Mark Doty is my favorite American poet, in a league with Walt Whitman & Frank O’Hara. Elegant, unflinching, sometimes melancholy, his imagery haunts me. I appreciate the duality of the rural & the urbane in his work. Like the poet, as a gay man I have always sought out a life in an urban center while being enchanted by a cabin at the beach. I have attempted to take my city lot & make a place for nature, a tiny attempt at both worlds.
Doty: "I've always been a poet who wrote about urban life because I love the layers & surprises & the jangly complexities of cities. I feel at home in cities, being a gay man. It's a place of permission & possibility. In 1990, I moved to Provincetown. I also love this landscape of salt marshes, beaches & dunes, but I had to write about it in a different way. In the marsh, there is no narrative. All that happens is that a bird flies by, the tide comes in & goes out."
His poetry also addresses the artifice & the natural: "I play around with the distinction between art & nature, the real & the false. My experience often feels pretty seamless. . . I've always been drawn to artifice & the beauties of surface and shadings and tone. A lot of the process of development is figuring out how to be all of yourself in a poem. How do you let your love of wigs & make-up, your sense of humor, your anger find its way into the poem?"
The husband & I have lived with, loved & buried 4 dogs. Just this past week we lost a canine friend of an important player in our lives, a dog loved as if she was our own. Doty’s poetry collections have altered my point of view & his language has transported me. But, it is a work of prose that has moved me the most. I read his lovely Dog Years: A Memoir in 2 sittings, ironically taking a break only to walk my terriers. A meditation on life & loss & the method that grief squeezes into your life & never lets go, Doty tells of the life he shared with his 2 dogs as he experiences the decline & death of a partner from HIV, & how the canines move & affect a new relationship with a new love & future spouse.
How many ways have all my dogs had a profound effect on how I have dealt with the heights & valleys of my life & my 34 year relationship? The Husband & I have had a dog, usually 2, for nearly all our time together. At one point, I believe we stayed a couple because of the dogs.
In Dog Years, Doty, in an improbable decision, adopts a dog as a companion for his dying partner. Beau is a large golden retriever, possibly abused & in need of love & companionship. Beau is made part of the family, paired with Arden, another retriever, & Doty’s partner- Wally. Beau responds well to his new life, & bounces back to life. The 2 dogs become Doty's best friends, comfort, & the reason to keep going on the worst of days. The canines’ moxie, loyalty, & love give him hope when all else fails.
Dog Years is a moving & intimate memoir with profound meditations on the life we share with animals & the lessons they teach us about life, love, & loss. Doty gives me a view of the vulnerability of dogs, how they rely on us, & the positive outlook they bring, & the gift of unconditional love. Dog Years is unsentimental, but intensely, mournfully, movingly affecting. We all will have to deal with loss. This book will help just a little bit.
The very handsome Mark Doty’s work has been honored by the National Book Critics Circle Award, the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, a Whiting Writers Award, a Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writer’s Award, & the T.S. Eliot Prize. He has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ingram Merrill Foundation, & the Dorothy & Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars & Writers at the New York Public Library. He is a professor at the University of Houston.
Doty lives in NYC, Fire Island, & Provincetown. From 1995 until 2010, his partner was the writer Paul Lisicky. They were married in 2008 & divorced in 2013. He currently lives with his partner Alexander Hadelin.
We are the same age, along with a love of men, & dogs, Mark Doty & I are both bloggers. I do not imply that we are in the same league. & now I must sign off. Lulu & Junior are waiting for their morning walk.