After a recent book reading, a questioner observed to Mark Doty that his poems often seem to start with a question to which his verse works out a response. In his reply, Doty made a minor correction: he frequently begins, he said, with an image or an observation that has caught his attention, and the resulting poem is his way of mining that image for its meaning, of teasing out its deeper significance. School of the Arts
is filled with gem-like examples of that writing process. Whether it’s the mediocre paintings described in “The Art Auction” representing the inability of art to reproduce the true glories of nature, or the onward sweep of new construction beside historic Cape Cod structures in “School of the Arts” symbolizing the contrasting mix of freshness and decay in the tangy salt scent of the marsh breezes, Doty’s poems are masterpieces of crisply painted images and acutely expressed reflections. My two favorite poems from this collection, though, are “Now You’re an Animal” and “Heaven for Arden.” The former pulses with male sexuality, the poet imagining himself with antlers as he poses nude for a photographer. Later, dressed again and walking through a cold New York spring, Doty observes that[...] on the street a few men knew what I wished:that my plain clothes hid hooves and haunches.
The latter, the closing poem of the volume, presents an everyday situation, taking a dog for a walk, but uncharacteristically leaves it completely up to the reader to make the unmistakeable connection to a larger truth. After turning around at the halfway point of the walk to head home, Doty’s dog shows obvious relief:Then he could take comfortin the certainty of an ending,and treat the rest of the way as a series of possibilities;then he could run,and find pleasure in the woods beside the path.
Through experience with the certainty of endings, Doty too has learned to find pleasure in the woods beside the path, and reading his poetry the reader can share both the insights he has gained and the pleasure he has found.read more