Clattery MacHinery on Poetry

October 3, 2006

Mark Doty Physically: "Heaven for Paul"

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a Margaretta Mitchell photograph

   

by Mark Doty
   

        Heaven for Paul
   

The flight attendant said:
We have a mechanical problem with the plane,
and we have contacted the FAA for advice,

and then: We will be making an emergency landing in Detroit,

and then: We will be landing at an air force base in Dayton,
because there is a long runway there, and because
there will be a lot of help on the ground.

Her voice broke slightly on the word help,
and she switched off the microphone, hung it back on its hook,
turned to face those of us seated near her,
and began to weep.

Could the message have been more clear?
Around us people began to cry themselves,
or to pray quietly, or to speak to those with whom
they were travelling, saying the things that people
would choose to say to one another before
an impending accident of uncertain proportions.

It was impossible to hear, really, the details
of their conversations–it would have been wrong to try–
but one understood the import of the tones of voice
everywhere around us, and we turned to each other,

as if there should have been some profound things to be imparted,
but what was to be said seemed so obvious and clear:
that we’d had a fine few years, that we were terrified
for the fate of our own bodies and each other’s,
and didn’t want to suffer, and could not imagine

the half-hour ahead of us. We were crying a little
and holding each other’s hands, on the armrest;
I was vaguely aware of a woman behind us, on the aisle,
who was startled at the sight of two men holding hands,

and I wondered how it could matter to her, now,
on the verge of this life–and then I wondered how it could matter to me,
that she was startled, when I flared on that same margin.

The flight attendant instructed us in how to brace
for a crash landing–to remove our glasses and shoes
and put our heads down, as we did long ago, in school,
in the old days of civil defence. We sat together, quietly.
And this is what amazed me: Paul,

who of the two of us is the more nervous,
the less steadily grounded in his own body,
became completely calm. Later he told me

how he visualised his own spirit
stepping from the flames, and visited,
in his picturing, each person he loved,
and made his contact and peace with each one,

and then imagined himself turning toward
what came next, an unseeable ahead.
                                                                                      For me,
it wasn’t like that at all. I had no internal composure,

and any ideas I’d ever entertained about dying
seemed merely that, speculations flown now
while my mind spiraled in a hopeless sorrowful motion,

sure I’d merely be that undulant fuel haze
in the air over the runway, hot chemical exhaust,
atomised, no idea what had happened to me,

what to do next, and how much of the next life
would I spend (as I have how much of this one?)
hanging around an airport. I thought of my dog,

and who’d care for him. No heaven for me,
only the unimaginable shape of not-myself–
and in the chaos of that expectation,

without compassion, unwilling,
I couldn’t think beyond my own dissolution.
What was the world without me to see it?

And while Paul grew increasingly radiant,

the flight attendant told us it was time to crouch
into the positions we had rehearsed,
the plane began to descend, wobbling,

and the tires screeched against the runway,
burning down all but a few feet of five miles of asphalt
before it rolled its way to a halt.

We looked around us, we let go
the long held breath, the sighs and exhalations,
Paul exhausted from the effort of transcendence,

myself too pleased to be breathing to be vexed
with my own failure, and we were still sitting and beginning to laugh
when the doors of the plane burst open,

and large uniformed firemen came rushing down the aisles,
shouting: Everybody off the plane, now, bring nothing with you,
leave the plane immediately

–because, as we’d learn in the basement
of the hangar where they’d brought us,
a line of tornadoes was scouring western Ohio,
approaching the runway we’d fled.

At this point it seemed plain: if God intervenes
in history, it’s either to torment us
or to make us laugh, or both, which is how

we faced the imminence of our deaths the second time.
I didn’t think once about my soul, as we waited in line,
filing into the hangar, down into the shelter

–where, after a long while, the National Guard would bring us
boxes and boxes of pizza, and much later, transport us, in buses,
to complimentary hotel rooms in Cincinnati.
   

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“Heaven for Paul” comes to you here, following a conversation with Mark Doty at this year’s Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival. It is from his 2005 book School of the Arts, published by and available through HarperCollins Publishers.

