Mark Doty Essay - Doty, Mark (Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Doty, Mark (Contemporary Literary Criticism)


Mark Doty 1953-

(Full name Mark Alan Doty; has also written under the pseudonym M. R. Doty) American poet, memoirist, essayist, editor, and nonfiction writer.

The following entry presents an overview of Doty's career through 2002.

One of the most renowned American poets to come of age during the late 1980s, Doty has earned distinction for his elegiac, colloquial verse and his emotionally resonant evocation of personal loss and sorrow, particularly as informed by the AIDS crisis and his experiences as a homosexual man. In collections such as Turtle, Swan (1987) and Bethlehem in Broad Daylight (1991), Doty cultivated a conversational style, using elegantly rendered images to illuminate small epiphanies lurking within the natural world and everyday experience. After the death of Wally Roberts, Doty's companion of twelve years, the ever-present themes of mortality and loss in his work became more pronounced. His award-winning volumes My Alexandria (1993) and Atlantis (1995) are considered among the most compelling works to emerge from the AIDS epidemic. Doty has also authored two memoirs, Heaven's Coast (1996) and Firebird (1999), which have both won critical acclaim and a wide popular audience.

Biographical Information

Born in Maryville, Tennessee, Doty grew up near various Army installations in the American South and West where his father, a civilian employee of the Army Corps of Engineers, was employed. In Firebird, Doty describes his estranged relationship with his father, a difficult and frightening figure, and his mother's descent into alcoholism. While in Tucson, Arizona, Doty was introduced by his high-school drama teacher to poet Richard Shelton, an important mentor who fostered Doty's literary passion. During his high school years, Doty struggled with his emerging homosexuality. At age eighteen, confused and apprehensive about his sexual orientation, Doty married poet Ruth Dawson soon after graduating from high school. He then enrolled at Drake University in Iowa, where he earned his bachelor's degree. Shortly after graduating, he and Ruth cowrote and published several chapbooks of poetry. By the end of the decade, however, the marriage had fallen apart and the couple divorced in 1980. Doty subsequently moved to Manhattan to live and write as part of a larger gay community. He worked as an office temp, finished a master of fine arts degree at Goddard College, Vermont, in 1980, and met and fell in love with Wally Roberts, a department store window dresser. In 1987 Doty published his first book of verse, Turtle, Swan, to excellent reviews. Two years later, Roberts was diagnosed with AIDS, and Doty's concern for his lover's health was reflected in the darker poems of his second volume, Bethlehem in Broad Daylight. In 1993 Doty published My Alexandria, which was selected for the National Poetry Series by Philip Levine and won the National Book Critic's Circle Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Award, and Britain's T. S. Eliot Prize, making Doty the first American to win the award. Roberts succumbed to a viral brain infection early in 1994, and his passing was commemorated in Doty's next volume of poems, Atlantis, which won the Lambda Literary Award, the Bingham Poetry Prize, and the Ambassador Book Award. Finding it difficult to write poetry after Roberts's death, Doty turned to prose in Heaven's Coast, a memoir of his life with Roberts, which won the PEN/Martha Albrand Award. Throughout his career, Doty has taught creative writing and poetry at various schools, including Columbia University, Sarah Lawrence College, the University of Utah, University of Houston, Goddard College, and the Iowa Writer's Workshops.

