Effortlessly blending biography, criticism, and memoir, prize-winning poet Mark Doty explores his personal quest for Walt Whitman
Mark Doty has always felt haunted by Walt Whitman’s bold, new American voice, and by his equally radical claims about body and soul and what it means to be a self. In What Is the Grass, Doty – a poet, a lover of men, a New Yorker, and an American – keeps company with Whitman and his mutable, landmark work, Leaves of Grass, tracing the resonances between his own experience and the legendary poet’s life and work.
What is it, then, between us? Whitman asks. Doty’s answer is to explore spaces tied to Whitman’s life and spaces where he finds the poet’s ghost, meditating on desire, love, and the mysterious wellsprings of the poet’s enduring work. How does a voice survive death? What Is the Grass is a conversation across time and space, a study of the astonishment one poet finds in the accomplishment of another, and an attempt to grasp Whitman’s deeply hopeful vision of humanity.
“Doty writes about his [Walt Whitman’s] life with a rare warmth and candour…. He reads with care, in the sense of both attentiveness and love.”
Tristram Fane Saunders, Daily Telegraph
“To describe a new book as ‘eagerly awaited' is almost unpardonable. Yet Mark Doty's What is the Grass: Walt Whitman in My Life is exactly that… Doty is an extraordinarily fine writer whose every word sings on the page. Poetry has a tendency to come into its own at exceptional times such as our own… Arguably there couldn't be a more apt context for Doty's book about his lifelong exploration of — and through — the great American poet Walt Whitman… This is an exceptional, passionate memoir of reading, and of a poet's lifelong work of understanding self and the world.”
Fiona Sampson, Spectator