Unshowy and vital, Mark Doty’s poems are deceptively casual, in “Pipistrelle”,
“I could hear the tender cry of a bat
– cry won’t do: a diminutive chime
somewhere between merriment and weeping
who could ever say? I with no music
to my name save what I can coax
into a line, no sense of pitch,
heard the night’s own one-sided conversation.”
For someone who says he has no music to his name, he really does care about lyric and musicality. Even an ordinary image (though not so ordinary for the viewer) of a peacock opening his tail draws on music and voice. In “Apparition”, a peacock
“And then the epic
no human throat can mime
– is that why it stops the heart? –
just before he condescends to unfurl
the archaic poem of his tail.”
It’s not just animals whose voices are explored, loquacious taxi drivers are not let off the hook. But the taxi driver is allowed his own voice: Mark Doty doesn’t patronise or tell it like a funny tale where the joke’s on the driver. He wants to hear the taxi driver’s own voice and share it.
Reading “Theories and Apparitions” is like watching a dance where you know the choreography is complex but equally you have confidence in the dancers to make it seamless so you relax and enjoy it.