Major Works

Doty's acclaimed first volume of poetry, Turtle, Swan, embodies many of the hallmarks of his mature verse—the poems are long and narrative, written in free verse that is both accessible and lyrical. In the poem “Rocket,” for instance, Doty uses the image of a rusting sandbox to conjure forth the mysteries of childhood as well as a sense of both sadness and wonder at the changes wrought by the passing of time. This sense of nostalgia and loss would continue to pervade Doty's work and become one of his major themes. In “A Replica of the Parthenon,” Doty links the symmetry and ruins of the ancient world with his memory of childhood games, the death of his grandmother, and the paradox of verisimilitude. In Bethlehem in Broad Daylight, Doty continues to explore the thematic terrain staked out in Turtle, Swan. The work is divided into three untitled sections: the first deals with issues of childhood, particularly relationships between children and parents, the second explores adult relationships, and the third examines the transitory nature of all human encounters. As in Turtle, Swan, the poems in Bethlehem in Broad Daylight are largely autobiographical narratives marked by solid imagery and moments of epiphany. While Doty's homosexuality is central to the poems of Turtle, Swan and Bethlehem in Broad Daylight, his experiences as a gay man are presented as simply another part of the natural world, rather than a focal perspective in itself. In My Alexandria, however, Doty's gay experience came to the forefront, as the work was largely his response to the crisis years of the AIDS epidemic. A sense of loss pervades the volume, and death—in one form or another—is present in nearly every poem. However, poems such as “Becoming a Meadow,” “Brilliance,” and “Fog,” in which Doty chronicles his and Roberts's fateful tests for HIV, Doty draws as much attention to the joys of life as the sadness of its parting. The title of the volume alludes to the home city of Greek poet C. P. Cavafy, whom Doty invokes explicitly in the poems “Chanteuse” and “Days of 1981.” Doty continued to examine themes of mortality and transience in Atlantis. Many of the poems are set in Provincetown, Massachusetts—Doty and Roberts's adopted hometown—and the maritime setting provides much of the imagery Doty uses to evoke an elegiac sense of impermanence and loss, as in “At the Boatyard,” “Fog Argument,” and “Grosse Fuge.” At the book's core is the six-poem title sequence in which Doty chronicles Roberts's illness and passing.

While Doty's critical reputation rests mainly on the strength of his poetry, his prose memoirs serve as an integral and equally important component of his oeuvre. In Heaven's Coast, Doty recalls his loving relationship with Roberts and his struggle to deal with the reality of Roberts's HIV-positive diagnosis and his devastating decline. The collage-like narrative, which incorporates dream journals, diary entries, poetry fragments, and excerpts from literature and letters from friends, mirrors the uncertainty and acute disorientation experienced by Doty during the ordeal. Doty's next volume of poetry, Sweet Machine (1998), marked the passing of his preoccupation with mortality and his reengagement with life and the living. Though a third of the book's five sections pays homage to those who have died, including poets Lynda Hull and James Merrill, the true focus of the book is found in poems such as “Mercy on Broadway” and “Metro North,” which are set in a gritty, bustling urban milieu. Poems like “Favrile” explore the beauty and artistry of decorative textiles and objects d'art as a meditative point of departure. Though maintaining an eye for surface detail, the poems in Sweet Machine also display a resistance to overt ornamentation and fastidious metaphor, as addressed in “Concerning Some Recent Criticism of His Work.” One of the poems from Sweet Machine, “Murano,” which discusses the glass artistry of the Italian island of Murano, was published as an individual work in 2000 with accompanying photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum. Doty's second memoir, Firebird, recounts his formative years from age six to sixteen, including his coming of age as a gay man. Besides offering a poignant and often darkly humorous recollection of his childhood and adolescence, the book is also a meditation on memory, particularly the way in which one is shaped by early events and how such memories can become sustainable narratives. Doty followed Firebird with another nonfiction work, Still Life with Oysters and Lemon (2001), which takes its name from a painting by seventeenth-century Dutch artist Jan Davidsz de Heem. A departure from his previous works, this extended seventy-page essay is part art history, part meditation on art and objects, and part memoir, all written in richly poetic prose style and covering a wide range of subjects. In Source (2001), Doty's sixth volume of poetry, he explores post-AIDS renewal and gay eroticism with his characteristically vivid, meditative, and graceful verse, set against the backdrops of Manhattan, Provincetown, Vermont, Key West, and Latin America. Doty has also published Seeing Venice: Bellotto's Grand Canal (2002), which pairs one of his essays with photographs of Venice, and edited Open House: Writers Redefine Home (2003), a collection of nineteen essays from different authors that examine the concept of “home” in America.

