Mark Doty reading last night. Yes, I did see him walking Commercial Street last week. He seemed shorter on the street and taller at the reading. Still a type of shorebird but more body to him than in 2003. I have heard more poets read since 2003. His performance passion struck me still, but I could hear the poetry better. I wonder how many of the poems I can remember. Jellyfish in the harbor. Old man Anthony and his dog Charlie—a poem titled “Rope.” Dog Arden trying to climb the stairs to sleep in Mark and Paul’s bedroom. Refinishing old wide floorboards. Poems were about time, hating and loving it. Mark tending toward the former, Paul advocating time’s usefulness . . . ?? Value? If not time, then these losses? A poem about student painters. The particular antique red paint on the trim of a barn. Mark chose poems written about a two block range, from the Fine Arts Work Center to the harbor. Many poems came from his most recent book, School of the Arts. “Coastal,” part of a poem from an earlier book. I was tired by the end. He oscillates between conversational diction and drenched language. He is easy in expressing raw emotional stuff that wavers at the edge of sentimentality and cliché. As if he vamps the language and the melodrama of lives, dips them down into easy recognition before keelhauling them up into his particular form of arabesque. He reads so pointedly he pops his p’s, hisses his s’s. Told a story of finding old dog Arden outside asleep in a furious rainstorm. Arden pushing through a hole in the screen on his way out to sleep in the garden because he could no longer make his way upstairs. Arden walking home from shopping, the hard work of it. The first poem, the one about student painters, talked about light fracturing, Provincetown light, and how what the painters painted struck him as amateurishly wrong until he, too, saw the gate in that lavender cast. The language reels off his tongue as elaborately spun song, but it’s too fast to capture, too soon by to appreciate. That is, I appreciate and miss simultaneously. What can I hear most clearly? Consonance and assonance or thread (I wrote tread) of meaning.
By the end, I heard less, watched the dome of his forehead and skull. Shiny, polished, not visibly damp, although a spot appeared near the end of his lower left rib in his brown silk shirt. Loose dark blue jeans, rolled at the ankles, I think, over some dark (black?) shoe. With that solid trunk, he’s not skinny as much as trunklike. Yes, he’s skinnier than not, but the stomach mildly out-rounds the chest, and that spoils the pure young man skinny I had remembered from last time. Also, last time I would say he covered less skin. A vein s-curved like a compressed river climbs his left temple, and driving diagonally up and back from it, a half-inch strip that seems possibly a scar, flat and old, a blow from a baseball bat might have made such a scar. It’s faint and unsuggests itself to the point of seeming a natural feature of this skull. A pinkish-yellow full-fleshed skull, bare from baldness instead of a razor, and the hair behind clipped short. Bare as if the force of poeticizing burned away the front follicles. A dome process, rising from his sometimes glazed glittering eyes—this is between poems, his come-down or a technique learned to end one and find the next. He had a scrap of paper mapping his reading, but each poem he found by flipping through the books, looking to the table of contents of the first one to find the first poem, the Sunday painter poem? Sometimes, particularly at the start, he thinned his lips and drew them back like a coarser primate in articulating precisely what he would be doing: not reading new work in the tradition he sketched out for us, new work as present proof of being no one would be likely to defy, but instead offering this clutch of poems created as evidence of this two-block geography. Walks and buildings and dogs. His love for old buildings where all the residents continue to abide.