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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

SignatureReviewed by Reginald ShepherdDoty's first book, Turtle, Swan, appeared in 1987. He has published six books of poetry and four memoirs, all excellent, since. This hefty selection from his seven collections, plus a generous sheaf of new poems, should solidify his position as a star of contemporary American poetry. Doty's poetic career really took off with My Alexandria (1993), his third book, which made his reputation. Fire to Fire contains only two poems from his first two books—Adonis Theatre, about an old movie palace turned gay porno theater, and The Death of Antinous, about the Roman emperor Hadrian's lover's afterlife in statuary, both of which are meditations on representation, absence and desire. Desire, and its capacity to transform and transfigure, is one of Doty's main themes. Enough desire (so often mixed, as T.S. Eliot wrote, with memory) can make us as beautiful as the objects of our desire. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Doty has never eschewed beauty. Indeed, beauty, its unlikely, often unexpected, yet constant recurrence and its elusive fleetingness, is central, as demonstrated by several new poems titled Theory of Beauty, each with a parenthetical specific occasion. Beauty is found everywhere in Doty's poems, in a band playing cast-off chemical drums in Times Square, even in Chet Baker falling from an Amsterdam hotel window: a blur of buds//breathing in the lindens/and you let go and why not.The title poem Fire to Fire, from School of the Arts (2005) is a gorgeous meditation on the way that life's fire infuses the world, in sunflowers, goldfinches, and even a neighbor's puppy: fire longs to meet itself/flaring, longing wants a multiplicity of faces,//branching and branching out. The selections from The Vault (which really needs to be read in its entirety) reveal the poetry in men meeting other men's bodies in a sex club, incorporating references to the Middle English poem Western Wind and to James Wright's A Blessing, and including a subtle revision of Rilke's Orpheus. Eurydice. Hermes in which the men are deep in the club's mine of souls, that shaft where inner and outer//grow indissoluble. At times the poems unnecessarily explain what their vivid images and striking phrases makes clear, but the commitment to the particular, and to its possibilities, is unwavering. As Doty writes in Ararat, Any small thing can save you. The poems combine close attention to the fragile, contingent things of the world with the constant, almost unavoidable chance of transcendence, since desire can make anything into a god.Reginald Shepherd's most recent books are Fata Morgana, poems, and the just-published Orpheus in the Bronx, prose on poetry.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

The word that keeps leaping to mind, as you read through this gratifyingly thick collection of poems, is fluent. Doty’s facility with his chosen form—usually unrhymed stanzas of two, three, and four lines each, the meter floating between three beats and four—is so natural that the craft in his work is all but invisible; he makes the damnably difficult look deceptively simple. This impression of ease may also have something to do with the sense that Doty has found some breathing room, in his work and his private life. His death-haunted poems from earlier books about the age of AIDS—“an acronym, a vacant / four-letter cipher / that draws meanings into itself, / reconstitutes the world”—give way here to recent poems about a more hopeful life with new friends, new vistas, new narratives, all rendered in a way that feels at once confessional and universal. Not that death’s irrelevant—ghosts and apparitions, such as spotting John Berryman having lunch in a diner in Chelsea, still make regular appearances—but the poet has made his peace with it. --Kevin Nance --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (January 27, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060752513
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060752514
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #199,219 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Mark Doty is one poet who continually astonishes me. I read his work and am always swept up in his lush vocabulary, the musicality of his language, the richness of details in the images he creates of the natural world. Suddenly, I realize, usually with an audible gasp, that he has taken me somewhere unexpected; he led me gently somewhere I can make meaning in a much more personal context. One way he does this, I believe, is by giving the reader emotional distance by using metaphors so deftly and so subtly. The reader finds beauty even in the darkest places.

Doty is the poet who led me to poetry, and I do believe that "Fire to Fire" is the book I'd take to the proverbial "desert island" with me. I've reread his paperback titles so many times that they are nearly disintegrating. After reading "Pipistrelle," "The Green Crab's Shell," "The Source," and so many other new and old favorites all beautifully bound in this hard cover volume, I do believe I'm doing triple lutzes! I'm off the ground!