Critical Reception

While Doty's memoirs have been considered an important part of his body of work, his poetry has attracted the majority of his critical and popular acclaim. Since the publication of Turtle, Swan, Doty has established a reputation as an enormously talented young poet whose verse exhibits a maturity in advance of his age, a judgment that was further supported by Bethlehem in Broad Daylight, which has earned him favorable comparisons to Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, and James Merrill. Though some reviewers have found his early verse to be overly glib or shallow, My Alexandria has been widely praised as Doty's most emotionally engaged and technically mature work to date. Commentators have asserted that the redemptive, often exultant tone of My Alexandria offers a rare note of hope and optimism for AIDS sufferers and the gay community at large. Atlantis has also received a positive critical reaction, particularly due to Doty's ability to evoke nuanced descriptions of the natural world. However, several critics have contended that Doty is often too detached or preoccupied with surface details, complaining that his insights and metaphors are sometimes facile or formulaic. His supporters have countered that these characteristics are not faults, but simply consequences of the style in which Doty has chosen to work. Furthermore, many commentators have argued that Doty's attention to exterior surfaces is a technique for inferring deeper interior meanings. Such reviewers have also asserted that if Doty's verse lacks either rigorous formal concerns or verbal pyrotechnics, it is because his verse is rooted in colloquial diction and a lyrical, direct style. Despite such debate, Doty has been frequently lauded for his use of language—both as a rhythmic and musical tool—and his striking ability to evoke luminous displays of loss, grief, and transcendence.

Principal Works

Turtle, Swan (poetry) 1987

Bethlehem in Broad Daylight (poetry) 1991

My Alexandria (poetry) 1993

Atlantis (poetry) 1995

Heaven's Coast (memoir) 1996

Sweet Machine (poetry) 1998

Firebird: A Memoir (memoir) 1999

Murano: Glass from the J. Paul Getty Museum (poem) 2000

Turtle, Swan & Bethlehem in Broad Daylight: Two Volumes of Poetry (poetry) 2000

Source (poetry) 2001

Still Life with Oysters and Lemon (memoir and nonfiction) 2001

Seeing Venice:...

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Steven Cramer (review date February 1988)

SOURCE: Cramer, Steven. Review of Turtle, Swan, by Mark Doty. Boston Review 13, no. 1 (February 1988): 28-9.

[In the following review, Cramer comments on the style and subject matter of Turtle, Swan, asserting that Doty's poetry is “quirky” yet refreshing.]

At a time when much American poetry seems paralyzed between two impoverishing forces—“new formalist” campaigns for the sequence of the metronome versus an equally reductive penchant for concocting puzzles keyed to fashions in literary theory—it is enlivening to come across a poet willing to raise the stakes past gamesmanship. In Turtle, Swan, Mark Doty's first book, form is not...

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Marianne Boruch (review date July-August 1988)

SOURCE: Boruch, Marianne. “Blessed Knock.” American Poetry Review 17, no. 4 (July-August 1988): 39-41.

[In the following excerpt, Boruch contends that Doty employs striking imagery and imagination in the poems in Turtle, Swan.]

It is exactly this crucial mix, this imagination, that makes Mark Doty's collection, Turtle, Swan, such a stunning arrival. “I am inventing as much as remembering—” Doty writes in “To Cavafy,” a poem half about love, half a treatise on love, a real boy aboard the pond's raft—and a real companion with whom to discuss him—yet, “… desire, how sometimes only an image, / a surface compels us. …” Or in “Gardenias,”...

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David Baker (review date February 1992)

SOURCE: Baker, David. “Smarts.” Poetry 159, no. 5 (February 1992): 282-98.

[In the following excerpt, Baker faults Doty's poetic style in Bethlehem in Broad Daylight, claiming that Doty's voice lacks “dramatic significance” and laments the attempts to instruct readers at each poem's conclusion.]

Poets these days want us to think they are smart, it strikes me as I read much of the poetry written in the last few years. If the decade of the Seventies favored the shorter lyric and the Eighties became a decade of narrative extension, then the Nineties are shaping up as an age of discourse, of poetry infused and sometimes laden with obvious smartness: the Poem...

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Allen Hoey (review date winter 1993)

SOURCE: Hoey, Allen. Review of Bethlehem in Broad Daylight, by Mark Doty. Southern Humanities Review 27, no. 1 (winter 1993): 96-100.

[In the following excerpt, Hoey offers praise for Bethlehem in Broad Daylight, stating that Doty manages to create balance between straight narrative and the “stricture of lyric.”]

For Mark Doty, in Bethlehem in Broad Daylight, his second full-length collection, desire even at its most carnal, as in a garden where “every alcove / [was] alive with men until after dawn” and the speaker “didn't know whose hands were whose” (“Paradise”), is the way we struggle toward, as he writes in another poem, “the...

