Read This: Fire to Fire by Mark Doty
Mark Doty's Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems ($22.95, Harper) won the National Book Award earlier this month. I was rooting for Mark and Patricia Smith's amazing collection, Blood Dazzler, and wish there could have been a tie. I own many "collected and selected" volumes, and Fire to Fire ranks near the top for offering a compelling overview of a poet at the height of his powers. This 326-page book gathers work from Mark's seven collections (from 1987's Turtle, Swan to 2005's School of the Arts). However the "new" in this book is the section "Theories and Apparitions," which features 23 recent poems. These poems have an international flavor, from the English countryside and Prague to Houston and New York (where Walt Whitman and John Berryman make appearance in modern day Manhattan). There's also a deep appreciation and awe of nature and how humans react and interact. Mark's "theory" poems, which have appeared in various literary magazines, are here, too, showcasing his precise language and often abstract point of view. The work from Mark's seven previous collections is substantial and contains some of his best work, including one of my favorite poems, "The Embrace," from 1998's Sweet Machine. Picking a representative poem from all this fine work is impossible, but I decided to showcase one from "Theories and Apparitions" because it references Mark's lovely partner, Paul, and their beloved pooches.
Theory of Marriage (The Hug)
Arden would turn his head toward the one
he loved, Paul or me, and look downward,
and butt the top of his skull against us, leaning forward,
hiding his face, disappearing into what he'd chosen.
Beau had another idea. He'd offer his rump
for scratching, and wag his tail while he was stroked,,
returning that affection by facing away, looking out
toward whatever might come along to enjoy.
Beau had no interest in an economy of affection;
why hoard what you can give away?
Arden thought you should close your eyes
to anything else; only by vanishing
into the beloved do you make it clear:
what else is there you'd want to see?