A Poet’s Memoir

Mark Doty, an American poet (b. 1953), wrote a wonderful coming-of-age memoir called Firebird

To the outside world, the four members of Doty’s middle-class family could be in a sitcom of the time period: the father is an engineer, the mother looks respectable, the older sister is popular, and the little boy is bespectacled and bookish. But all is not as it seems. Alcohol wreaks its slow destruction on the family.

But most crucial to Doty’s identity is a difference that occurs even before the disintegration does. The little boy, Doty himself, gradually comes to realize he is gay, and there is no place for being gay in the world in which  he grows up.

Because this book was written by a poet, the language is rich and evocative. I love the little boy at the heart of the book.

Here is one important thing I learned from reading Firebird:

Doty begins his memoir with a “Prelude” (so termed because of the use of music and art in the book) which is a beautiful essay in its own right and introduces the reader to a way of viewing a memoir. This essay is about a work of art from the 17th century by the Dutch painter Samuel Von Hoogstraten. It’s called Perspective Box with Views of a Dutch Interior.  

This perspective box contains the miniature furnishings of a miniature room which are distorted and misshapen; however, when you look through holes designed for viewing, suddenly the room comes into perfect perspective. Interesting way of viewing memoir itself . . . .

The metaphor of the work of art for memoir and the detailed description both serve as an inspiration to write with detailed accuracy and imagination.

Doty’s website can be found at markdoty.org.


Filed under Book Review, Books, Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing

18 responses to “A Poet’s Memoir

  1. Look at all those books 😍

  2. The essay on perspective sounds wonderful. If one’s perspective is off, yes, things could look terribly warped. But if you look from the right place….

    Or suppose you look from the wrong place and everything looks great when really it’s terribly warped?

    No doubt each viewer/reader has certain expectations based on prior experience (Stanley Fish, Reader-Response Theory). And those expectations make a place from which to look at life.

    • Luanne

      I was thinking of good ole Stanley Fish with this! And the tweaking of text versus expectations makes a good read, like this one!

  3. Sounds interesting! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • Luanne

      A really good read! You won’t want to stop until it’s over and then you’ll be bummed that it is over!

  4. I read the look inside on Amazon and the language is certainly rich and evocative. A book I’m placing on my list. Thanks.

  5. I love the idea of “teaching the reader” how to read the memoir using an introductory essay. I wrote an oddly-structured memoir, three chapters of which were published in fine literary journals. But the memoir itself, no one was interested in. This idea intrigues me. Thank you so much for telling us about it.

    • Luanne

      Ellen, that would be fabulous if it gives you an idea for your memoir. Are you thinking, maybe, of a way to frame your story?

  6. Thanks for introducing us to Mark’s memoir, Luanne. I’m very drawn to the cover.

    • Luanne

      Jill, speaking of feeling drawn, I felt drawn to Mark Doty’s little boy and I could well imagine his life in his environment at that time.

  7. Great recommendation, Luanne. I’ll check it out 🙂

  8. Thanks for this, Luanne.

  9. This sounds like something I would enjoy. I’m already a fan of his poetry. I’m putting it on my reading list. So glad you wrote about it here.

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