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School of the Arts
The darkly graceful poems in Mark Doty's seventh collection explore the ways in which we are educated by the implacable powers of time and desire. The world constantly renews itself, and the new brings both possibility and erasure. Given the limits of our own bodies, how are we to live within the inevitability of despair?
This is the plainest of Doty's books, its language stripped and humbled. But whatever depths are sounded in these poems, their humane and open music sustains. Art itself instructs us. Lucian Freud's startling renditions of human skin, Virginia Woolf's ecstatic depiction of consciousness, Caravaggio's only-too-real people elevated to difficult glory -- all turn the light of human intelligence upon "the night of time."
Formally inventive, warm, at once witty and disconsolate, School of the Arts represents a poet reinventing his own voice at midlife, finding a way through a troubled passage. Acutely attentive, insistently alive, this is a book of "fierce vulnerability."
128 pages; ISBN 9780061877766
Heaven for Helen
Helen says heaven, for her,
would be complete immersion
in physical process,
without self-consciousness -
to be the respiration of the grass,
or ionized agitation
just above the break of a wave,
traffic in a sunflower's thousand golden rooms.
Images of exchange,
and of untrammeled nature.
But if we're to become part of it all,
won't our paradise also involve
participation in being, say,
diesel fuel, the impatience of trucks
on August pavement,
weird glow of service areas
along the interstate at night?
We'll be shiny pink egg cartons,
and the thick treads of burst tires
along the highways in Pennsylvania:
a hell we've made to accompany
the given: we will join
our tiresome productions,
things that want to be useless forever.
But that's me talking. Helen
would take the greatest pleasure
in being a scrap of paper,
if that's what there were to experience.
Perhaps that's why she's a painter,
finally: to practice disappearing
into her scrupulous attention,
an exacting rehearsal for the larger
world of things it won't be easy to love.
Helen I think will master it, though I may not.
She has practiced a long time learning to see.
I have devoted myself to affirmation,
when I should have kept my eyes on the ground.