W N Herbert

On the Cusp

Deep Lane

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Disinformation

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The Curiosities

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Mark Doty’s ninth collection displays his customary gift for empathic observation, collapsing the distance between poet and subject to establish an observance of both secular and sexual mysteries. This is accomplished through an intensity of sensual imagery and an ecstatic syntax, as in this passage about Jackson Pollock:

… Forget supplication,
beseechment, praise. Look down
into it, the smash-up swirl, oil and pigment
and tree-shatter:
tumult in equilibrium.

His focus on the redemptive act of gardening, in the titular series of poems called ‘Deep Lane’, and on how this fits with the animalistic, exemplified by masterful descriptions of a fish, a mole, a mammoth, a goat and his dog, is driven by a Yeatsian dread of our self-inhibiting self-awareness: ‘I have believed/if the scales fell from our eyes we’d see the world/as it is, that the core-light never flags’. There are echoes of Blake here – perhaps also of George Herbert, in the address to an ambiguous, God-like ‘Sir’ – and of Walt Whitman, the addressee of an important poem in Source, a previous collection. In ‘What is the Grass?’ Doty brings together word and world in the question at the heart of the book: can language capture, if not the world, then at least our experience of it? ‘And he who’d written his book over and over, nearly ruining it,/… for him the word settled nothing at all.’

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