PF detail from Pierre-Auguste Renoir - Beach Scene, Guernsey (Children by the Sea in Guernsey) - 1883;

ISSN 
1942-2067

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Last updated:
May 2009

 

Mark Doty's Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems, won the National Book Award for Poetry in 2008.  His eight books of poems include School of the Arts, Source, and My Alexandria. He has also published four volumes of nonfiction prose:  Still Life with  Oysters and Lemon, Heaven's CoastFirebird and Dog Years, which was a New York Times bestseller in 2007.

Doty’s poems  have appeared in many magazines including The Atlantic Monthly, The London Review of Books, Ploughshares, Poetry, and The New Yorker.  Widely anthologized, his poems appear in The Norton Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry and many other collections.

Doty's work has been honored by the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, a Whiting Writers Award, two Lambda Literary Awards  and the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction. He is the only American poet to have received the T.S. Eliot Prize in the U.K., and has received fellowships from the Guggenheim, Ingram Merrill and Lila Wallace/Readers Digest Foundations, and from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Doty lives in New York City and in Houston, Texas, where he is John and Rebecca Moores Professor in the graduate program at the University of Houston. In the fall of 2009, he will join the faculty at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.



 

Lilies in New York

A drawing: smudged shadow, deep worked areas of graphite ren-
dering exactly a paper-wrapped pot’s particular folds, then each
spiculate leaf, their complex spiraling movement up the stem,
and the shining black nodes—seeds?—mounted at the intersec-
tion of stalk and leaf: a work of attention all the way up to the
merest suggestion of the three flowers,
a few rough unmodulated lines…

what’s this about? Why,

up here where trumpeting
crowns all this darkness,
has the artist given up?

Exhaustion, since he’s made such
a density of strokes below?
This page moves from deep,

pressured rendering
toward these slight gestures,
the flower merely sketched,

barely represented. Is it that
he wants us to think, This is a drawing
not a flower and so reminds us

that the power of his illusion,
alive below the lily’s neck,
is trickery? A formal joke,

airy fragility over such a field of marks,
warring masses, particulate suspensions
(lead, black chalk, charred—coal?

smoothed or scribbled or crosshatched everywhere,
a made night) : art’s dialectic, the done
and undone, dirty worked spaces

and the clean black gaze of the unfinished,
with all its airy invitations? Or is it
too much for him, to render that delicacy,

to bring the white throat out
of white paper, no hope of accuracy,
and so he make this humble gesture

to acknowledge his own limitations,
because the lilies are perfect,
is that it, and what version

of their splendor would come any closer
than this wavering, errant line?
Or is he indifferent to flowering,

to culmination and resolution?
Would he rather remain with the push
of areas of darkness, hustle

and dash of line, cacophony of pot
and stem, roiling swoops and scrawls
like clashing swathes of twilight,

furious? As if the frame
were filled with colliding expanses
of noise (traffic, sirens, some engine

hammering into the street below,
barking, air brakes expelling their huge
mechanical tribute to longing,

arc of a train’s passage and descent
below the river), as if charcoal
were a medium of solidified sound,

is that it, which allowed the grind
and pull of this city to render itself,
to pour through his hand

into its own representation
—which does not hobble our apprehension
of the thing but honors it, since it is

of the moment only, a singular
clarity, and we understand, don’t we,
that stasis is always a lie?

These only appear to be lilies
this conflation of smudges,
But isn’t the ruse lovely,

matter got up in costume as itself?
Isn’t the dark carved now,
a moment, around the body

of the flower? New York’s
a clutch in which these lilies
are held, let’s say the drawing’s

subject is Manhattan’s grip,
the instant in which the city
constellates itself

around this vertical stroke
risen from a blur of florist’s paper:
doesn’t all of New York lean

into the hard black lines defining
stalk and leaf, a field of pressure
and distortion, a storm

billowing and forming itself
now around these shapes?
Isn’t the city flower and collision?

Trumpet, trumpet and trumpet:
now New York’s a smear
and chaos of lilies, a seized whir,

burr and diminishment, a greased dark
clank of lilies which contains in itself
snowy throat and black crosshatched

field of atmosphere, scent
and explosion, tenderness
and history, all that’s leaning

down into the delicate, nearly human skin,
pressing with its impossible weight,
despite which the mouth of the flower

—quick and temporary as
any gesture made by desire—
remains open.  Lustrous,

blackening, open as if
about to speak. Open—
is that it? Out of these negotiations

arises a sketchy, possible
bloom, about to, going to
going to be, becoming

open. And who could hope to draw that?

Lilies in New York" first appeared in SWEET MACHINE by Mark Doty (HarperCollins, 1998).

Georgia O’Keefe “Calla Lily Turned Away” 1923