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Ray Gonzalez (review date 31 October 1993)

SOURCE: Gonzalez, Ray. “Something from Nothing.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (31 October 1993): 12.

[In the following review, Gonzalez extols the elegiac poetry in My Alexandria, arguing that Doty manages to find positive truths and beauty amid pain and death.]

In his poem “Brilliance,” Mark Doty writes: “In a story I read / A Zen master who'd perfected / his detachment from the things of the world / remembered, at the moment of dying / a deer he used to feed in the park, / and wondered who might care for it, / and at that instant was reborn / in the stummed flesh of a fawn.”

A book like My Alexandria is noted in part...

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Bruce Smith (review date October-November 1993)

SOURCE: Smith, Bruce. Review of My Alexandria, by Mark Doty. Boston Review 18, no. 5 (October-November 1993): 33.

[In the following review, Smith lauds My Alexandria, stating that the collection contains rich, “buoyant” language and that Doty is an important contemporary poet.]

My Alexandria, Mark Doty's third book of poems, is a rich continuance of the stories of paradise, pageant, and fugitive grace found in the justly praised first two books. His preoccupations have remained the same: the lush world, its architecture and artifice, and the forms of remembering and inventing—what Doty earlier calls “something storied.” In My...

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Calvin Bedient (review date 1995)

SOURCE: Bedient, Calvin. “These AIDS Days.” Parnassus 20, nos. 1-2 (1995): 197-231.

[In the following excerpt, Bedient praises Doty's finesse and imagination in My Alexandria, but finds flaws in his tendency toward sentimentality and forced conceit.]


(a) Between Pater and Pantheism. Mark Doty walks on the sunny side of Pater's still impressive, pathos-and-beauty-ridden sense of reality. Where Pater emphasized the elemental forces ceaselessly “parting on their ways,” undoing us, Doty accentuates the ensemble [in My Alexandria]. Life is not a thing of darkness; there are riches for the tasting, the...

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David R. Slavitt (review date winter 1995)

SOURCE: Slavitt, David R. “Eastward Ho!” New England Review 17, no. 1 (winter 1995): 194-98.

[In the following excerpt, Slavitt faults My Alexandria for incorporating literary criticism into its verse and for its elements of heavy explication.]

The last time I saw Alexandria—wicked Alexandria—its heart was old and gray. It was a sordid ruin of a place, with the glamour and glitter of Lawrence Durrell's lovely quartet utterly gone, replaced by grinding poverty and boring collectivization. Those grand mansions in which mysterious characters had once called “Yassou” to one another and arranged their trysts and hunting parties were now religious schools...

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Winston Wilde (review date 16 April 1995)

SOURCE: Wilde, Winston. “The Book of Love.” Advocate (16 April 1995): 62-3.

[In the following review, Wilde praises Heaven's Coast and contends that Doty's voice and language in the collection are powerful and important pieces of the contemporary gay canon.]

As we pass the one-year anniversary of the death of my lover, gay American writer Paul Monette, it was with great resistance that I agreed to read yet another memoir of yet another AIDS casualty. My defense of selected deafness to the horrors of this planet is still shattered by moments of “fresh grief.”

Mark Doty's lyric recollections in his latest book, Heaven's Coast, on...

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Mark Doty and Michael Klein (interview date July-August 1995)

SOURCE: Doty, Mark, and Michael Klein. “A Talk with Mark Doty.” PN Review 21, no. 6 (July-August 1995): 22-7.

[In the following interview, Doty discusses his creative process and aesthetic concerns, his thematic preoccupation with AIDS and gay identity, the influence of place and autobiography in his work, and his experience as a teacher.]

Mark Doty is the author of four books of poetry, Turtle, Swan, Bethlehem in Broad Daylight, My Alexandria, and the forthcoming Atlantis. For the greater part of the last decade, he taught in the MFA Program for Writers at Vermont College and at Sarah Lawrence College. My Alexandria, published in...

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Nicholas Jenkins (review date 5 January 1996)

SOURCE: Jenkins, Nicholas. “Some of the Museum's Glass Apricots.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4840 (5 January 1996): 22.

[In the following review, Jenkins finds shortcomings in My Alexandria, faulting Doty's literary allusions and trite descriptive language.]

