This past weekend, Newburyport, Massachusetts, held its annual literary festival — which included fiction and nonfiction writers as well as poets. There were a number of venues throughout town offering competing sessions, all free to the public. What a joy.
A highlight for me was attending the session with poets Rachel Hadas and Mark Doty. They are both wonderful poets, but it is Doty's work that I want to note here. Each poem he read was excellent, but I was especially taken by two — one about the wonderful insanity of taking his Bedlam terrier for a walk in New York City and another, titled "Two Seconds," about Tamir Rice, an unarmed, nonthreatening 12-year-old African-American boy who was shot and killed by police in Cleveland, Ohio, in 2014.
Searching for the poems online (I didn't find them), I came across Doty's website where he keeps an on-again, off-again blog. One entry that dates back to December 2015 focused on his visit to the Nightingale Bamford School in New York City. In it, he describes the younger students (all girls) charging up the staircase between classes. It's a beautiful description of the amazing light within each child. He writes:
"Every single one of their faces seemed lit up from within. You could see that they were thinking all kinds of things — a bit of nerves about the next class, an eagerness to join a game and move a restless body, a sadness here, a distracted look there — but those were the surface signs of engagement in a new-ish life, a small girl self, and through that shone a glow of exhilaration, this almost physical light."
Isn't this why we teach?
I spoke briefly with Doty after the reading, just to thank him for taking on a social justice issue in a poem. Poetry can walk where it wants to, of course, but I'm always glad to see contemporary poets jump into the conversation on social justice on occasion — especially when they do it well. On this topic, Doty recommended the Best American Poetry of 2017, edited by David Lehman and Natasha Trethewey.
Doty, you won't be surprised to hear, is also the author of The Art of Description — an excellent book for writers and educators to read and absorb.
Also, see his poem on his golden retriever. The guy knows dogs.