This book is a must-have for anyone who reads, collects, and studies contemporary American poetry.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Mark Doty's poems are clear and personal without being ambiguously intellectualized. Personal and intimate without being sentimental. Intelligent without being academic. This is not university workshop stuff. It comes from the outside world of a variety of cities, towns and provinces. The 300+ pages of selected poems offer a great general overview of the poet's work up to now. The back cover shows enthusiastic endorsements from Phillip Levine, Mary Oliver, Robert Pinski, and Alan Shapiro. Amazon makes the book easily available from various sources and economical.
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Format: Hardcover
Mark Doty is one of our most courageous and important cultural voices, both because of his unflinching subject matter and the ground he occupies in the aesthetic debates of late modernism. This volume of New and Selected poems justly deserves the National Book Award it has recently received. It's important to note that "Turtle, Swan", his wonderful first volume, sadly underrepresented here by only two poems, came out just when public awareness of the AIDS crisis was hitting a crescendo (1987). In many respects, Doty occupies the same position in the poetry of that era that his near contemporary David Wojnarowicz (1954-1992) does in the visual arts. Doty's elegies to lost friends and lovers, his straightforward depiction of city life in the 1980s and 1990s, and his lyrical infusion of homoeroticism into almost all of his poems, whatever their ostensible subject, reached an early apotheosis in his third book "My Alexandria" (1993). Both "Atlantis" (1995) and "Sweet Machine" (1998) continued in this ecstatic, powerful, life-affirming mode, the poems employing clear narrative, sharp diction, and strict attention to sound and natural details. Doty is dog-crazy, art-mad and besotted with flowers. His ekphrastic poems are among his best because he always takes the radiant side of beauty in any aesthetic debate. In the books of the current decade, the new work becomes somewhat more opaque, more self-consciously experimental, more dependent on the closing line or a starkly stated theme for impact. Still, even the last decade has work that bears comparison with his best. Among the latter, you will never forget your first encounter with "Night Ferry", "No", "A Green Crab's Shell", the first section of "Atlantis", "Crepe de Chine", or "White Kimono". There are dozens of others that bear re-reading and, if you are a writer, close study: Doty's technical brilliance is so understated it feels like close-up magic.
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Format: Hardcover
This book was my introduction to Mark Doty, and it did not disappoint. His language is rich, dense, almost overwhelming sometimes. A poet myself, I find myself becoming jealous of his descriptions, so original and perfect are they. For example, in his poem "Theory of beauty (Grackles on Montrose)" his descriptions of the sounds the birds make include "drop the tin can", "really creaky hinge," and "limping siren." Not to mention "tea kettle in hell." Wonderful! If you get this book and like it, let me also recommend "The Water Sonnets" by Kenton Wing Robinson. They are tighter and more economical poems but vividly descriptive.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A courageous and emotionally powerful collection, "Fire to Fire" exhibits Mark Doty's poetical range and aesthetic. He speaks with clarity of language and image, is not afraid to allow the natural world to speak for him, and faces death and life after the deaths of so many close to him with honesty and impossible hope:

"All smolder and oxblood, these flowerheads, flames of August: fierce bronze, or murky rose, petals concluded in gold— And as if fire called its double down the paired goldfinches come swerving quick on the branching towers, so the blooms sway with the heft of hungers indistinguishable, now, from the blossoms."

"Sometimes we wake not knowing how we came to lie here, or who has crowned us with these temporary, precious stones."

He reveals the survivor's wonder and guilt when he survives when so many friends and a lover die in the great AIDS crisis:

"And why did a god so invested in permanence choose so fragile a medium, the last material he might expect to last?"

Doty is not afraid to come close to the sentimental when talking about Beau and Arden, his dogs, as they age through their briefer lives and die before he was ready.

Every poems is crafted for this world. And while Doty acknowledges the great rift created by the 1970s Postmodern experimentation and loss of faith in language, he believes in the power of words well-chosen to carry us through our individual and collective search for meaning: He knows the surprise that comes when the poem reaches beyond what the poet thought he wanted:

"The poem wants the impossible; the poem wants a name for the kind nothing at the core of time,"

Read this collection. You will be heartbroken at times, but that is our lot. And Doty is a great voice and his gentle but courageous presence is welcome on this journey.
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