The successes in My Alexandria stem from an outlook that is frankly Alexandrian; the failures from an outlook that is (for the best of all possible reasons) close to New Age mystico-humanist. As if it were a microcosmic embodiment of a Manichaean universe, neither side of Mark Doty's literary persona can destroy the other.

Doty muses with an appealing straightforwardness on...

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James Fenton (review date 29 February 1996)

SOURCE: Fenton, James. “On the Frontier.” New York Review of Books 43, no. 4 (29 February 1996): 52-3.

[In the following review, Fenton discusses the criteria for the T. S. Eliot Prize and offers a positive evaluation of My Alexandria.]

On January 15 this year, Valerie Eliot presented the third annual T. S. Eliot Prize to the American poet Mark Doty for his collection My Alexandria. The previous two winners, Ciaran Carson and Paul Muldoon, were from Northern Ireland, and many a British poet will be wondering when his turn will come. The fact is that several London literary prizes have an international definition of their scope of contestant. The Booker Prize...

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Deborah Landau (essay date March 1996)

SOURCE: Landau, Deborah. “‘How to Live. What to Do’: The Poetics and Politics of AIDS.” American Literature 68, no. 1 (March 1996): 193-225.

[In the following excerpt, Landau argues that My Alexandria offers an important revision and reinterpretation of AIDS suffering and homophobic stereotypes, providing a redemptive, consoling, and life-affirming response to the disease countering popular misconceptions and the effects of fear, anger, and despair.]

Senator Jesse Helms, the North Carolina Republican who has vigorously fought homosexual rights, wants to reduce the amount of Federal money spent on AIDS sufferers, because, he says, it is...

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Jim Marks (review date 7 April 1996)

SOURCE: Marks, Jim. “In the Country of Grief.” Washington Post Book World (7 April 1996): 11-12.

[In the following review, Marks praises Heaven's Coast, asserting that the book is a powerful work of reminiscence in the canon of AIDS memoirs.]

Inadvertently, and quite unwillingly, I've become a connoisseur of AIDS memorials. The most beautiful was a recent concert given by a choral society for one of its members. But I left the service angry and depressed because neither the word “AIDS” nor my friend's lover of over five years appeared in the four-page biographical program. Beauty, I concluded, was no substitute for honesty and integrity.


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Bernard Cooper (review date 14 April 1996)

SOURCE: Cooper, Bernard. “What the Waves Take Away.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (14 April 1996): 2.

[In the following review, Cooper extols the sense of urgency and despair evident in Heaven's Coast.]

“I can imagine the moment before he dies,” confided a friend of mine whose lover languished in the last stages of AIDS. “I can even imagine the moment of his death. What I can't imagine is the moment afterward.” This vast and seemingly uninhabitable “afterward” is the territory charted by Mark Doty in his powerful memoir, Heaven's Coast.

Doty's story is catapulted into motion by the results of an HIV test; the author tests...

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Mark Doty and Jonathan Bing (interview date 15 April 1996)

SOURCE: Doty, Mark, and Jonathan Bing. “Mark Doty: The Idea of Order on Cape Cod.” Publishers Weekly 243, no. 16 (15 April 1996): 44-5.

[In the following interview, Doty discusses his literary career and life upon the publication of Heaven's Coast.]

Some weeks after the death of Wally Roberts, his partner of 12 years, the poet Mark Doty found himself wandering ruefully through Beacon Hill, the Boston neighborhood where he and Wally first lived together more than a decade earlier. Revisiting his old, moldering, rent-controlled brownstone, once home to numerous friends, Doty found it empty of all but two of the original tenants. “Where had they all gone?” he...

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Michael Upchurch (review date 5 May 1996)

SOURCE: Upchurch, Michael. “Recovering the Past.” Chicago Tribune Books (5 May 1996): 5.

[In the following excerpt, Upchurch praises Heaven's Coast and Bernard Cooper's autobiography Truth Serum, noting that both works make powerful statements about loss, the gay experience, and dealing with AIDS.]

“Death requires a new negotiation with memory,” writes poet Mark Doty (Atlantis) early on in Heaven's Coast, disclosing one reason he embarked on this, his first major prose work. Doty's words could just as easily apply to Truth Serum, the fine new memoir by novelist Bernard Cooper (A Year of Rhymes).


