Saturday, March 21, 2009

Why Mark Doty is Important to Me

One of the biggest thrills in my MFA career was getting to introduce Mark Doty at a reading in Syracuse. I was so nervous. And when I got to sit next to him at dinner, I found myself at a complete loss of words, and if I said anything, it was dumb. My mentor Melanie Rae Thon was at dinner and afterwards asked me what was wrong. I said he was my idol, and even though I knew he would never remember me, it mattered. To me.

I was introduced to his work when I was an undergraduate by a Laurence Liebermann, who was a poet and editor of the poetry series at the University of Illinois. Leibermann was my first workshop teacher, and he introduced me to a whole bunch of poets. Ai was one of them. I was shocked that a poet could write about poor people. Having grown up poor, I thought, Wow! People can write about people like me. When I think of Ai now, I think of her as a toxic poet, one who uses representations of violence in ways that are unethical. But enough about her. Or her poetry. This is what's important about my relationship to Ai: my opinion changed over time of her and her work. The same can be said of Mark Doty. This isn't to say there isn't value to her work. Or Doty's. But there is now a different kind of value. And there are also limitations I can now identify.

For the next posts, I want to clarify my opinions as to what these strengths and limitations are. Maybe eventually turn them into a publishable essay. The posts will not be arranged in terms of strengths and then weaknesses and then conclusions. I'm going to write about what interests me. And sometimes when that happens, I'm all over the map.


  1. I love your voice. It's snarky and yet still tender. How do you do that?

  2. I think it is evidence of our growth as writers that our opinions change. I think I like books of poems more than consistently liking the poet. But for a time I, too, thought Doty was god.

  3. Adding to the chorus . . . I sure loved a lot of those early Doty books, and there are poems of his that changed what I understood poetry could do. Looking forward to your further thoughts.