb around over the rocks.

Or just drive, and drive, and drive. (But not for so long that you’re tempted to marry your automobile…)

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Dog is my co-pilot

Dogs are hard to write about well. In no small part because of the tendency of dog owners (I am one) to either anthropomorphize or Lassie-ize. But a good dog poem is not impossible. Here are four that I think not only cover most of the emotional ground of being a dog owner, but also succeed as poems.

Let’s start with taking the dog out to poop. A large part of a dog-owning life. Howard Nemerov‘s “Walking the Dog” has a pragmatic, cynical-but-bemused tone about dog ownership. It begins

Two universes mosey down the street
Connected by love and a leash and nothing else.
Mostly I look at lamplight through the leaves
While he mooches along with tail up and snout down
Getting a secret knowledge through the nose
Almost entirely hidden from my sight

And later he also calls himself and the dog “a pair of symbionts/Contented not to think each other’s thoughts.” This is dog as dog. Pet, sure, loved, sure, but I don’t expect to hear any extra vowels added to the dog’s name in cooing tones. Continue reading

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