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Michael Glover (review date 26 July 1996)

SOURCE: Glover, Michael. “Sea Changes.” New Statesman 125, no. 4294 (26 July 1996): 47.

[In the following review, Glover lauds the brash, defiant language in Atlantis, contending that Doty is one of the “finest American poets of the last 20 years.”]

It was one of those rare moments of delight when, in the spring, the American poet Mark Doty won the T S Eliot Prize for the year's best collection with My Alexandria. Arizona-born Doty was unknown to English readers until the middle of last year. Now, with the publication of Atlantis, his second book within 12 months, he is getting the attention he deserves.

Why should we read...

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Andrew Scull (review date 15 November 1996)

SOURCE: Scull, Andrew. “Losing the One You Love.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4885 (15 November 1996): 15.

[In the following excerpt, Scull alleges that Heaven's Coast is a wrenching, detailed description of loss and Doty's reengagement with the world after the death of his partner, Wally Roberts.]

Losing the one you love hurts—hurts more deeply and profoundly than almost anything else in our experience. It claws and tears at the soul—most savagely, it would seem on Brodkey's account, when the object of one's love is oneself. Perhaps not, though, among those less relentlessly self-centred than he, a fact brought home in another memoir by a writer...

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Richard Canning (review date 22 November 1996)

SOURCE: Canning, Richard. “A Dying Art.” New Statesman 125, no. 4311 (22 November 1996): 47-8.

[In the following excerpt, Canning discusses the descriptions of nature in Heaven's Coast as well as the critical reception of the work.]

Aids literature needs no aesthetic. Theories about art can come later; and must, if they are to take into account the subgenre of Aids memoirs (some fictionalised) emerging out of the epidemic. To postpone conclusions about Aids and art should not mean suspending judgment, however. Aids literature will not achieve greatness through pity alone.

Naturally, aesthetic judgments feel inappropriate. It is hard to keep...

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Colm Tóibín (review date 6 February 1997)

SOURCE: Tóibín, Colm. “A House Full of No One.” London Review of Books 19, no. 3 (6 February 1997): 3, 5-6.

[In the following review, Tóibín provides a favorable assessment of My Alexandria and Heaven's Coast, but finds shortcomings in Atlantis.]

The words ‘HIV Positive’ and ‘Aids’ do not appear in the poems in Mark Doty's My Alexandria (1995); instead, they hover in the spaces between the other words, and they govern the tone of almost every poem. Now, with the appearance of Heaven's Coast: A Memoir, we know that Doty's boyfriend Wally Roberts was dying slowly from Aids when these poems were being written. Doty also kept a...

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Mark Doty and Michael Glover (interview date 30 May 1997)

SOURCE: Doty, Mark, and Michael Glover. “Poetry, Mark Doty Says, Is the Only True Guarantor of Individuality.” New Statesman 126, no. 4336 (30 May 1997): 44-5.

[In the following interview, Doty discusses his work as a teacher, the social role of poetry, his formative experiences and life before and after the death of his long-time partner, and his political orientation.]

It was two years ago that I first read a book by a remarkable young American poet called Mark Doty. He was completely unknown in this country. His poems had a compassionate, lyrical urgency, a descriptive and metaphorical power that was more exciting than anything I'd read from America since the...

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David R. Jarraway (essay date September 1997)

SOURCE: Jarraway, David R. “‘Creatures of the Rainbow’: Wallace Stevens, Mark Doty, and the Poets of Androgyny.” Mosaic 30, no. 3 (September 1997): 160-83.

[In the following essay, Jarraway examines the discourse and poetics of androgyny found in Doty's writing, drawing direct parallels between Doty's exploration of gender and sexual identity and that of Wallace Stevens, particularly as revealed in Stevens's correspondence with José Rodríguez Feo.]

In his landmark The Trial of Curiosity: Henry James, William James, and the Challenge of Modernity (1991), Ross Posnock advances the claim that, in remarkably parallel ways, novelist Henry James and...

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Jeanne Braham (review date spring 1998)

SOURCE: Braham, Jeanne. “The Power of Witness.” Georgia Review 52, no. 1 (spring 1998): 168-76.

[In the following excerpt, Braham explores the value of being witness to grief and of examining death in Heaven's Coast.]

