Visiting Poets

Mark Doty

Mark Doty

“A new book of poems—or of anything—by Mark Doty is good news in a dark time,” W. S. Merwin once wrote. “The precision, daring, scope, elegance of his compassion and of the language in which he embodies it are a reassuring pleasure.” Mark Doty is the author of nine books of poetry, three acclaimed memoirs, a lyric book-length meditation on the art of the still life, and, most recently, What Is the Grass (W. W. Norton, 2020), a personal interrogation of his life-long relationship with the work of Walt Whitman. In awarding the National Book Award in 2008 for Fire to Fire: New and Collected Poems, the committee described Doty as a “master” whose poems convey "ferocious compassion." Doty teaches at Rutgers University, where he serves as Distinguished Professor of English and Director of the Writers House.

Select Poems

14th Street Gym


Beauty that does not disguise the wound,

but reads through to the lack it marks:

the one-armed man lifts himself again


on the assisted pull-up machine,

sleeve of––sparrows?––and morning glories 

swelling with each upward pull.


In the locker room, I praise his ink 

and he turns––to thank me, and so I’ll notice

(what you can’t restore, inscribed)


the blue wing needled on the socket. 


From Deep Lane (Norton, 2015)

My ex says he likes to ride on the top level 

of the George Washington Bridge,

because then he’s closer to his Lord.

I say, but isn’t God immanent,

and he says, that’s true too, and I say,

well, how can you be any closer then?

He enjoys the mystery of contradiction,

likes being lifted up, while I think the highest

level of the bridge is terrifying;

I act as though I am brave, because

I understand that it’s beautiful up here,

shockingly so, April pouring its gold 

over the gathered Hudson,

but still I think of Rilke saying beauty’s 

the beginning of a terror we can hardly bear.

My ex would say it’s the other way round,

terror the beginning of a terror we can hardly bear.

My ex would say it’s the other way round,

terror the beginning of some radical beauty,

and he’s happy, while I drive the appalling,

crowded lane, and he looks out over the edges,

humming a little, entirely pleased. 


From Deep Lane (Norton, 2015)

Why think sun and stones less alive than sea lions,

why privilege proteins or the slow burn of carbohydrates,

is that the only life there is?


Or, he might say, fire and granite suffer as much as

everything else,

it would be a diminishment not to think so.


Still he’d walk the shore, evenings, with his bulldog

––bowlegs working to keep pace,

darting to the foam-line, distracted by pleasure,

racing to catch up again, delay then hurry,


the creature performing a cheerful little drama––

and the poet, who could not be wholeheartedly pleased

with anything human, he liked that too. 


From Deep Lane (Norton, 2015)

Poetry Center Reading

Fall 2020