Firebird: A Memoir

Short reviews of recently published books.

Off the Bookshelf

Firebird: A Memoir

by Mark Doty

HarperCollins, 200 pp., $25

Mark Doty's fat, adorable head hovers and glows on the cover of Firebird, a memoir of his early years. "Here I am," the photo says, "with my troubled sideways glance and proud velvet chin -- love me!" And that's all there is, through two-hundred pages of recollection, through travels from Tennessee to Tucson, through evenings and mornings set upon earth solely for the creation of the poet, now grown, that's all there is: a picture too pretty, too well-remembered, to be of much use. The idea of tracing a successful poet's growth and his acquisition of the sensibilities that have allowed him to see and to create as a poet is, of course, a noble enough venture. And the better moments of Doty's memoir do search for these moments of self-formation and revelation, for what he calls his "education in beauty." Reflecting on his teenage sister's forays into society he writes, "Cotillion: I fall into the warm haze of the word, which contains crepe-paper flowers pinned to wrists and sashes arbors made from twisted bits of tissue paper, and somewhere there are bells, reverberant as though the cotillion were held underwater ... " Clearly, Doty, who teaches creative writing at the University of Houston, has put much of this poetic education to enthralling linguistic use from an early age on. Strangely, though, he devotes as much energy and nostalgia to recalling that his family was fond of Rainbo bread, not Sunbeam: "I like to steal slices from the kitchen, put the slices in a Mason jar with the lid screwed on tight, and bury it in the backyard. When I dig it up, magic: little galaxies of blue-black mold, fleurs du mal." Fleurs du mal, by Jove! Ultimately, Doty's book becomes not so much a picture of a gifted poet learning his way in the world but a series of sometimes interesting, sometimes random sentimental offerings that offer too little insight on the meat of his life -- the poems. This book may be sure to please some die-hard fans of our contemporary poets, but for the rest of us, it's just a set of cute cheeks to kiss every night before sleeping.

Mark Doty will give a reading during the Texas Book Festival on Sunday, November 7 at 2:30pm in Capitol Extension Room E1.004. That same day at 11am, Doty will be a panelist on the"Through the Looking Glass: Memoirs" panel in Capital Extension Room E2.012.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Book Reviews
<i>Presidio</i> by Randy Kennedy
Presidio by Randy Kennedy
For his debut novel, Kennedy creates a road story that portrays the harsh West Texas terrain beautifully and fills it with sympathetic characters.

Jay Trachtenberg, Sept. 14, 2018

Hunting the Golden State Killer in <i>I'll Be Gone in the Dark</i>
Hunting the Golden State Killer in I'll Be Gone in the Dark
How Michelle McNamara tracked a killer before her untimely death

Jonelle Seitz, July 20, 2018

More by David Garza
Gritos: Essays
"At the heart of these encounters is the burning knowledge that nobody seems ready to recognize," David Garza writes of the largely self-made "literary superdude" who will read at the Yarborough Branch Library on Wednesday, July 30. "Gilb is a legitimate and undeniable talent."

July 25, 2003

The Crocodile Hunter takes a bite out of Hollywood

July 12, 2002


Mark Doty, Firebird: A Memoir

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle