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 is an extraordinarily fine writer whose every word sings on the page… There certainly couldn’t be a more appropriate explorer [of Whitman] than Doty, as both a leading North American poet and a memoirist and prose writer of exceptional grace and depth… This is an exceptional, passionate memoir of reading, and of a poet’s lifelong work of understanding self and the world.”
Fiona Sampson, Spectator
“Mark Doty's deeply personal love letter to Walt Whitman, belongs in the pantheon...beside Ted Hughes’s Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being and Don Paterson’s Reading Shakespeare’s Sonnets… As admirers of his poetry and memoirs will know, Doty writes about his life with a rare warmth and candour. He makes you lean forward to listen… He reads with care, in the sense of both attentiveness and love.”
Tristram Fane Saunders, Daily Telegraph