The Wounded Storyteller, Arthur Frank's well-known 1995 study of “illness narratives,” charts the difficulties a storyteller faces when, in the face of traumatic illness, he or she tries to construct a “coherent sense of life's sequence.” Caught in a static and frequently painful present, the narrator attempts to fuse the past with the present, supplying a created coherence in the place of chaos. Frank argues that “what makes...

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David Herd (review date 4 September 1998)

SOURCE: Herd, David. “Cooked or Over-Cooked?” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4979 (4 September 1998): 23.

[In the following review, Herd examines the poems in Sweet Machine, alleging that Doty's verse is polished, confessional, and reminiscent of other poets such as Robert Lowell, Paul Muldoon, and Frank O'Hara.]

In “Murano”, Mark Doty's poem about a Cornell box and the Venetian glass industry, the poet reflects on how the artist and the city shed light on one another. “I'd never have understood / the Cornell”, he remarks

                                                  if I hadn't seen it
                              in Venice:...

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Joel Brouwer (review date October 1998)

SOURCE: Brouwer, Joel. “Desire's Power.” Progressive 62, no. 10 (October 1998): 43-4.

[In the following review, Brouwer addresses Doty's focus on moving forward after the loss of partner Wally Roberts in Sweet Machine, lauding Doty's emphasis on living a life no longer defined by AIDS.]

Sweet Machine is Mark Doty's fifth book of poems, and his first since he published his powerful memoir Heaven's Coast (1996). That book told the story of Doty's relationship with his longtime partner Wally Roberts, who died of AIDS in 1994. Doty's two previous books of poems, My Alexandria (1993) and Atlantis (1995), were dedicated to Wally. In...

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Virginia Quarterly Review (review date winter 1999)

SOURCE: Review of Sweet Machine, by Mark Doty. Virginia Quarterly Review 75, no. 1 (winter 1999): 31.

[In the following review, the critic examines the recurring themes in Sweet Machine, noting that the collection shows a definite focus on such issues as redemption and joy.]

In this collection, Doty returns to themes familiar to his readers—art, the physical world, city life—even as these poems extend his formal range. Many of the narrative lyrics which comprise Sweet Machine span several pages—unusual for such a self-contained, compressed form as the contemporary lyric poem—and one wonders if the ferocious intensity and elegiac tone of...

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Mark Doty and Michael Giltz (interview date 12 October 1999)

SOURCE: Doty, Mark, and Michael Giltz. “This Boy's Life.” Advocate (12 October 1999): 78-9.

[In the following interview, Doty discusses the success of Heaven's Coast and the recollections of his formative years recorded in Firebird.]

When poet Mark Doty was a little boy, he sneaked into his sister's room to play model. “I put the glass on top of my head, pulling myself up straight, the glass wobbles, I lift my arms up for balance, that's better, I'm getting it now,” Doty writes in his slyly comic memoir Firebird, out this month from HarperCollins. “Another wobble, so I try moving my head from side to side like a Balinese dancer, and that's it,...

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William Reichard (review date December 1999)

SOURCE: Reichard, William. “Portrait of the Young Artist as a Survivor.” Lambda Book Report 8, no. 5 (December 1999): 20.

[In the following review, Reichard compliments Firebird as a “beautifully wrought” recollection of Doty's early life experiences.]

Award-winning poet and memoirist Mark Doty, in choosing to center his new autobiography Firebird on his childhood and young adult experiences, has taken a risk, and the risk has paid off. Firebird is a beautifully wrought recollection of Doty's early life as the son of an increasingly disturbed and alcoholic mother and a distant and sometimes violent father. Told in a linear yet fractured...

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Sarah Kennedy (review date winter 2000)

SOURCE: Kennedy, Sarah. Review of Turtle, Swan & Bethlehem in Broad Daylight, by Mark Doty. Shenandoah 50, no. 4 (winter 2000): 130-33.

[In the following review, Kennedy offers a positive assessment of Turtle, Swan & Bethlehem in Broad Daylight, a jointly republished volume of Doty's first two poetry books, arguing that the second collection is stronger than the first.]

The most recent addition to the University of Illinois Press's series of reprinted first and second books is Turtle, Swan & Bethlehem in Broad Daylight by Mark Doty. With the publication of My Alexandria and Sweet Machine, Doty has established himself as a...

