Wednesday, February 09, 2011

My Alexandria by Mark Doty

I don't know why I've never read any of Mark Doty's poetry collections before now. I'd heard of him and enjoyed individual poems and yet had never picked up a book by him until now.

My Alexandria is beautifully written and powerful, moving and full of intensely observed detail. A lot of the poems are long, especially The Wings which is 13 pages long (that's very long to a haiku writer such as I am!). The Wings starts with 'The bored child at the auction' who is reading while his parents wander around and just as the boy's imagination is carried to different places by what he reads so is the reader of this poem taken to abandoned orchards; the AIDS quilt; Wim Wenders wonderful film Wings of Desire and a garden where the narrator is:

...making an angel,
like those Arcimboldos where the human profile
is all berry and leaf,

the specific character of bloom
assembled into an overriding form.

with a wonderful attention to detail. This attention to detail is found in all the poems, all are remarkably well observed, as in this excerpt from Difference, which compares jellyfish to the human condition:

This submarine opera's
all subterferge and disguise,

its plot an absolute tangle
of hiding and recognition:
nothing but trope

I have often said that nature is too valuable in itself to be used in poetry purely as metaphor for the human condition. However Doty is one of those writers who seems to feel deeply for nature itself but at the same time cleverly use it in insightful and valuable metaphors for life, death and the impermanence of existence. This is a book to read and re-read and I'll be looking out for more books by the same poet!

My Alexandria by Mark Doty, Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1993; London: Jonathan Cape, 1995

for the LGBT Reading Challenge

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