Here is a link to his web site: Mark Doty
   

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I will keep exegesis to a minimum below. Instead, I want the poet to present the poem through his own speaking, through a spoken reading of “Heaven for Paul” that took place in 2004, before the book came out. First, though, we’ll look at an excerpt from an interview with Mark Doty found through the Audio page on his web site.

The idea in this presentation, then, is to first present “Heaven for Paul” as a poem to be read and valued off the page as above, however you had come to it; then to garner some ideas from listening to the poet, which I will take a brief tangent from; and then to listen to him read. Thus, we will have tarried with the poem and poet for a little extra time.

Here is the link to the the web page, where you can click onto a RealAudio broadcast of the interview:

Mark Doty on WBUR’s The Connection, in an interview with Dick Gordon, discussing SOURCE, Walt Whitman, and the complexities of writing about contemporary American life, recorded in March, 2003

At 6 minutes and 32 seconds into the interview, this conversation takes place:

Dick Gordon: Mark, when you compose your poetry, do you do it out loud?

Mark Doty: I begin scribbling in notebooks–makings of random notes on the computer screen–and very quickly I find myself mouthing those words, wanting to feel the language in the muscles of my jaw and in my tongue. And pretty soon, I am muttering to myself at my desk, and frequently taken for a person who’s a little too far gone into his inner life in public spaces.

DG: But, they’re written to be read out loud.

MD: They’re written to be heard. And even when we read a poem alone, I hope that what’s happening is that there’s a subtle kind of sounding going on, that we’re physically participating in those words, in the sonic texture of the verse. Poetry lives to be physical, to be in our bodies.

In an edited version of an address to the National Library of Australia’s literature conference, “Love and Desire”, published last week in The Age as The write of way with a reader, Dave Malouf writes the following:

When we speak of being unable to put a book down, it isn’t that we can’t wait to find out what happens next. It’s that we don’t want to give up the close and quite tender intimacy that has been established; we do not want to break the spell.

When Doty says “that we’re physically participating in those words, in the sonic texture of the verse” and that poetry “lives to be physical, to be in our bodies,” he is saying to me that there is to be a physical intimacy between the poet and the listener (or reader as it were) of the poem. In listening to the sound of Doty’s voice, even in conversation with Dick Gordon, what stands out is how he articulates his words beyond the syllable level into each letter, each “t”, each “n” that precedes a “d”, the whistling “‘s”–in physical enunciation.

This physicality shows thematically in Doty’s poetry as well. In “Heaven for Paul”, via the communication of crying, for instance–the stewardess wept, and the poem goes on, “people began to cry themselves.” There is the scene with “two men holding hands,” (each holding each, therefore), but also what ensued, that this “startled” a woman, how the speaker wondered “how it could matter to her” and then, on her reaction, “how it could matter to me” (each mattering to each, therefore)–a repeated and operant word of physicality being matter.

Doty becomes playful with taking us in and out of what we might think at first wouldn’t be, but then must be physical: disappearance from this world:

sure I’d merely be that undulant fuel haze
in the air over the runway, hot chemical exhaust,
atomised, no idea what had happened to me,

And doesn’t he bring Paul’s heaven and trancendence physically to Paul, and to us readers in such a way that we physically understand?

Here, from the Poem Present series is the Mark Doty poetry reading, in which “Heaven for Paul” begins just over 24 minutes in:

Podcast #38. Poetry reading by Mark Doty: A poetry reading by Mark Doty as part of the Poem Present series at The University of Chicago. © 2004 The University of Chicago (mp3)

It is a preview reading from his latest book School of the Arts.
   

