Category Archives: Nonfiction

Mark Doty | from What Is The Grass

  Mark Doty From What Is the Grass     Poetry tends toward the unsayable as a compass needle loves the north; the poem wants to give words to longing, to desolation, to the persistence of hope. It wants to enter into the awareness of animals and of small children, and of the dead; it wants to strip away false appearances, and to address the divine, and light up the unseen movements of those forces which turn the seasons and move forward life.  A beautiful Robert Louis Stevenson poem, written for children,  begins   Who has seen the wind, neither you nor I, but when the trees bow down their heads, the wind is passing by.”   Poetry is a wind we shape; it lights up our mortal dimensions and the deep strangeness of things by showing us the evidence of invisibles, by showing us, as clearly as it can, the beautiful supplication of the trees, which have no choice but to yield.   _____________   When you love a great poet’s work, it can become a center to which all of experience may be referred, a locus of meaning that can spill out into many dimensions of a life. Indeed, I have had to check myself a bit in referring in conversation to Walt Whitman. “A bit eccentric” is a reputation I can readily accept, but I’ve seen that look on friend’s faces when they think I’ve once again dragged someone from another century into a conversation where he doesn’t belong. I know better; when it comes to a grand and encyclopedic poet, there really are no unrelated conversations. I don’t always say so. And of course there’s that thing that lovers do, mentally addressing the other when the beloved is absent. If I’ve seen something I think would interest Alex when I’m traveling alone, I may tell him about it in my head, and imagine his response; it’s a way of feeling connected, of spending time in relation to him. I’m writing now in early September, in the small square studio I love behind our place in the country. The door’s open, and at the bottom of the view Ned – my golden shadow – is sleeping on the diamonds of slate tiles, and at the top of the doorway I can see a slice of the pale blue portico Alex has just primed and painted for me, the color you’d get if you could dilute a morning glory with milk. He’s somewhere in the garden now, half-mending and half-creating a gate. He makes things with the focus and intensity I bring to this, and though I only see him moving from one part of the garden to another now and then, or hear the occasional burr of a power tool or a bit of that private muttering that goes along with seeking a solution to a puzzle, his presence is a part of this work. When I’m away, that relation is less constant, but it does go on. When you’re away, how many times a day do you think of the person you live with? It’s the same with the poets whose words and presence I have internalized, the ones most near to me. They seem to stand up and come forward when something that resonates with my sense of them occurs. In Key West last winter for a seminar, how could I not keep company with Elizabeth Bishop,…

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An Excerpt from What Is The Grass | by Mark Doty

  Mark Doty From What Is the Grass     Poetry tends toward the unsayable as a compass needle loves the north; the poem wants to give words to longing, to desolation, to the persistence of hope. It wants to enter into the awareness of animals and of small children, and of the dead; it wants to strip away false appearances, and to address the divine, and light up the unseen movements of those forces which turn the seasons and move forward life.  A beautiful Robert Louis Stevenson poem, written for children,  begins   Who has seen the wind, neither you nor I, but when the trees bow down their heads, the wind is passing by.”   Poetry is a wind we shape; it lights up our mortal dimensions and the deep strangeness of things by showing us the evidence of invisibles, by showing us, as clearly as it can, the beautiful supplication of the trees, which have no choice but to yield.   _____________   When you love a great poet’s work, it can become a center to which all of experience may be referred, a locus of meaning that can spill out into many dimensions of a life. Indeed, I have had to check myself a bit in referring in conversation to Walt Whitman. “A bit eccentric” is a reputation I can readily accept, but I’ve seen that look on friend’s faces when they think I’ve once again dragged someone from another century into a conversation where he doesn’t belong. I know better; when it comes to a grand and encyclopedic poet, there really are no unrelated conversations. I don’t always say so. And of course there’s that thing that lovers do, mentally addressing the other when the beloved is absent. If I’ve seen something I think would interest Alex when I’m traveling alone, I may tell him about it in my head, and imagine his response; it’s a way of feeling connected, of spending time in relation to him. I’m writing now in early September, in the small square studio I love behind our place in the country. The door’s open, and at the bottom of the view Ned – my golden shadow – is sleeping on the diamonds of slate tiles, and at the top of the doorway I can see a slice of the pale blue portico Alex has just primed and painted for me, the color you’d get if you could dilute a morning glory with milk. He’s somewhere in the garden now, half-mending and half-creating a gate. He makes things with the focus and intensity I bring to this, and though I only see him moving from one part of the garden to another now and then, or hear the occasional burr of a power tool or a bit of that private muttering that goes along with seeking a solution to a puzzle, his presence is a part of this work. When I’m away, that relation is less constant, but it does go on. When you’re away, how many times a day do you think of the person you live with? It’s the same with the poets whose words and presence I have internalized, the ones most near to me. They seem to stand up and come forward when something that resonates with my sense of them occurs. In Key West last winter for a seminar, how could I not keep company with Elizabeth Bishop,…

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