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Chris Freeman (review date spring 2000)

SOURCE: Freeman, Chris. “Art that Saves.” Gay and Lesbian Review 7, no. 2 (spring 2000): 52.

[In the following review, Freeman maintains that Doty is a skilled poet and memoirist, judging Firebird as a powerful, insightful reminiscence of the author's past.]

Mark Doty's Heaven's Coast (1996) is one of the most powerful memoirs we have of the AIDS crisis and of love between men. His follow-up, Firebird: A Memoir, is a much different book, one that tells the story of a chaotic childhood and develops as a coming-of-age narrative ripe with elements of Southern Gothic, dislocation, teenage rebellion, and the salvific power of art, of creating....

(The entire section is 806 words.)

Jim Gladstone (review date April 2001)

SOURCE: Gladstone, Jim. “Metameringue.” Lambda Book Report 9, no. 9 (April 2001): 15.

[In the following review, Gladstone offers praise for Still Life with Oysters and Lemon and Murano.]

What are the ingredients of Art? To Jan Davidsz de Heem, the 17th Century Dutch painter whose Still Life with Oysters and Lemon lends both title and inspiration to Mark Doty's slim yet infinitely rereadable new volume of prose poetry, one recipe begins with citrus, crustaceans, clustered grapes, a glass urn.

To these, de Heem adds oils, pigments, canvas, bristles pulled from a pig's proboscis. And through the alchemical cookery of light and vision...

(The entire section is 437 words.)

Peter Marcus (review date September 2001)

SOURCE: Marcus, Peter. “Reflections on Intimacy.” Gay and Lesbian Review 8, no. 5 (September 2001): 42.

[In the following review, Marcus discusses the theme and style of Still Life with Oysters and Lemon and Murano, though cites shortcomings in the juxtaposition of text and images in the latter.]

Mark Doty's most recent book, Still Life with Oysters and Lemon, is a meditation on a Dutch still life painting “by one Jan Davidsz de Heem, painted in Antwerp some 350 years ago, and displayed today—after who knows what places it has been.” In a mere seventy pages Doty takes his reader deep into the painting—with which he became intimate at...

(The entire section is 795 words.)

David Bergman (review date May-June 2002)

SOURCE: Bergman, David. “The Ineffable Being of Light.” Gay and Lesbian Review 9, no. 3 (May-June 2002): 37-8.

[In the following review, Bergman discusses themes of light and art in Source, noting that “Doty is an aesthete, very much derived from the mauve decade of Wilde and Beardsley.”]

Mark Doty is one of the few poets who is both central to gay poetry as a movement and an important figure in mainstream poetry. I don't mean to suggest that gay poets aren't part of mainstream poetry, but most of them, like John Ashbery or J. D. McClatchy, have not made the issue of their sexuality an important or explicit topic of their work. Even though Source,...

(The entire section is 1552 words.)

Mark Doty and Christopher Hennessey (interview date June-July 2002)

SOURCE: Doty, Mark, and Christopher Hennessey. “Going to the Source.” Lambda Book Report 10, no. 11 (June-July 2002): 12.

[In the following interview, Doty discusses such issues as the development of his thematic and artistic preoccupations, the role of geography and public awareness in his work, and his aesthetic approach.]

Mark Doty seems to understand the origins of art's power, and his most recent volume of poetry resonates—in a new key for this award-wining poet and memoirist—with that understanding. In this interview, Doty digs deep into this new work, the aptly titled Source, and offers the stories behind each of his previous volumes. Among topics...

(The entire section is 4630 words.)

Further Reading


Doty, Mark, and Philip Clarke. “Doty's Dance.” Lambda Book Report 8, no. 5 (December 1999): 20.

Doty comments on the subject matter and publication of Firebird.

Kirby, David. “The Survivor.” New York Times Book Review (10 March 1996): 10.

Kirby evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of Heaven's Coast.

Kirp, David L. “Speak, Gay Memory.” Nation 263, no. 3 (15-22 July 1996): 33-8.

Kirp discusses recent gay memoirs, commending the “precise economy of language” in Heaven's Coast.

McInerney, Stephen. “A Glimpse of Bright...

(The entire section is 336 words.)