When Mark Doty's My Alexandria was published in 1993, the response was one of unanimous celebration. Writing with unmatched technical virtuosity and stunning honesty Doty never flinches from his subject - how we live when what we live for is about to be taken from us - and the poems collected in My Alexandria revealed powerfully the inextricable connection between communion and loss. In his latest collection, Atlantis, Doty claims the mythical lost island as his own: a paradise whose memory he must keep alive at the same time that he is forced to renounce its hold on him. Atlantis recedes, just as the lives of those Doty loves continue to be extinguished by the devastation of AIDS. Doty's struggle is to reconcile with, and even to celebrate the evanescence of our earthly connections - and to understand how we can love more at the very moment that we must consent to let go. Atlantis is a work of astounding maturity and grace, and it will further the already extraordinary reputation of this poet who seeks - and finds - redemption in his brilliant and courageous poems.
"I was so filled with longing / --is that what sound is for?-- / I seemed to be nowhere at all," Mark Doty rhapsodizes while watching geese fly in "Migratory," another double vision in his award-winning fourth book, Atlantis
. Forming a moving elegy to the poet's lover, Wally, the individual tercets and couplets speak in a cautious but brave rhetoric combining the best of Frost and Bishop. The book removes its mourning clothes and goes downtown, full of rage, to sit in the steam baths of the edgy "Homo Will Not Inherit," in which the speaker says, "I'll tell you what I'll inherit: the margins." Indeed, Doty's speakers are most likely found in tidal, watery margins that indulge his double vision of land and sea interweaving like body and spirit. Atlantis begins merely as marshland uncovered at low tide:
Now the tide's begun
its clockwork turn, pouring,
in the day's hourglass
toward the other side of the world,
and our dependable marsh reappears
...And our ongoingness,
what there'll be of us? Look,
love, the lost world
rising from the waters again:
our continent, where it always was....
This austerity lapses into sentimentality only once, when Wally pets a dog. Yet even here, Doty delivers an aesthetic message, that the touch "isn't about grasping / ...so much will / must be summoned, / such attention brought / to the work--which is all / he is now, this gesture." It is as though Wally's death has released Doty from the uneasy assurances of earlier poems, causing him to rediscover how life exists in metaphor, and at one remove, the language of poetry. "Description is travel," he writes, and like Frost in "Birches," he travels along his metaphors, climbing until they bend and bring him back to a world changed by the experience. Atlantis
and his previous book, My Alexandria
, are valuable chronicles of sensibility and intelligence laid bare. -- Edward Skoog