Firebird: A Memoir
Short reviews of recently published books.
Reviewed by David Garza, Fri., Oct. 29, 1999
Firebird: A Memoirby 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.