Perhaps all nine are. Perhaps all nine should be.
As I read these poems, certain words kept coming to kind. Quiet. Beauty. Defined. Precise. Distance.
“Distance” is something of the odd man out here. Doty observes, even when he talks of family, or relationships. He watches, and he watches carefully. It’s rare to find him a participant in what he’s describing, and when he is, such as in the poem “Apparition, ” he still exhibits a strong sense of distance.
and my father says, Mark is making the house pretty.
He didn’t speak to me the last five years of his life;
why should I be surprised he’d use the third person now?
Though he did make sure I heard him, didn’t he—
he did say my name so that I could hear him,
and I think it was in gentleness, a compliment, and not in mockery.
It’s a simple poem, but it’s packed with meaning and questions. A boy or young man is standing at the kitchen sink, arranging flowers he’s cut in the garden. His father makes the only spoken statement; his mother is never referred to in the poem. We’re not even sure whether his father is speaking to anyone but Mark, or whether anyone else is around. He notes his father used the third person, which suggests that his father, no matter what the meaning of the words, is making the comment impersonal, yet potentially wounding. His father speaks his name, true, making sure Mark took notice, but whether it was a compliment or in mockery is unknown. Mark, himself unsure (“I think”), chooses to take it as a compliment.
The poem goes beyond the idea of distance between a father and a son; it suggests alienation. I should point out that the poem is one of three in collection with the title “Apparition.”
The poems address an array of subjects, including the poet Robinson Jeffers, the painter Jackson Pollock, family relationships, a deer on Fire Island, the beauty of a tattoo, and more. But each contains the sense of distance—and it’s emotional rather than physical distance.
What this poem does not have (and many of the poems in Deep Lane share this omission) is any sense of passion. Anger has passed, leaving resignation and possibly a quiet bitterness, and acceptance, in its wake.
Doty, born in 1953, is the author of some 12 collections of poetry and six nonfiction works. Many of poetry works are about sexual identity. His awards include the National Poetry Series prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the T.S. Eliot Prize, and the Whiting Award, among others. He also received a Guggenheim Fellowship. He won the National Book Award for Poetry for Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems (2008).
Just as there many poems entitled “Deep Lane” in the collection, there are many levels of depth. Perhaps that is the idea of Deep Lane—one title, different poems, different meanings, all using the same title to effect a kind of connectedness.
How to Read a Poem uses images like the mouse, the hive, the switch (from the Billy Collins poem)—to guide readers into new ways of understanding poems. Anthology included.
“I require all our incoming poetry students—in the MFA I direct—to buy and read this book.”
—Jeanetta Calhoun Mish
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