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School of the Arts, at HarperCollins

   

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September 27, 2006

Poetry Festivals Worldwide: This weekend, the Dodge

Filed under: 21 century poetry, 21st century poets, Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, Austin International Poetry Festival, Beall Poetry Festival, Belfast Poetry Festival, Berkeley Poetry Festival, Burning Word Festival, by Bud Bloom, Carrboro Poetry Festival, Cork International Poetry Festival, Dancing Poetry Festival, Denver Poetry Festival, Edmonton Poetry Festival, Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, Guardian Hay Festival, Hay Fringe Festival, International Poetry Festival of Medellín, Jerusalem Poetry Festival, John Milton Memorial Celebration of Poets and Poetry, Kwani? Lit Fest Blog, Ledbury Poetry Festival, Los Angeles Poetry Festival and Noir Corridor, Lowell Celebrates Kerouac!, Manchester Poetry Festival, Massachusetts Poetry Festival, MassPOP, Milton Poetry Fest, Newburyport Literary Festival, North Carolina Festival of the Book, Ojai Poetry Festival, One Square Meter, Overload Poetry Festival, Palm Beach Poetry Festival, poetry, Poetry Africa, Poetry Can, poetry festivals, Poetry Now Festival, poets, pop culture, Portland Library Poetry Festival, San Francisco Poetry Festival, Sarah Lawrence Festival, Saratoga Poetry Festival, Seacoast Poetry & Jazz Festival, Silverton Poetry Festival, Skagit River Poetry Project, Sparrows Poetry Festival, StAnza, Struga Poetry Evenings, Sunken Garden Poetry Festival, Terry Plunkett Maine Poetry Festival, The Chicago Poetry Fest, Trois-Rivières International Festival of Poetry, Tucson Poetry Festival, WA Spring Poetry Festival, Wisconsin Book Festival — Clattery MacHinery @ 2:11 am

   

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This Thursday, September 28th, the bi-annual Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival begins, and will last through Sunday afternoon. The organizers have planned a star-studded line-up of poets for 20,000 poetry fans, music, educational programs, food, the works, all for a bargain price of about $1 Million (to the foundation–tickets are less). It will be held at Waterloo Village in Byram Township in New Jersey.

(Edited/Updated from here for the 2008 festival)

Here is the page of performing poets:

Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival: Poets

Here is the weekend weather in Stanhope NJ:

Weather.com: Stanhope

And here is the web site of the foundation:

The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation

   

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Poetry Festivals Worldwide

   

(The Hay)

   

Poetry festivals sponsored by good organizations take place around the world throughout the year, especially spring and fall. Below is a list of some of them. If you know any of them that are missing, please let me know.

   

   

                Aldeburgh Poetry Festival
                Austin International Poetry Festival
                Beall Poetry Festival
                Belfast Poetry Festival
                Berkeley Poetry Festival
                Burning Word Festival
                Carrboro Poetry Festival
                The Chicago Poetry Fest
                The Cork International Poetry Festival
                Dancing Poetry Festival
                Denver Poetry Festival
                Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival
                Edmonton Poetry Festival
                The Guardian Hay Festival
                Hay Fringe Festival
                The International Poetry Festival of Medellín
                Jerusalem Poetry Festival: One Square Meter
                Kwani? Lit Fest Blog
                Ledbury Poetry Festival
                Los Angeles Poetry Festival and Noir Corridor
                Lowell Celebrates Kerouac!
                Manchester Poetry Festival
                Massachusetts Poetry Festival
                John Milton Memorial Celebration of Poets and Poetry
                Newburyport Literary Festival
                North Carolina Festival of the Book
                Ojai Poetry Festival
                Overload Poetry Festival
                Palm Beach Poetry Festival
                Poetry Africa
                Poetry Can
                The Poetry Now Festival
                Portland Library Poetry Festival
                Rotterdam International Poetry Festival
                San Francisco Poetry Festival
                Sarah Lawrence Festival
                Saratoga Poetry Festival
                Seacoast Poetry & Jazz Festival
                Seattle Poetry Festival
                Silverton Poetry Festival
                Skagit River Poetry Project
                Sparrows Poetry Festival
                StAnza
                Struga Poetry Evenings
                Sunken Garden Poetry Festival
                Terry Plunkett Maine Poetry Festival
                Trois-Rivières International Festival of Poetry
                Tucson Poetry Festival
                WA Spring Poetry Festival
                Wisconsin Book Festival

   

(Overload)

   

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