Wednesday, June 30, 2010

From world to word

I'm happy to report that my little handbook for writers, THE ART OF DESCRIPTION, has just come out from Graywolf, and here's the first review -- a starred notice in PUBLISHERS' WEEKLY. I know it's immodest to pass along one's own reviews, but hey... this project has been a bit of a labor of love, and a while in the making, so I'm happy to see its first reviewer express pleasure in it, and happy to pass these words along:

The Art of Description: World into Word
Mark Doty, Graywolf, $12 (152p) ISBN 978-1-55597-563-0

"To use words at all is to use them figuratively," says Doty in his writing guide, part of Graywolf's "The Art of…" series. As both a National Book Award-winning poet (Fire to Fire) and accomplished memoirist (Dog Years), Doty is not only qualified but uniquely articulate on the subject. How does a poet create color? Landscape? Context? Saying "blue" or "field" means different things to different people, and also falls short of encompassing any kind of atmosphere or significance. "Poetry's project is to use every aspect of language to its maximum effectiveness, finding within it nuances and powers we otherwise could not hear," he says, and in order to capture the "texture of experience," the poet must be aware of what is actually in front of him or her, both physically and metaphorically. Because the simple act of looking involves interpretation, descriptions are, in a sense, "self portraits"--no two people see the same way, so the poet inevitably puts him or herself into each and every image. For Doty, the art of description is mostly "a balance between terms, saying what you SEE and saying what YOU see." (Aug.)

Friday, June 25, 2010

In the old cemetery, Amherst

"And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves."

Monday, June 14, 2010

Yesterday my friend Phil Schultz gave a terrific reading at Guild Hall in East Hampton, a retrospective performance that moved through his new volume of selected poems -- and thus through a career -- offering a piece or two from each book, then concluding with a suite of new poems in which the breadth and spirit of the work that's come before felt both crystallized and amplified. It was really energizing.

Afterwards, dinner at Town Line Barbeque on Route 27 with a host of poets and artists, a sweet-spirited time. I was thinking about the sort of group snapshots that show up in the biographies of artists who've spent time out here over the decades, and these seem ripe for just that sort of thing.The picture on top was taken by yours truly: that's Paul, Phil, Star Black, Carol Muske Dukes, and Monica Banks. The second shot is by Star Black, and from left to right it's Julie Sheehan, yours truly, Phil, and then Phil's son Augie. This picture reminds me of old Chinese poems, scenes where the poets gather in some mountain hut or tavern someplace, a brief respite from the rest of the world, some joyous hour.

While I'm at it, here's a piece I wrote about Phil's new book, THE GOD OF LONELINESS: New and Selected Poems, for the East Hampton Star. There is, of course, a potential ethical issue in reviewing friends' books, but the fact is that if poets don't write these things, who will? And in truth I'd rather call this an appreciation than a "review" anyway -- poets of this stature don't require reviewing, but perhaps something more like a description of the way they've become fully, unmistakably themselves.