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Mark Doty is the author of six collections of poetry and three prose volumes. He has received many honors for his poetry and prose, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Writers' Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonaction. He is also the only American poet to win the T. S. Eliot Prize. Doty currently teaches in the graduate program at the University of Houston, lives in Houston and in Provincetown, and was the Writer-inResidence in the MFA program at UNCW during the spring of 2004. 46 with Mark Doty Nathaniel Perrine Nathaniel Perrine: From your early works, Turtle Swan and Bethlehem in Broad Daylight, to Atlantis and Heaven's Coast, your writing seems to gravitate toward landscape with special attention to the natural image. Can you explain this "return to nature" that occurs in Atlantis and Heaven's Coast? Mark Doty: The answer is almost embarrassingly straightforward: I moved to Provincetown. It was culturally a very welcoming place for my partner and me, and one that provided a very hospitable environment , in those days, for people struggling with HIV disease, but I wasn't prepared for the impact the landscape would have on my imaginative life. We lived first in a rented cottage a few hundred yards from the end of the road, the beginnings of the beautiful marshland that marks the furthest extreme of Cape Cod. I felt we were living at the tip of the world. The town is surrounded by open space called The Provincelands, originally set aside as a common holding for the community , and then it became part of the National Seashore. Therefore, there is very little room for development, and there are stretches of dune, forest, and shoreline that feel remarkably untouched. (Of course they are touched, profoundly so, but that's another story.) I felt I was immersed in this great tapestry—sky and water and air and light—that was flung from the floor of the world to the height of the sky. And I had a dog, so I was always out walking, and the margins always shifted, and what was land at one hour was water the next. And then the fog would come in and revise the place again—so it seemed a landscape of mutability and ferocious life. I fell in love with it. Perhaps in part because it seemed incredibly capacious in terms of providing metaphor; there was a vessel, in the given world, for whatever it was I was thinking about or feeling. I believe it's Frost who talks about the writer finding "a great good place"—a location which becomes the 47 Ecotone: reimagining place home of the imagination as well as of the body. That's what Provincetown became for me, and both Atlantis and Heaven's Coast are the result of that enchantment. Perrine: In Heaven's Coast, you wrote of the poetic image as "a clutch of meanings, fibers spun into a single, complex yarn, various in texture, glinting with strands of separate and intermingling color." I can't help but think of the poem from Atlantis, "A Green Crab's Shell," and how you take this object and bring it into sparkling illumination. Your work has been characterized by poets and critics alike as sublime, writing that shines. In this sense, do you think language becomes transparent? Can you speak to this effect? What are the limitations, the borders of it? Doty: I have been very interested in the work of description, the investigative act of saying what we see. Saying and seeing are not, of course, separate processes. It's exactly like what happens when you study drawing—you find yourself perceiving differently, noting form where before there was a less active, less particularized perception. Study painting and you discover immediately that the habit of perception which identifies a leaf as "green" will not serve you any longer. That green is a subtle, complex interaction of shades and hues and tones. I don't believe that language is transparent, finally, though we use it that way all the time—I say, the leaf is green, and you believe me...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2165-2651
Print ISSN
1553-1775
Pages
pp. 46-56
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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