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Doty, Mark (b. 1953)  
page: 1  2  3  

Influences and Honors

Indeed, throughout his books, Doty explores deeply felt allegiances to several important predecessors. His most important influences are modern Greek poet C. P. Cavafy, and American poets Hart Crane, Elizabeth Bishop, and James Merrill, all of whom were also gay.

Doty learned from Bishop how to use the telling details of observation to show the mind at work, as well as how to offer insight into the inner life through engaging the physical world. My Alexandria speaks directly to Cavafy (for example, in the poem "Days of 1981" which explicitly echoes the Greek poet's own "Days of..." poems) and mirrors Cavafy's own concern with memory and his elegantly but simply-stated style. The linguistic influence of Crane and Merrill is more obviously seen in the poems of Atlantis and is modified in Sweet Machine by language that is increasingly more complex, intense, and musical.

Doty has also written Still Life with Oysters and Lemon (2001), a slim nonfiction hybrid book that combines art history and personal memoir. It begins with an intense look at the eponymous still life painted by seventeenth-century Dutch painter Jan Davidsz de Heem. Doty is also the editor of a collection of essays, Open House: Writers Redefine Home (2003).

In Dog Years (2007), Doty recounts his relationship with Beau, a beloved golden retriever. A poignant memoir that witnesses to the complex relationship between human beings and animals, the book is a loving rumination on his bond with a dog who taught him a great deal about love and loss.

In addition to numerous awards such as the Witter Bynner Poetry Prize of the American Academy of Arts & Letters, Doty has also received fellowships from the Guggenheim, Ingram Merrill, Rockefeller, and Whiting foundations, and from the National Endowment for the Arts.

In 2008, Doty's Fire to Fire: New and Collected Poems, a volume that collects poems from the poet's seven previously published volumes as well as new ones, won the National Book Award for poetry.

A blurb on the website of the National Book Foundation, which governs the National Book Awards, describes Doty's poems as "Elegant, plain-spoken, and unflinching . . . . With their praise for the world and their fierce accusation, their defiance and applause, they combine grief and glory in a music of crazy excelsis. In this generous retrospective volume a gifted young poet has become a master."


Doty writes poems of sumptuous detail and imagery while at the same time embracing emotionally raw subjects such as mortality and loss. His poems also explore art, beauty, and beauty's surface, as well as the flaw, the wound, and the limit.

Doty's talent lies in crafting poems with a finely polished verbal "sheen" (a favorite word of his). But his poetry's shimmering linguistic surface has been criticized by some readers. In an essay in the New Yorker, Helen Vendler argues that Doty's elegiac style "smooths out pangs, smooths out anger in its wish to be, above all, graceful." Doty has responded to this criticism in "Concerning Some Recent Criticism of His Work" (Sweet Machine) in which he writes, "Every sequin's / an act of praise."

Doty is among the most prominent gay poets of his generation, and he has earned distinction as an AIDS memoirist. He has also managed to transcend the category "gay poet" and to find a wide audience and commercial success. As Robert Martin suggests, if Doty's work endures, it will be in part "because he has understood the need both to record the suffering of AIDS and the desire for human gestures to transcend all loss and to write in a form at once delicate and powerful."

Doty and his partner, novelist Paul Lisicky, live alternately in Houston, where he teaches at the University of Houston, in New York City, and in Provincetown.

Christopher Matthew Hennessy

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Hennessy, Christopher. "Going to the Source: An Interview with Mark Doty." Lambda Book Report 10 (2002): 12-17.

Landau, Deborah. "'How to Live. What to Do.': The Poetics and Politics of AIDS." American Literature 68.1 (1996): 193-225.

"Mark Doty." Contemporary Authors. Scot Peacock, ed. Detroit: Gale, 1998. 108-111.

Martin, Robert K. The Homosexual Tradition in American Poetry. Rev. ed. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1998.

Minderovic, Christine Minder. "Mark (A.) Doty." Contemporary Poets. Thomas Riggs, ed. Seventh ed. Detroit: St. James Press, 2001. 290-92.

Padel, Ruth. "Songs of Myself." The New York Times (March 17, 2002): 15.

Vendler, Helen. "Comic and Elegiac. Two Poets and the Question of Tradition." New Yorker (April 8, 1996): 100-101.

Wunderlich, Mark. "About Mark Doty." Ploughshares 25 (1999): 183-89.


    Citation Information
    Author: Hennessy, Christopher Matthew  
    Entry Title: Doty, Mark  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated November 22, 2008  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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