Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Audubon Zoo, National Poetry Month, the Tunnel of Attention, and Bad News

I've been on the road too much this month. Because I wanted to spend the first months of 2009 in California, I pushed readings back to April, and that combined with National Poetry Month has turned me into something of a blur. But there have also been more good parts of April than I can list. Here are two: last night at the Hopkins School in New Haven, CT, the audience of students and parents and teachers were amazing. Standing at the front of the room, I felt I was facing into a kind of tunnel of silence, a deeply focused attention in which nothing was missed. It was a remarkable feeling, different than the stillness of the zendo I described a few posts back; this was a hungry, energetic, eager silence.

And tonight I write from New Orleans, where I've spent the day with people from the library here and from the Audubon Zoo -- in the very room on Dauphine Street were Audubon painted while he lived in New Orleans -- cooking up some plans for a poetry-in-the-zoo project like the one that Sandra Alcosser's spearheaded in Central Park.
The zoo here has two Asian elephants who seem the spirits of the place, and the thought of actually going and spending time with them fills me with delight.

But this evening brings hard news too, that Craig Arnold is missing, on a small volcanic island in Japan. Craig's a brilliant poet; his first book, SHELLS, won the Yale Younger Poets Prize, and his second, MADE FLESH, was just recently published. I met Craig in 1996, when I went to interview for a job at the University of Utah, and had to teach a little demonstration workshop. Craig was one of the students, and he brought to the group a poem called "Hot," a remarkable narrative, in rhyming couplets, about two men whose friendship is worked out over their competitive mutual addiction to and obsession with unbearably over-seasoned foods. It's the sort of complete, bravura poem that, appearing in a workshop, simply leaves everyone breathless, as if it were now up to us to "workshop" something operatic, artfully elaborated, and thoroughly achieved. Yeah, right. We did our best. The poem's in SHELLS, and it's one of Craig's signature poems. I'm thinking too of Craig reading at Brazos Books in Houston, turning away from the audience between poems, then wheeling around and dramatically reciting each piece. He read like a performance poet, though his poems were anything but spontaneous; they were elegantly wrought monologues, the product of an exactingly formal intelligence. But how alive they sounded!

Information about the ongoing search for Craig, and about the effort to pressure the Japanese police to continue the search is at


Text On Screen said...

When you see the elephants please think of me too ... they are my love of the animal kingdom ... I found you via a comment that was posted responding to something I wrote regarding Atlantis - then I began to seek Mark Doty; in seconds flat I seem to gel with this form of script that belongs to you! are you the you who wrote that?

Ms Baroque said...

Hi Mark, I've linked with a quote from your description of Craig's reading - I've never met him or heard hm read but your description is so vivid I couldn't resist.

The impression I'm getting, from reading things people are writing on the internet and what I've read of his work, is one that reminds me oddly of Michael Donaghy: intense grace, elegant technique and quirkiness. It's a striking note to strike. Fingers firmly crossed and good thoughts focused here in London.

(my word recognition below is "tedingly" - only a short step to "tendingly"...)

listener said...

Hallo Mark,

Last summer I heard you at Goddard ~ my first time back since you were my First Reader in 1989-1990.

Has a date yet been set by Graywolf for your book The Art of Description? I am eager!

Thank you for keeping vigil with so many for Craig Arnold. ♥

Warmly, June M. Schulte

Mari said...

I was to have read with Craig in Tokyo on the 19th of this month, but he bowed out in early April due to complications related to his travel plans. I was shocked and saddened by the news of his disappearance, but continue to hold out hope that he'll be found alive... Life is unpredictable, at best.